The term “government mule” refers to the 40 acres and a mule that some slaves were given in America after emancipation. As far as labor and taking care of the land, the animals were fairly useless. That’s not where southern rock jam band Gov’t Mule’s name derives from, though. Let’s just say their use of it references the size of a certain woman’s derriere. And, their music is just as cheeky as their name; bold, saucy and always moving. In June of this year, they dropped their tenth studio album, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, and kicked off a tour during the spring to usher in this release. One of the founding members is the inimitable Warren Haynes, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who’s had a prolific and consistent music career with the legendary Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule.
Recently I spoke with him about his two decades in music and the Revolution Come…Revolution Go album release and tour.
Sonya Alexander: How did you end up joining the Allman Brothers Band? Warren Haynes: I first met Greg Allman and Dickey Betts in 1980 or 81. I was really young, think I was about twenty. They were both very encouraging to me. Dickey and I played together a few times over the next few years. In 1986, I wound up joining Dickey’s band when the Allman Brothers broke up. I did that for about three years. In 1989, they were looking to reform the band for a 20th anniversary concert, for a reunion, and they asked me to join. I joined in 1989. Initially it was just for one year, for the 20th anniversary. It was very successful, everyone was getting along great. All of a sudden it was 25 years we’d been performing together.
SA: How did you get started in music? WH: I started singing when I was about seven. Was mostly singing soul music. James Brown was my first hero. Then, when I started hearing rock music around 10 or 11, I started becoming interested in guitar. I think some kids, when they’re learning an instrument, at some point lose interest. I just never lost interest. It was always something I was enamored with and fascinated by. It became something I was driven to do. I started performing with a band when I was about 14. We started going on the road when I was 17.
SA: Where were you born? WH: Asheville, North Carolina.
SA: Did your environment influence your music? WH: There’s a lot of great music from that part of the country, lot of great musicians in western North Carolina, particularly guitar players. Music was a very important factor in our family. Both my older brothers are music fanatics and they had good taste. There was always music being played in the house.
SA: Who would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t? WH: I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve worked with so many people that I grew up listening to, whether it’s officially, or jamming, singing, recording, whatever the case may be. I haven’t done anything with Neil Young, Tom Waits, or Mark Knopfler. Those are all people who I admire and would be happy to collaborate with if the opportunity arose.
SA: Any music challenges that you haven’t tackled that you’d like to? WH: I’ve always said I’d like to make a somewhat traditional blues record, which I haven’t done yet. And, I’ve always said that at some point that I would like to make a jazz-influenced instrumental record, which I haven’t done yet. Other than that, pretty much everything that has been on my checklist, I’ve done.
SA: How did you get the name Gov’t Mule? WH: The name came from….we were given that name by Jaimoe, our drummer and one of the original Allman Brothers members. We got together, Allen Woody, the two of us were looking for something fun to do as a side project. The Allman Brothers took up less than half of the year, so we had a lot of time on our hands to do other things. I had released a solo record in 1993 and after touring with that for about a year, he and I started to talk about doing something just for the hell of it, so we started putting this side project together and it kind of instantly grew its own wings. We were fortunate enough to stumble on this great chemistry that the three of us had — myself, Allen Woody and Matt Abts. The original band started as a trio and we were only going to make a short tour because we were full-time members of the Allman Brothers. A few years down the line, it was starting to gain its own steam. We wound up leaving the Allman Brothers in ’97 to focus on Gov’t Mule full-time. Allen Woody unexpectedly passed away in 2000 and the future of the band was up in the air. I got a call from Gregg Allman, he said he’d sure love to have me back in the Allman Brothers. Went back with them in 2001 and remained with them until the band stopped touring in 2014.
SA: What have been your favorite moments with Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers? WH: Well, there have been so many highlights, it’s hard to choose. But, I guess playing Woodstock in ’94 in front of 350,000 people…that was great. Being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and playing the Hall of Fame concert at the stadium in Cleveland with so many other wonderful artists…that was really cool. Winning our Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Winning a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
SA: That’s pretty exciting. WH: Yeah, I’ve been pretty fortunate. Have been nominated nine times, have won two. With Gov’t Mule, the Deep End Concert in New Orleans at the Saenger Theater is a favorite. Was one of the greatest live music performances of my life. We played for six hours that night, which is the longest I think I’ve ever played on stage. There were so many special guests, it was a special night. We were glad it was being filmed.
SA: What’s your songwriting process? WH: I write the majority of the songs. Some of the songs are collaborations between myself and different band members. On the new records, there are quite a few collaborations, which I’m really happy with. My friend Gregg Allman used to say, ‘There are as many ways to write a song as there are songs.’ I do a lot of writing at home, when we’re off. But, since we travel so much, I’ve learned to make myself write on the road as well. A lot of the new material was written on the tour bus as we were touring.
SA: How long did it take to finish the album? WH: The songs were written over about a year or a year and a half. The recording process was about two weeks. It’s usually not a very labored process for us in that while we’re in the studio, we’re working long and hard hours, but we’re not one of those bands that spends months in the studio. I would go crazy doing that. (laughs)
SA: How does your life as a musician affect your personal life and vice verse? WH: Well, I have a five-year-old son and he’s my only child. Once he was born, for me it became all about family and work. I don’t really have time for anything else and I’m fine with that.
SA: Do you think the music industry has changed for the better or worse over the years? WH: Well, I think in a lot of ways for the worse and in some ways for the better. We’ll see in the next five years or so. It’s good that young bands and young artists can get their music out there without having to work with major music companies. But, that’s not always a good thing. It’s harder and harder for young musicians to make a living playing music. It’s always been a struggle, but it’s even moreso now.
SA: How would you describe your style? WH: I’m someone who loves a lot of different types of music. I think my style is a mixture of all the things that I love. I actually tell young musicians when they ask for advice that they should listen to as many different types of music as possible. You stand a better chance of finding your own voice if you expose yourself to a lot of different styles of music. So, for me, soul music, and blues and jazz and rock music and folk music…all those things combined are where I’m coming from.
SA: What was the last concert you went to? WH: Oh, let’s see…think that was the Marcus King Band. Sometimes when you’re on the road, and your friends are playing, it’s nice to drop in and say ‘hi.’
SA: Do you have a favorite venue? WH: Probably Red Rocks, in Colorado, where we’re performing at later this year.
SA: How did Gregg Allman’s passing affect you? WH: Well, I was nine years old when I first heard the Allman Brothers. That was 1969. The music made a deep emotional connection with me even though it was too complex for me to really understand. It had a “common man” quality. I am truly honored to have been fortunate enough to have written many songs with him and equally honored to have traveled the world with him while making the best music the world has ever known. I will never, ever take that for granted. And on top of all that…he was my dear friend. My fondest memories will always be of Gregg, myself, and Allen Woody sharing a tour bus together, listening to great music and laughing our asses off mile after mile. Traveling, like life, is so much better when you’ve got friends to share the experience with. I’ve lost too many lately and this one is gonna’ be hard to get past. There is some comfort in knowing that millions of people all over the world feel the same way.
Revolution Come. Revolution Go
Rock & roll has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Mule is no exception.