YOU CAN BE excused for feeling surprised at the news that Gov’t Mule’s Heavy Load Blues is Warren Haynes’ first proper all-blues album. The music has been at the heart of Haynes’ playing — not only since Gov’t Mule’s 1995 self-titled debut, but since he burst onto the international scene with the Allman Brothers Band’s 1989 comeback album, Seven Turns, and established himself as one of the great guitar heroes of the last quarter century.
But Heavy Load Blues is indeed the first time that Haynes has released a complete collection of blues songs, split evenly between originals and tunes by Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells and other blues luminaries.
“I’ve been thinking about doing an album like this for a very long time, but I was not sure if it would be a solo project or a Mule record,” Haynes says. “I’m a bit surprised, too, that it’s taken this long, but what better time than now after the pandemic?”
Gov’t Mule was started by Haynes, bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts as an outlet for Haynes and Woody to bust out of their day gigs in the Allman Brothers Band and stretch the boundaries of music. They were paying tribute to power trios like Cream, Mountain and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with material often rooted in the blues but ready to blast off in any direction. It’s the template the band has retained for 26 years, through Woody’s 2000 death and the transformation from trio to quartet with the addition of keyboardist/second guitarist Danny Louis. Jorgen Carlsson has been the band’s bassist since 2008. Through all those changes and developments, the band’s essential approach has remained steady, as evidenced by the group’s previous studio album, 2017’s ambitious Revolution Come Revolution Go.
When Haynes’ wife and manager Stefani Scamardo suggested that the time was right to record the blues album they had long discussed, Haynes was excited but also hesitant for one simple reason: he had been extremely productive writing songs during the pandemic-induced time off the road.
“I was home more than I’ve been since I was 15 and consequently did more writing than I’ve done in decades,” he says. “There were a lot of negatives about that time, but that was one of the positives. So I thought that it would be a lot of fun but also that I’d written all this new music, and really wanted to record it as well.”
Haynes came up with an ambitious solution, the kind that comes naturally to him: recording two albums simultaneously.
“Our mission became finding a place where we can set up two entirely different setups and record two records at the same time,” Haynes says. “And that’s what we did.” The second album will be out in 2022.
You actually cut two albums at once, which is pretty amazing. Tell me about that process. The other album is what I consider the follow-up to Revolution Come Revolution Go — the next proper Mule album. We did not record back-to-back albums; we recorded both at the same time. We were set up in two different rooms. In the big room, we had all our Gov’t Mule toys. And there was a much smaller adjoining room, with low ceilings, with an entirely different setup: small drum kit, a bunch of little amplifiers, and no headphones. And we just played live like we were in a little club in there. We would go in early in the day and record new songs all day. Then somewhere around dinnertime, we would take a break and over the next couple hours, move over to the blues room and start playing blues for the late night. Same routine every day.
Did you even have to think about whether the blues album should be cut late at night? No. It was kind of obvious. Johnny Winter said that Muddy Waters said that Hard Again was his favorite recording experience because Johnny let him record late at night. He said it’s not natural to play the blues in the middle of the day, and I tend to agree. Also, there was something really cool about the fact that we would go in and record these Gov’t Mule songs all day that were much more complex or structured, and then at the end of the day we could stop thinking and just play blues. It was like taking off ankle weights. We could step away and kind of get lost in the other world for a while.
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