On the phone with former Allman Brothers guitarist, Gov’t Mule leader Warren Haynes
via Clarion Ledger
My first question for Warren Haynes was obvious: Why did he name his band Gov’t Mule?
I added before he answered: “I’m assuming it’s a shot at the government. You know, the government takes a lot of the money, you get to keep a little and you keep working like a government mule.”
Haynes laughed. “I guess that could be one way of looking at it,” he said. “I’ll add that to the list because we always tell people it’s whatever they think it means.”
He shared that the name was suggested to him by his fellow member of the Allman Brothers Band, Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson from Gulfport. It sounded cool and different so the name stuck.
That was 24 years and 23 albums ago, and Gov’t Mule is still making its rock and blues music. Haynes and his bandmates will perform Oct. 26 at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson. Tickets ($25.50 and $45.50) are available online through Ticketfly.
Haynes, 58, is best known as a longtime guitarist with the Allman Brothers. But he also is a renowned singer and songwriter.
Here are a few of the things we talked about recently during a half hour phone interview. I found Haynes to be insightful, funny, not rushed and without ego.
Haynes’ path to the Allman Brothers Band began in 1987 as a backup vocalist on an album by guitarist Dickey Betts.
“Dickey and I had met and played together and he asked if I would come in and sing some background on a song he was recording,” Haynes said. “The song and the album were scrapped and never released, which is sort of odd. But he called me up again about making another album.”
When the Allman Brothers reunited in 1989, Haynes was asked to join.
“It just shows you can’t predict anything,” Haynes said. “The most momentous times in your life usually happen in a way that nobody would ever expect.
“Being in the Allman Brothers Band was the greatest career change of my life, but I had no reason to ever think that was a possibility. I was such a huge Allman Brothers fan growing up.”
He recalled the first few days of rehearsal as “very magical.”
“The original members hadn’t played together in nine years and had not gotten along very well when they did,” Haynes said. “But when we started playing, we all looked at each other and smiled. We knew it was working. And it either works or it doesn’t. I was lucky I had played with Dickey and we had honed our skills together before that. That helped me relax more than if I’d just auditioned.”
Haynes was a co-writer of Garth Brooks’ 1990 hit song “Two of a Kind (Working On a Full House)” along with Dennis Robbins and Bobby Boyd. It stayed at No. 1 for 20 weeks.
“I was living in Nashville at that time, doing a lot of writing with other people,” Haynes said. “We wrote it one afternoon, and I knew it was a hit as soon as we finished it. “When we got the call that Garth had recorded it, he was just getting started and had one song doing really well (“If Tomorrow Never Comes”).
“So while I knew ‘Two of a Kind’ was a hit song, I had no idea how big it would become. He’s included it on all his compilations albums, his live albums. And I appreciate it.
Known primarily as an electric guitar player, Haynes also enjoys performing acoustic gigs.
Haynes opened with an acoustic set for The Dead — a band consisting of various members of the Grateful Dead, plus Haynes — and the Allman Brothers.
“It was different,” he said. “I’d come out and play an hour-long acoustic show, go backstage and then reappear and play three hours with the band.
“It was a lot of work, but it was also extremely gratifying. That’s one of the things I love about my life is that I have the opportunities to do a lot of different things, to express myself in different ways. Acoustic shows allow me to play and sing songs that I normally wouldn’t do.”
One of his early acoustic sets was recorded for his 2003 solo album, “Live at Bonnaroo.”
“Eighty thousand people showed up,” Haynes recalled. “It was a bit intimidating but also gratifying. Playing a solo set like that in front of that many people is sort of like sports — you want to do your best when the pressure is on.”
Haynes’ annual Christmas Jam show has helped Habitat for Humanity build dozens of homes in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.
“It started out as a local thing, but the crowds got bigger every year,” he said. “A lot of amazing artists (such as Travis Tritt, the Avett Brothers, Blind Boys of Alabama, the Doobie Brothers, Sheryl Crow, the Steve Miller Band) deserve all the credit for making this happen. The lineup has been wonderful every year.
“There is something very cool about turning music into homes for people who couldn’t afford them otherwise.”
This year’s show will mark the event’s 30th anniversary.
Gov’t Mule is known for its unpredictable setlists.
“A lot of times, we don’t start thinking about a setlist until the day before or the day of a show,” Haynes said. “We like to get a vibe for what’s going, talk about what we might have played the last time we were there.
“Because it’s been a while since we’ve down your way, we’re coming in with a clean slate. You’ll probably get a bit from a lot of our albums.”
Haynes is still dealing with the loss of his longtime friends and bandmates Gregg Allman, who died in May 2017, and drummer Butch Trucks, who passed away four months earlier.
“Losing Gregg and Butch back to back like that was a real blow,” Haynes said. “Gregg and me and (bass player) Allen Woody shared a bus when we toured. We always called it the ‘fun bus’ because we were always laughing and cutting up together.
“Like I said earlier, I was such a huge fan of the Allman Brothers before I ever played with them. And then to stand there beside them night after night for years … it’s been a tough thing. But I can honestly say we had countless good times together, and I think about those good times a lot.”