Gov’t Mule brings glorious rock to Erie’s Warner Theatre
via Go Erie
Inspired by musicians and bands of the past, the versatile Southern-rock jam band keeps the tradition of expansive, meaningful music alive.
It was Warren Haynes’ 58th birthday when he phoned in for an interview — the perfect time to look back on his illustrious career before Gov’t Mule hits the road for a tour that includes an April 19 stop at Erie’s Warner Theatre.
The guitar slinger and soulful vocalist played for 25 years with the legendary Allman Brothers Band, a group he worshipped growing up in North Carolina. He’s also shared the stage with dozens of stars, including Eric Clapton, B.B. King, The Dead, Dave Matthews, Mick Jagger and more.
“I think (on) birthdays, and leading up to it, you tend to do a lot of reflecting,” Haynes said. “I’ve been very fortunate and I’m grateful for all the amazing opportunities.”
Haynes first started Gov’t Mule as a side project from the Allmans. Now it’s his driving force with more than 2,000 shows and nearly 24 years behind him. The band plays meaty, meaningful rock informed by the blues and Southern rock, though its dazzling virtuosity allows it to stretch out, jam and also dip its toes into jazzy and country-flavored waters.
This is a band that unapologetically takes its musical cues from the rock’s glory years, with which Haynes is very familiar. He was just 9 years old when his older brothers turned him onto the Allmans.
“Gregg’s voice was the first thing that captured me, but I soon became enamored with the overall picture. By the time ‘(At) Fillmore East’ came out in ’71, I was starting to play guitar, even though I was 11,” he said. “Every guitar player in the South, at that time, had discovered that album. It was a game-changer.”
Haynes’ own game-changer came years later, after he started playing with David Allan Coe followed by a stint with The Nighthawks. It was when Dickey Betts invited him to join a band he started while the Allmans were no more.
“We made the one Dickey Betts Band album together and toured for a couple years. Then, the next thing I know, they asked me to join the Allman Brothers (in 1989),” Haynes said. “What a life-changing experience, you know.”
In 1994, Haynes and his Allmans’ bandmate, bassist Allen Woody, started Gov’t Mule as a side project with drummer Matt Abts, who was also in the Dickey Betts Band. They took a heavier, bluesier approach than the Allmans, inspired by bands such as James Gang and Cream with Eric Clapton.
″(Clapton) was one of my first three guitar heroes,” Haynes said. “It was Eric Clapton, (Jimi) Hendrix and Johnny Winter. Those were the first three people that I discovered, and that led me to everything else.”
Years later, in 2009, Clapton sat in with Haynes and the Allmans during one of their 40th-anniversary performances.
Haynes had two stints with the Allmans, who played Erie’s Warner Theatre in 2005 and 2006. (“We had a wonderful time,” Haynes recalled.) He left in 1997 to concentrate on Gov’t Mule, but rejoined in 2001 not long after Woody’s untimely death at age 44. Inspired by talks with fellow musicians, Haynes eventually decided he should revive Gov’t Mule.
“The first phone calls I got were from Gregg Allman and Phil Lesh, who had obviously both endured losing musical partners,” Haynes said. Dave Grohl and Metallica’s James Hetfield also shared their experiences of losing a bandmate and encouraged Haynes.
“They were all basically telling me ‘though it feels like maybe you can’t continue, you really need to,’” Haynes said. “It helped me realize that keeping the music alive was the right thing to do.”
Now Gov’t Mule — which also includes keyboard player Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson — helps keep rock alive with superlative albums including 2016′s expansive “Revolution Come … Revolution Go,” which it began recording on Election Day 2016.
“Probably not the most recommended day to start a project,” Haynes said. “I guess, like the rest of the world, we were very surprised. None of us expected (Donald) Trump to win.”
Most of the songs for “Revolution” were written during the tumultuous lead-up to the election, and some — including the hard-hitting, funk-fortified “Stone Cold Rage” and measured, soulful “Pressure Under Fire” — reflect on unrest and growing divisions in the country. It’s not an overtly political album, though; it’s more ’60s-inspired in its impassioned calls for love, unity and understanding.
“The condition that I was singing about in ‘Stone Cold Rage’ was going to be here, no matter who won, and I think it’s the same message in ‘Revolution,’” Haynes said. “Which really, when it comes down to it, is a message that it’s up to people to take charge and make the changes they want. If we’re depending on politicians to make the changes, we’re kind of kidding ourselves.”
One thing Haynes can’t change: Top 40 radio, which seems allergic to rock. “Revolution” is packed with songs that would have dominated the airwaves in the glory days of Cream, the James Gang, Jimi Hendrix, Free Traffic and Hall & Oates, a surprising influence on “Revolution’s” “Sarah, Surrender.”
“It’s quite the challenge these days to fit into the modern music world,” Haynes said. “We’ve never chased trends. I feel like they would be the kiss of death for a band like us. We’re basically playing music we love and building an audience of like-minded people.
“I’m very fortunate, and all of us in Gov’t Mule are very fortunate, that we grew up exposed to a lot of great music that the world wouldn’t have heard in today’s musical climate,” he added. “We did and, thankfully, we were moved by it, inspired by it and continue to follow that path. I can’t imagine playing music and feeling like you’re compromising to do it. I mean, what’s the point?”