Gov't Mule legendary frontman Warren Haynes on Norwell's Susan Tedeschi: 'We're family'

·8 min read

Warren Haynes can appreciate the irony of the publicity citing his band’s latest record as “Gov’t Mule’s first blues album."

Gov’t Mule was founded, of course, based on Haynes and his bandmates’ love of classic rock power trios, such as the Jimi Hendrix band, Cream, and like those groups the Mule’s electrifying ability to improvise has made them a darling of jam-band fans too.

But most, if not all, of the music they do has its foundation in the blues, so he can excuse fans who do a double-take upon hearing that promotional gambit. And Haynes had an absolute blast putting the new album, “Heavy Load Blues," together, since it's about evenly split between originals and classic and somewhat obscure blues chestnuts.

Gov’t Mule headlines the new 3,500-capacity Roadrunner club in Brighton on Aug. 11 with Haynes’ longtime pal Oteil Burbridge and Friends opening.

Gov't Mule performs Aug. 11 at Roadrunner Boston.
Gov't Mule performs Aug. 11 at Roadrunner Boston.

Tackling 'Heavy Load Blues'

“It was definitely a fun process putting this record together,” said Haynes from a Pennsylvania tour stop. “We had built a list of 40-50 songs we wanted to cover. But then we had to pull some into the fold that would work with our originals, so that it would flow from one to another.”

Since the band's 1994 founding, Gov’t Mule’s wide-ranging sets have always been noted for their canny use of covers. Famously, in 2010 Gov’t Mule spiced up an Oakland concert by doing the “Who’s Next?” album from The Who in its entirety, while a 2014 show at the Beacon Theater in New York City had them devoting their second set totally to AC/DC songs.

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The new album (a 78-minute opus that comes with a 51-minute bonus disc) includes covers from blues titans like Junior Wells, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. But one of its charms is that it also has cuts from lesser known acts doing blues, like soul singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, Louisiana’s Kenny Neal, and the duo that wrote “Have Mercy on the Criminal," Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

“Blues has always been such an important part of what we do,” Haynes said. “We have many influences, but blues is surely a big one, and also of course a big one on all the rock we do.  I had always wanted to do an album like this, and on the heels of the lockdowns, it seemed like the right time to do something with the kind of music that has the ability to heal.”

"Heavy Load Blues," by Gov't Mule
"Heavy Load Blues," by Gov't Mule

“I was lucky enough to play with Junior Wells a couple times, but I never saw Bobby “Blue” Bland, or Muddy, or Howlin’ Wolf,” Haynes noted. “But I was very fortunate to be able to play with a bunch of my musical heroes; John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins, B.B. King, and James Cotton. I cherish those memories. Their music was such a huge, important part of my musical development.”

Gov’t Mule started as a side project for Haynes. Playing guitar with Dickey Betts’ band led to him joining the reunion of the Allman Brothers Band in 1989, sharing the featured guitar spot with Betts. Haynes and then-Allman Brothers Band bassist Allen Woody began Gov’t Mule in ’94, as a side project to explore their love of power rock trios, with drummer Matt Abts. Haynes left the Allman Brothers Band in ’97 to devote fulltime to Mule, but Woody died in 2000.  When Betts left the Allman Brothers Band in 2001, Haynes went back, this time sharing the guitar spotlight with Derek Trucks. That Haynes/Trucks guitar powerhouse continued with the Allman Brothers Band until the group ended in 2014.

Gov't Mule performs Aug. 11 at Roadrunner Boston.
Gov't Mule performs Aug. 11 at Roadrunner Boston.

'A true pleasure' to play with Norwell's Susan Tedeschi

Haynes not only became a good friend and cohort of Trucks, he also got to know and share the stage numerous times with Norwell’s Susan Tedeschi, Mrs. Trucks.

“We’re family,” Haynes said, laughing. “We have played together and hung out so many times. It is always a true pleasure to play together with Susan and Derek. I’ve known them both for decades. We all go so far back together, but any time we can get together, it is always going to be a memorable time.”

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Gov’t Mule carried on after Woody’s death, with a rotating cast of bassists, including Burbridge, Victor Wooten and Les Claypool. Since 2008 Jorgen Carlsson has been the bassist. In 2002, Gov’t Mule began using guests on keyboards from time to time. By 2004 Danny Louis had become the permanent keyboardist, opening up all sorts of added opportunities for expanding their sound and improvisations. At this point, Gov’t Mule has nine studio albums, and 11 live albums, a testament to how revered their jams are to all their fans.

One reason Gov’t Mule is a peerless live act is because setlists could go anywhere.

“We’re just getting started on this tour,” Haynes said. “But we’re continuing to pull out stuff we haven’t played in years. It’s important to have a different set every night for our own peace of mind. We keep ourselves happy that way and that means we’re more inclined to have a great show. Our whole philosophy is that we are not striving for perfection – this band is an experiment, a work in progress. If we have some train wrecks along the way, so much the better. We want it to be a journey we’re all on together, the audience and us. And we are re-inventing these songs on a nightly basis. We may end up playing 150 different songs by the time a tour like this is over.”

Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule let their souls shine at Outlaw Music Festival.
Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule let their souls shine at Outlaw Music Festival.

A musical evolution

Gov’t Mule’s original music has evolved from the basic blues and rock ‘n’ roll songwriting about romance, lost love or good times. On their 2017 release, “Revolution Come …Revolution Go,” Haynes wrote a song, (“Stone Cold Rage”) decrying the social divide in America, while another tune (“Pressure Under Fire”) suggested we might make more progress by not attacking each other.

“Our lyrics have always kind of touched upon the politics of the day or the environment we’re in,” Haynes said. “There are always two or three songs on every album where we observe and reflect on what we see around us. I never want to put that aside, because rock ‘n’ roll is foremost – at least most of the rock ‘n’ roll I’ve loved – reflecting the times we live in. I think that’s the way it should be.”

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Haynes, 62, has had a long and varied career. An Asheville, North Carolina, native, he spent four years in country star David Allan Coe’s band and co-wrote “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House,” which became one of Garth Brooks’ first mega-hits. His own Warren Haynes Band in 2011-12 was an all-star group, including Ivan Neville and George Porter. What future projects does he have in mind, and is Gov’t Mule now his preferred vehicle?

“At this point, yes, Gov’t Mule is my main outlet,” Haynes replied. “This version of the band has been together since 2008, and we have grown exponentially and the chemistry between us allows us to go further and further. It feels like a laboratory where we can do whatever we feel like doing. And we still enjoy each other, and playing with each other. There’s always stuff in my head – I had been thinking about this blues record for five years. I’d love to do some kind of instrumental, jazz-influenced album. We have always done instrumentals but never a whole album, so that’s on my list.”

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band perform at Riverbend Music Center on Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Cincinnati.
Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band perform at Riverbend Music Center on Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Cincinnati.

Stewart, Buffett, Lovett and more

Thursday catch rock tunesmith Jackie Green at City Winery. Friday night Rod “The Mod” Stewart takes over Xfinity Center. Saturday has Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at The South Shore Music Circus; while Jimmy Buffett sails into Xfinity Center; and bluesrocker Joe Bonamassa heats up Leader Bank Pavilion. Saturday also has Maine’s excellent Americana band The Ghost of Paul Revere at The Paradise; while the female rock quartet Beaches lights up Brighton Music Hall. Sunday afternoon’s show at the John Alden Sportsman's Club in Plymouth has two of the best New England blues acts, Plymouth’s Delta Generators and Rhode Island’s Sugar Ray Norica and the Bluetones. Also Sunday, “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz sings at City Winery; ABBA: The Concert gets the Music Circus going; and Blondie rocks Leader Bank Pavilion. Monday night Elvis Costello with Nick Lowe rocks Leader Bank Pavilion and that venue keeps the heat on Tuesday night with Goo Goo Dolls.

How to see Gov't Mule 

When: 7 p.m. Aug. 11

Where: Roadrunner, 89 Guest St., Brighton

Tickets:  $55-$79.50


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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Warren Haynes, Gov't Mule bringing 'Heavy Load Blues' to Boston