Warren Haynes breaks
in “the new guy” in his long-running combo.
BY FRED MILLS
Together since the mid ‘90s, Gov’t Mule – initially
comprising Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody,
plus erstwhile Dickey Betts drummer Matt Abts – is considered in many quarters
to be one of America’s
premiere bands du jam. The group’s
popularity on the summer festival circuit has a lot to do with that of course;
the Mule is part of a long tradition of jam-minded outfits that include the
Allmans, Phish, the Grateful Dead (with whom Haynes also performs, as the
Dead), Widespread Panic, etc.
But you know all this.
More important is that anyone who’s ever listened closely to
Mule records or seen the group in concert has sensed that within the beast also
beats the twin heart of hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll and extemporaneous jazz. Just
one glance at some of the covers that Haynes & Co. pull out in concert will
offer ample proof of that: Humble
Pie, Hendrix, Traffic, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane, Mongo Santamaria, Neil
Young, and more. (Prince, even. Go figure!) Now imagine all those influences
coalescing within the boundaries of a single Mule original.
There’s no way one
can walk away from a Gov’t Mule show and not be awed at both the free-wheeling
virtuosity and the pedal-to-metal aesthetic that’s been on display for the past
two (or three, or four…) hours.
There have been changes over the years of course: in 2000
Allen Woody passed away, and a long period of reorganization referred to
nowadays as “The Deep End” era followed (a reference to the two sprawling The Deep End albums released in 2001 and
2001) that found Gov’t Mule performing with a who’s-who of bass legends. During
this time keyboardist Danny Louis came into the fold, and eventually a
permanent bassist was found in the form of Andy Hess. That lineup recorded the
group’s most recent studio albums, 2006’s High
and Mighty and last year’s guest star-studded dub-reggae record Mighty High. Then this past September it
was announced that Hess was leaving and would be replaced by Swedish ex-pat
Jorgen Carlsson, who subsequently toured with the group on the band’s fall
“Kinder Revolution” tour.
BLURT got Haynes on the horn recently to talk about his
annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008 with a two-night blowout this week (Dec. 12 and 13) in
Haynes’ home town of Asheville, North Carolina. That conversation will appear
on the BLURT website tomorrow, Dec. 11. But in the meantime we wanted to get
the scoop on where things stand with Gov’t Mule – playing both nights at the
Jam, incidentally – at the moment. For more on the band go to the official Mule
website, and for the latest updates on the Christmas Jam, go to the Christmas
Tell me about the new
guy – how are things looking with him and the Mule?
WARREN HAYNES: Jorgen
Carlsson, originally from Sweden but living in Los Angeles for 15, 16 years or
something, we were referred to him by our friend Jeff Young, who was the
keyboard player in my band pre-Gov’t Mule. Jorgen and Jeff are close friends
and do a lot of work together in L.A.
So when Jeff heard we were auditioning bass players, he called and said, “Hey,
I know this guy I think you guys should check out.”
So we added him to the list of people we were going to
audition. And we only auditioned about a dozen bass players, all of which came
extremely highly recommended through close friends; we didn’t want to open up
the door to a cattle call kind of situation where we were auditioning a hundred
people. Everyone we played with was great, and several of them were quite
amazing, but Jorgen had the spirit of the music. In an odd way, he brought some
of Woody’s personality back into the music. See, he plays very aggressively,
plays with a pick part of the time, and it just seemed like the right fit.
We had made an agreement with Andy that he would go into
September so we could take a six-month period of working with Jorgen on and
off, having him learn songs and rehearsing when we could, to make it a much
smoother transition. Because there are so many songs in our repertoire in this
That’s kind of an
WH: … and the last thing we wanted to do was take a huge
step backwards and go back to playing the same setlist, or even anything close
to that, every night! One thing people may have noticed is that on the last
tour with Jorgen, we played about 120 [different] songs. Which is a lot to
throw on someone that early in the game! But he’s been great.
Were people surprised
that you didn’t go with someone who’d previously worked with the band, say
during the Deep End period?
WH: I’m sure some people were surprised that it was someone
they’d never seen us play with, yes. But we were looking for the right fit,
having gone through an enormous searching process prior to Andy. And the right
fit’s not always going to be someone that people expect.
What has Andy been
doing since he left the band?
WH: You know, I’m not really sure. I think he’s just moving
on doing his own thing.
It must be daunting
for anyone to take on the mantle of Gov’t Mule bass player.
WH: Jorgen is a very versatile musician and can play a lot
of different styles, but he’s very much a rocker. His natural spirit is very
much a rock ‘n’ roll one, and that’s one of the things he has in common with
Allen Woody; his natural tendencies are similar to Woody’s, probably more so than
anyone we’ve played with since Woody passed. And it might have been a little
too close to home to have brought him into the fold earlier on, but with all
the time that’s passed now, it seems like it’s a nice thing.
You just wrapped up
this year’s leg of “The Kinder Revolution” tour – any moments that really stand
out in your mind from it?
WH: Well, I really loved
the Halloween show [Boston]
where we did the 90 minute Pink Floyd set for the second set. We brought in
quad sound, lasers, the works. It was quadraphonic, we had a laser show, Ron
Holloway played sax, and we had three girl singers – two of which that had sung
with Pink Floyd in the past.
I saw Floyd on the
tour of America
where they brought the quad sound system with them to do Dark Side of the Moon. Any feedback from Roger Waters on your show?
WH: [laughs] No,
not a thing. We were already thinking that way, for a Halloween show, before we
got the news that Richard Wright died. So when we got that news it just confirmed
in our minds that it was the right thing.
You can do something
like this every year, like Phish used to do.
WH: Well, we’re trying to avoid doing the same thing and we
don’t want it to be predictable. Halloween 2007 we did Houses of the Holy. But we didn’t want to do a Pink Floyd record,
and we don’t want it to turn into we’re doing a different record each time. So
we just picked a group of songs that made sense together, that spanned about 5
or 6 Floyd records, and I thought it flowed really nicely. [Note: Floyd setlist: One Of These Days >
Fearless > Pigs On The Wing Part 2 > Shine On You Crazy Diamond )>
Have A Cigar > Speak To Me > Breathe > On The Run > Time > Money
)> Comfortably Numb > Shine On You Crazy Diamond reprise > Wish You
Are you working up
anything new in the studio? Obviously that’s the next step with a new member in
WH: Yeah, we have been, and I’m hoping to get into the
studio sometime in January or February. We had started a record with Andy, so I
have a feeling that the next record is going to have Andy and Jorgen on it.
In the meantime you
have the traditional end-of-year run of Mule shows in New York. Why did you have to split that
between two venues?
WH: We normally do three nights at the Beacon, but the
Beacon’s closed for renovation. So had to move to the Hammerstein, which is a
bigger venue; two nights in Hammerstein [Dec. 30-31] is like three nights at
the Beacon, so when you add in the two shows at the Angel Orensanz
Center [Dec. 27-28] I think
it’s going to be a really good week of music. The two small shows are acoustic,
and we don’t do that very often so it’ll be a lot of fun.
[Photo Credit: Jay Blakesberg]