In the 1983 mockumentary film Zelig, Woody Allen plays the title character who – though not flashy himself – seems to pop up everywhere at important events and with well-known real-life people. He’s just always there.
If rock and roll had its own Zelig, that title might go to singer/guitarist Warren Haynes. He had a long stint with the Allman Brothers Band, his own solo band, and other ad hoc groups. And has appeared onstage or in the studio as a sideman or guest for various acts including the Dead, Mavis Staples, Dave Matthews Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and a long Wikipedia list of others. He’s got upcoming projects with Jam Goddess Grace Potter and ukulele whiz Jake Shimabukuro
But for now, he’s concentrating on Gov’t Mule, which is starting a summer tour and celebrating 25 years since their first show together. Kicking things off is their new CD/DVD release Bring On the Music – Live at the Capitol Theatre (Provo Mascot). Filmed over two nights by noted rock photographer/director Danny Clinch, it’s available in multiple versions and formats, with the basic set including audio from one show and video of the other.
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“Danny and I have been talking about dong a concert film for years now, and our relationship pre-dates Gov’t Mule,” Haynes says. “He shot the cover for our first album with the mule draped in the American flag. From a visual standpoint, I trust him completely. And as a friend, I do as well.”
Known for the long length of their live shows, the Mule played even longer on this pair. And Haynes said it was a painstaking process to put together the set list as he wanted to include material from every studio album, songs they hadn’t played live in a while, and different versions of more familiar tunes. As a result, only two songs were repeated both nights, and only because the band wanted another shot at them.
This would also be the first video to feature bassist Jorgen Carlsson, who joined in 2008. He joins founding members Haynes and drummer Matt Abts, and longtime keyboardist Danny Louis.
The choice of the Capitol Theatre on Port Chester, New York to host the dates was a decision made quite on purpose, both for its reputation and Haynes’ love for the venue. “That theater has a history. In the old days, every great band played there. There’s all these pictures and posters on the wall. The Grateful Dead had quite a history there,” he says. “It sounds great, but it’s also visually great. The entire inside of the venue is part of the psychedelic light show.I saw the Rolling Stones there!”
Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the band’s record debut, Mule. That same year, they had a track on the marijuana-themed, multi-act Hempilation record, with the pro-weed “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam.” Haynes said that cover of the 1968 Steppenwolf song was actually recorded before the debut, and they used it as a chance to “audition” producers for the full-length. Michael Barbiero won the slot. And how things have changed in terms of marijuana since then.
“We’ve all kind of thought since the ‘70s that [marijuana legalization] was right around the corner, but we gave up on that idea! Now it kind of is, and there’s no turning back. And it’s long overdue,” Haynes says. That track was the first studio recording Gov’t Mule ever made. It was Allen Woody’s idea!” Woody – Haynes’ compatriot in the Allman Brothers band and the original bassist for Gov’t Mule, died in 2000 from what was later determined to be a heroin overdose.
A more recent death that’s on Haynes’ mind is that of Dr. John. Haynes played many times over the years with the New Orleans gris-gris man, and he recruited Dr. John to be one of the guest vocalists in Gov’t Mule’s ambitious 2013 record Shout! The first disc featured Gov’t Mule performing 11 tracks, and the second one had the same tunes, but with guest vocalists that also included Elvis Costello Steve Winwood, Dave Matthews, and Jim James.
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Haynes and Dr. John last played together in 2017 on the final leg of the Last Waltz 40 tour. Haynes, producer/bassist Don Was, and singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald originally put a version of it together as one-off New Orleans Jazz Fest performance to celebrate and recreate the final performance of the Band.
The Last Waltz, of course, became a hugely successful concert film/documentary and soundtrack. Dr. John played at the original Last Waltz, and he, then Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin, and Band keyboardist Garth Hudson as a special guest were on portions of that 40th anniversary tour. And the connection goes further.
“When [Band singer/drummer] Levon Helm died, they called Dr. John and myself to fill in for him at Jazz Fest. And Dr. John was added to the Last Waltz 40 tour when Michael McDonald couldn’t do that part of the tour. Dr. John and I played every night and got closer and spent more time together,” Haynes sums up. “I was so honored to know him and be around him and the great music. And every time he opened his mouth, it was a joy. All the stories…he was a true ambassador.”
Gov't Mule will be playing at The Bomb Factory in Dallas on August 11 and Stubbs BBQ in Austin on August 13.