September 2, 2007
SNOWMASS – Govt Mules latest recording, due for release in October, is Mighty High. Having released last year the CD High and Mighty, the band figured the time wasnt ripe yet for another full-length album, so the new release is an EP music industry lingo for extended play, an abbreviated version of a CD.Its worth noting that Mighty High runs 70 minutes, or longer than your average full-length album. Warren Haynes, the singer, guitarist and leader of Govt Mule, laughs as he notes, probably correctly, that it is the longest EP in history.I think its a good thing to give people a bargain for their price, he added.That sentiment pretty much captures the essence of Haynes. The 47-year-old, ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stones list of greatest guitarists of all time (to be fair, that list was compiled four years ago; Haynes might well have climbed a few spots by now), is booked to make two appearances on the main stage at Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival: Tonight, he performs with the Allman Brothers Band, which he helped to revive by joining them in 1989; Monday, he leads Govt Mule, which he formed as a side project from the Allmans in 1994, to a headlining gig. Certainly that would have been sufficient for the fans who are coming from across the country to catch the double dose of Haynes. But a few weeks ago it was announced that Haynes had added a solo acoustic show Monday night at Belly Up. That show sold out in a day or so.Its important to add what kinds of concerts these are. While Govt Mule is very much a band including drummer Matt Abts, a co-founder of the band; bassist Andy Hess, who replaced Allen Woody, another original member; and keyboardist Danny Louis it is carried by Haynes, who handles all the vocals, does virtually all of the solos, and has a hand in all the songwriting. Govt Mule plays long, high-energy, sweaty shows as do the Allman Brothers, in which Haynes shares guitar duties with Derek Trucks, and vocals with Gregg Allman. The solo show turns down the volume, though not necessarily the energy required of Haynes. The repertoire of the three gigs has some overlap, but not much.Doesnt this kind of marathon exhaust Haynes? In a good way, he explained. I always compare it to playing a sport. Or in cases like this, a doubleheader.This will be the first time this year that Haynes will be following an electric show with an acoustic set. Still, by Haynes historical standards, this is not an extreme weekend. A few years ago, Haynes also claimed membership in Phil & Friends, the group led by former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. At the occasional festival, Haynes would pull triple duty, playing back-to-back-to-back sets with Govt Mule, the Allmans, and Phil & Friends.Thats physically taxing. Especially in the summertime, said the North Carolina product, speaking from his home in the East Village of New York City, where he has lived for years. Its a mental challenge but a great one.While Haynes seems to have set the bar high for himself, he says it is his fellow musicians who push him to such heights. And rather than exhausting him, the prospect of following an Allmans show with a Govt Mule gig and a solo set is energizing.Both Govt Mule and the Allman Brothers, theyre intense gigs. You have to be on your best game the entire night. But thats what were here for to strive to be our best. The energy, the inspiration comes from the people around you. Theres always a great pool of musicians around me., said Haynes by phone. And the shifts in the music from the Southern boogie-blues in the Allmans to the harder-edged rock in Govt Mule to the gentle strumming of the acoustic gig keep him sharp. Each situation has its own vocabulary, its own repertoire, its own vibe. When you move from one to the next, its refreshing.Haynes doesnt just move from band to band. He helps to move the individual bands as well.Mighty High, the new Govt Mule EP, for instance, is a reggae album, which should come as a shock to the bands casual fans, and at least a surprise to even Mule devotees. Govt Mule began life well toward the hard-rock fringe of the jam-band realm, throwing covers of Black Sabbath and Humble Pie into their mix of power-trio originals. After bassist Allen Woody died, in 2000, Haynes and Abts went into the Deep End years, employing a huge roster of renowned bassists Les Claypool, Phishs Mike Gordon, the Whos John Entwistle, Creams Jack Bruce, the Meters George Porter Jr. and Metallicas Jason Newstead to name a few for the two volumes of The Deep End and the live, two-disc set, The Deepest End. During this phase, Govt Mule used the opportunity to explore corners of jazz, metal, funk and more.The band eventually settled on Andy Hess, formerly of the Black Crowes, to permanently fill the bass chair. But the end of rotating bassists didnt spell the end of stylistic exploration. Over the past few years, reggae has become a prominent element in live shows, as Govt Mule played Bob Marley covers, or reworked their own material with reggae rhythms.Weve all been fans and considered it an influence a long time, said Haynes. Even before Allen Woody died, we did some reggae. But its been gaining momentum. Its feel-good music.Mighty High was conceived as a six-song recording. But it expanded as the band began playing with reggaefied covers of songs Al Greens Im a Ram, the Bands The Shape Im In and experimented with doing dub mixes of tunes. The project grew to include guests vocalists Michael Franti, Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals, and Jamaican singer Willie Williams.Haynes says that no one should consider Govt Mule a reggae band. For one thing, in concert, they will not be confined to the reggae material. For another, even the reggae songs they do play are done through their hard-rock filter, which will likely always be the quartets foundation.Further, there is still more ground to explore. Haynes has expressed his intention to devote time to all the influences he has absorbed over the decades; the next one up appears to be jazz.Some of the more jazzier influences are coming through, said Haynes, who has been listening to Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley lately, in addition to his customary diet of Monk and Coltrane. There are versions on the EP where Danny plays jazz trumpet, Im playing jazz guitar, just going for that traditional sound approach. I was always a huge Wes Montgomery and Grant Green fan.Before they get to a jazz album, however, there is a DVD due this fall. In typical fashion, it wont be the standard full-show DVD, but two full shows.And there is still another band to push forward. While the Allman Brothers can be considered an institution, with nearly 40 years and an old, familiar repertoire that fans demand to hear behind them, Haynes is determined that the band not become a static dinosaur.When he joined the Allmans, in 1989, the band had been laid to rest, the victim of all the usual rock n roll headaches. Haynes and Allen Woody helped put them back on the map, with several worthy albums of new material. The two newcomers left the Allmans in the late 90s to focus on Govt Mule, but Haynes rejoined in 2001. In 2003, with Haynes and Derek Trucks the nephew of Allmans drummer Butch Trucks in the guitar slots, the band released another respectable effort, Hittin the Note.Though there are no plans in place for another album of new material, the Allmans arent resting on past glory. Haynes notes that, in the bands most recent two-week-plus stand at New Yorks Beacon Theater, a late-winter tradition, the Allmans played over 90 songs, including new covers and old, recently unearthed blues tunes.Were always trying to find new ways of reinventing certain sections of songs, just to keep on pushing, said Haynes. Everybodys pushing each other to break new ground. A lot of people would be surprised to hear how different every Allman Brothers show is different from the night before.Part of the ongoing development has been the emergence of Derek Trucks. When he joined the band, as a 20-year-old, he needed time to find his place in the band. His maturation process has been evident the past year. Though Haynes says the Allmans is pretty much a musical democracy, he added that Dereks been stepping up all the time.As all music fans marvel at the mighty Warren Haynes, Haynes himself looks at the drummers and wonders how they do it.For drummers, it can get tiring, he said. When we played the Deepest End concert during the 2003 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival it was a six-hour concert and three-hour rehearsal. I dont know how Matt Abts did it. And thats all physical.