20 years already?

Mainstays Gov’t Mule at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre

By L. Kent Wolgamott

Photo: Gov’t Mule will perform on Oct. 31 at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre; photo: Anna Webber

Warren Haynes has been playing guitar in The Allman Brothers Band for 25 years and has led Gov’t Mule for two decades. He’s also played with The Dead, his own The Warren Haynes Band and has, of late, been a performer in the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration. That almost certainly makes him the hardest working guitarist in show business. But it also fulfills him musically.

“I think each project I’m involved with allows me to express myself a little differently and expose different parts of my musical personality, which I really enjoy,” Haynes said in an early September phone interview. “I think most musicians, if they had a complaint it would be that they don’t have a way to express the different parts of themselves. I don’t have that complaint.”

Having played with the Garcia Celebration in August and with a half-dozen Allman Brothers farewell shows set for New York’s Beacon Theatre in late October, Haynes has Gov’t Mule on the road in between.

The band’s current 20 Years Strong tour is in support of Shout!, Gov’t Mule’s new critically acclaimed two-CD release. The first disc is made up of some of the band’s best Southern jam rock tracks yet. The second is comprised of the same songs featuring a lineup of guest vocalists that includes Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Grace Potter and Steve Winwood.

The two-disc concept didn’t occur until Gov’t Mule was well into making the album. Plans originally called only for Costello, Dr. John and Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals to join the band in the studio.

“We were thinking we’d have those three singers come in and do a cameo appearance on some pieces of the song,” Haynes said. “But it seemed like a waste to have singers of that stature come in and sing a small part. So we decided to have them do their versions of the whole song. Then it turned into finding somebody to do it with every song. As soon as that happened, I sat down and made up a list of singers and started making phone calls.

“They were all singers that are friends, people who I’ve worked with and people who I really respect,” he said. “The conversation would start with ‘here’s the idea.’ Then, I know as a singer, I only want to do songs I’m comfortable with. So I’d tell them I’d send them the song and ask if they wanted to do it, if they felt comfortable with it. It didn’t take long to get the whole record.”

The singers recorded their takes on the songs with Gov’t Mule playing behind them. So did those versions change the way Haynes, who sings the Gov’t Mule versions, looks at the songs?

“It changed the way I look back at the songs for the future,” he said. “I’d already recorded my versions before any of them came in. Hearing what they did influenced the songs, the way we do them live – in each case.”

Haynes, who’s known as a guitarist, has, over the years, become a very effective singer, delivering gruff, expressive vocals that perfectly fit the Mule’s music.

“I started singing before I started playing guitar, at a very early age, 7 or 8,” he said. “My voice, I think, has gotten better over the years and it’s the best it’s ever been now. It’s like any muscle, the more you use it, the better it gets and the stronger it gets. The best thing for me is to sing as much as possible.”

That do-it-as-much-as-possible approach also applies to guitar, said Haynes, who Rolling Stone magazine ranked 23rd on its list of the 100 best guitarists of all time.

“You play much better as a guitar player when you’ve been on the road for months and are playing night after night,” he said. “If you take time away, your calluses shrink and you have to build them back up, which is not an easy process.”

The odds are good that a song or two from Shout! will be on the Mule’s set list each night. But Haynes said there’s always the chance that none will get included as the band, which also includes drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson, tries to never play the same set twice.

“One of the reasons we do a different set list every night is to try to stay inspired,” he said. “Part of the whole concept of changing the set is to keep that inspiration going by playing songs you haven’t played in a while. That freshness helps you forget what you may have played before and play a new part.”

After the current run of Gov’t Mule shows, Haynes will do his final shows with The Allman Brothers Band in late October. That trailblazing Southern rock band is calling it quits after 45 years. Haynes said he’d like to see Gov’t Mule go that long.

“I sure hope so,” he said. “There’s no way of predicting, but I know the 20 years we’ve done have been wonderful. We always enjoy playing together musically and personally. We’re really happy to be going back out and playing. We really are.”

Gov’t Mule will perform on Friday, Oct. 31 at the Taft Theatre, 317 E. Fifth St. in Cincinnati. This special evening with Gov’t Mule will feature “Young Mule,” a Halloween set dedicated to the music of Neil Young. Doors open at 7 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m. Jackie Greene is also on the bill. For tickets or more information, please visit mule.net or tafttheatre.org.

Tags: , ,

L Kent Wolgamott
Reach DCP freelance writer L. Kent Wolgamott at LKentWolgamott@DaytonCityPaper.com

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?


We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message.  

The St. Vincent de Paul relief mission continues


  Gateway Shelter for Women and Families on W. Apple St is ready to help 24-hours a day.  By Tim […]

Mulling the merits of Merit Grill


Wide variety compromised by some puzzling choices The Merit Grill’s Carne Asada substituted sirloin for skirt steak, but the salsa, […]

Bread Baking Demystified

IMG_6577 v2

The secrets to a delicious loaf of bread are in the details The process of properly kneading bread dough includes […]

It’s happening in Troy


Jazz vocalist Vanessa Rubin Music at The Troy-Hayner Center The Troy-Hayner Cultural Center is welcoming the arrival of spring with […]

A tradition of storytelling

shannon mcnally 1 - sebastian smith

Shannon McNally at Newport’s Southgate House Revival Singer-songwriter Shannon McNally By Dave Gil de Rubio Songwriting has always had a […]