Danny Talks Blurring the Boundaries of Blues Rock.
via Keyboard Mag
Gov’t Mule’s longtime keyboardist on blurring the boundaries of blues rock.
“Between Bitches Brew and Jon Lord, you’re pretty much there,” keyboardist Danny Louis replies when pressed for a one-sentence summation of his sound. For nearly two decades, Louis has injected his unique brand of textural exploration into Gov’t Mule’s blues-based sound. We caught-up with him in the midst of the band’s continuing tour in support of their latest album Revolution Come… Revolution Go to talk about his singular sonic approach.
The good news for listeners is that Gov’t Mule’s new album Revolution Come… Revolution Go is just as dirty and raucous as ever!
I don’t know if we can help ourselves in that regard. We definitely have a lot of influences, and they’re all over the map. Everybody as individuals brings them, but I think the trio lurks behind all of that. That’s what the band started as. It has to rock. But when I joined the band, the whole keyboard thing had a potential to sweeten it before it was ready to be sweetened I guess, and to refine it and to make it gentler in a way that might have been counter to the initial aesthetic of the band. And I’m still, even 16 years later, mindful of that particular aesthetic that Gov’t Mule embodied when it was a trio. I was a huge fan of it. Coincidentally enough, the first rock and roll bands that I participated in – in high school, and even in junior high, I was the bass player in power trios. That was my axe, and the trumpet was my legit axe for school for high school band and orchestra. And so when I wanted to rock and roll, I had a buddy who was the best guitar player in our high school and we did power trio stuff.
When did you join Gov’t Mule?
In 2002 officially. When I first met Warren [Haynes], he was supporting a solo record called Tales of Ordinary Madness, so I joined that group for the touring behind that album, which was decidedly keyboard oriented. In fact, it was co-produced by Chuck Leavell, and on any one given track, there were up to three different keyboard players. Chuck Leavell was on almost every track. Bernie Worrell was on a lot of tracks. There was a ton of keyboards on it. Warren’s songs at the time were geared towards that sort of ensemble. That was around 1992-93. And so we stayed friends. That cycle was done, and then Warren, Allen Woody, and Matt Abts formed Gov’t Mule. I became a huge fan of that because of the trio thing. So I used to come back and see them, and then those guys would rent a keyboard rig and I would play with them whenever they were in the Metropolitan area and we had a ball. I used to set up a Wurlitzer and a Marshall. And I didn’t play any thirds because I sat next to Woody, and if you played a third it would just gum up the works!
Like the Benmont Tench school of keyboard playing.
In a way, yeah. Although, Benmont is a good example of what I feel is an unsung hero except to guys like us, in that he sets up the band to be much more than a blues-rock ensemble. His textures do involve a lot of thirds, but when he plays one it’s very significant. And his sense of space is equally as important as his sense of harmony and melody.
When I first joined the band, Warren and I had a couple conscious discussions about it. He said to me – because we were just going to try it out for a couple of weeks, “What are you thinking rig wise?” And I said, “What did the guys before me use?” They had been experimenting with a couple of different keyboard players. Chuck Leavell did a tour with them, as did Johnny Neel and Rob Barraco – who did a bunch of playing in the Dead and also Phil and Friends and the Zen Tricksters. So I asked Warren what my predecessors had done before me, and he said pretty much Hammond B3 organ and sampled acoustic piano. And I said, “Nah, that ain’t gonna work.” He replied, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Think Bitches Brew, man. Think distorted electric pianos through guitar amps. Think more rude and/or psychedelic and that will lead us to concert rock,” which is kind of where I felt we should go. I felt like the acoustic piano was more of a gentlemen’s blues, roots-rock type of thing. And so I set-up a rig and put the old trio records on through a big PA and I just started to feel distorted Wurlitzer. Not a beautiful “Three Dog Night” type of Wurlitzer sound, but more—I guess there’s a tip of the hat to Bill Payne there, but even more so Bitches Brew. That’s the one that I used to really feel like, “Wow.” At that point, I don’t know if you’ll remember, rock and roll had gotten pretty technocratic – Yes and Gentle Giant and Genesis. There were a lot of very ornate bands out there with dazzling chops. I felt that the attraction of rebellion and anger had somehow gotten lost in those incredibly wonderful technical masterpieces that these bands were doing. And then I heard what Miles was doing through Jack Johnson, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew, and I found the rebellion and the nastiness again. In those records, he would put Herbie Hancock on a Farfisa or Joe Zawinul through not his usual Gospel-ly Rhodes, like a more distorted, more tortured Rhodes. For some reason, I thought the power trio could keep on in that mood with that sort of a texture behind it. And also was thinking about [Deep Purple’s] Jon Lord.