Singer & Guitarist Brings Iconic Jam Band Back To Charleston
Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
While his own musical journey began 30 years ago as a founding member of Gov't Mule, singer songwriter and musician Warren Haynes cut his teeth the preceding 13 years with outlaw country artist David Allan Coe and in the Dickey Betts Band. The latter position lead to becoming a member of legendary southern rockers The Allman Brothers when they re-united in the 1989. According to Haynes it wasn't the path the guitarist envisioned early on.
"David Allen Coe was my first real gig. Until then I had only done regional stuff." Just 20 years old at the time Haynes wasn't certain he was a good fit for Coe. "I was kind of thrown into the wolves. I admitted to David I didn't know much about him at the time. But he said he was going in another direction and needed a blues rock guitarist to provide him that edge."
His nearly four year stint with Coe opened up doors for Haynes. "By the early and mid 1980's I was writing with other artists and formed a bond with Dickey Betts. That eventually led me to write songs and record with him on his 'Pattern Disruptive' (1988) album." Haynes would co-write four tracks on the album and add background vocals.
Bigger things were on the horizon. "That led me to co-writing 'Before the Bullets Fly' for Gregg Allman's solo album 'Just Before the Bullets Fly' (1988). By that point Dickey and I had formed a strong relationship and when The Allman Brothers decided to get back together in 1989 Dickey brought me along. That opened the biggest moment in time for me."
Haynes would move back and forth performing with Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers before opting to form his own band in 1994. Before Gov't Mule officially kicked off Haynes recalls playing one of most iconic shows he ever did with the Allman Brothers. However, a scheduled concert date almost derailed their taking part at Woodstock 1994, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the iconic 1969 three day festival.
"From what I remember the band (Allman's) got a call late to take part in the 1994 concert. But we had a show booked on the same night in Boston, so we said to the promoters if we could play early in the day we could make it happen. Long story short they had us perform at 12:30pm and then we all boarded a plane and made our way to Boston."
It's an experience Haynes admits he's happy they could accommodate. "We did a great set. There was around 350K people at Woodstock 94. It was the largest show I ever played in front of before. It's the only time I've done two shows on the same day. It was an amazing day." Adding, "I imagined we would have been a little burned out playing before the Boston crowd, but it was just the opposite. We must have carried a lot of adrenaline from the Woodstock show because our Boston gig was just as amazing."
Not unlike many guitarists Haynes is a preferred axe-man, favoring one particular maker over any other. What drew the southern rock, blues influenced musician to Gibson. "Ironically I started singing several years before I picked up the guitar, listening to singers like Wilson Picket and Sly & the Family Stone. But when I heard cats like Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton when he was in Cream I leaned toward the guitar."
Haynes goes on to say. "All my friends were playing Gibson. It's closer to the sound I heard in my head. I wanted my voice and the guitar to become one, and I get that with my Gibson guitars."
Over a more than four decade career Haynes has been blessed to perform or work alongside some of rock royalty. Aside from Betts, Allman, and members of both bands, Haynes has shared the stage with members of The Grateful Dead, performed at Bonnaroo Music Festival, and before 100k fans when joining Dave Matthews Band at Central Park in New York.
"I constantly look back and reflect on how many wonderful situations I've been a part of. Most people in the entertainment industry only dream about what I've done, but it hasn't been without dedication and perseverance. I search for happiness organically, and I've been very fortunate to be able to write songs, perform, and share the stage with many of the artists I admire."
Regarding his own pursuits, Gov't Mule has been a fan favorite for the past 30 years following the tradition The Grateful Dead laid down, and bands like Widespread Panic carried on. Haynes formed the band initially with drummer Mike Abts and bassist Allen Woody, splitting time between The Allman Brothers through 1997, before focusing on Gov't Mule full time. With Woody's unexpected passing in 2000, Haynes and Abts remain the original core with Danny Louis and Kevin Scott completing the current line-up.
More than two dozen live and studio recordings later Gov't Mule remain as busy as ever. The band spent the better part of the summer on their 'Dark Side of the Mule' tour. "We give ourselves a little theatrical license when it comes to paying homage to other bands. Our fans know we've been doing it for years. We started doing these thematic shows at Halloween, and it just grew from there."
Haynes says it comes from his appreciation to many of the great bands that came before Gov't Mule and several of the artists he appreciated growing up listening too. "It all came about by accident more than a decade ago. In 2008 we decided to do a Pink Floyd laser show. Fans loved it, so we've done it a handful of times. 2023 just happens to be the 50th anniversary of their iconic ablum 'Dark Side of the Moon', so we thought it would be a nice salute." He adds, "We've paid tribute to many bands and albums from diverse artists such as Black Sabbath and 'Who's Next' by The Who."
Gov't Mule begin their fall tour in support of their latest album 'Peace ... Like a River'. The new release was recorded around the same time they released 2021's Grammy (Best Traditional Blues Album) nominated 'Heavy Load Blues'. "When the pandemic hit we just kind of holed ourselves up in a studio (Power Station) in Connecticut and started laying down tracks."
The end result was an abundance of songs. "We knew we had enough for two records, but they were going to be totally different." Haynes admits each had there own concentration. "We would work songs for one album, sometimes til 9pm, take a dinner break and then come back and work on songs for the other. It was a smaller room and we played just like we were in a small club. That's how you get the blues sound."
Haynes adds, 'Looking back, I think 'Peace' may have been finished first but 'Heavy Load Blues' was the first to come out. Of course it went on to be nominated for a Grammy, so we feel good about how it all worked out."
'Heavy Load Blues' would top the Blues Album Charts and receive worldwide acclaim. The album was presented on both CD and vinyl and includes salutes to blues greats Ellmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, William Edward "Little Willie" John, Tom Waits, and songwriting teams of Leiber & Stoller, with 'Have Mercy on the Criminal' by Bernie Taupin & Elton John included on the bonus CD. "It's an album I've wanted to do for a long time."
The 'Peace...Like a River' album was released back in June and it's been praised by critics, returning Gov't Mule to their jam band roots. The tour of the same name will bring Gov't Mule back to the lowcountry as they play on the lawn at Firefly Distillery in North Charleston on Sunday October 1st. "This leg of the tour kicked off in Canada. We have several dates in the US before we head to Europe, with a few epic shows at years end back in the US."
Regarding the North Charleston show. "We've played Charleston a number of times. It's such a cool city. I love coming back to Charleston. Everything about it is so welcoming. The restaurants, the history, and they have a really good music scene. I can't imagine not playing Charleston when we're out on tour because we are so well received there."
Charleston fans can expect much of the same when they play here. "We're a jam band. We don't play a standard setlist. We'll no doubt play songs from the our recent albums, but still no two shows are alike. We'll play some newer stuff and songs from different eras. You might hear a cover song, certainly something from the Allman Brothers." He adds, "It's kind of a coin toss what we're going to play every night."
One thing that has remains constant for Haynes is his annual Christmas Jam held in his native Asheville, NC. The two day and night benefit concert began in the late 1980's. "The pandemic derailed us a few years ago, but we've been back a couple of years and it's one of my personal highlights during any year."
Proceeds from the charitable concert benefit organizations such as Beloved Asheville and Habitat For Humanity. In 2022 Haynes was joined by Phil Lesh & Friends, Tyler Childers, and Brothers Osbourne. "I'm fortunate at this stage in my career to have surrounded myself with musicians that just love to come out and jam for a good cause. It's not about getting paid, it's more about giving back."
He goes on to say, "It's reminds all musician why we started playing, and that is for the love of musicianship." Lowcountry fans who want to jam with Gov't Mule sooner than the holidays will be able to see them live on Sunday October 1st at The Refinery in Charleston. "Again I always look forward to returning to Charleston and hopefully enjoy a little bit of all it has to offer." https://www.therefinerychs.com/events/govt-mule
It's all part of a southern US sweep with dates in Virginia, North Carolina, SC, and Florida. The concert originally scheduled for Firefly Distillery is now being performed at The Refinery at 1640 Meeting Street. For a complete listing of Gov't Mule's tour dates visit their website at https://mule.net/tour/