The story of Heavy Load Blues, the new record out Friday (November 12) from the prolific rock band Gov’t Mule, begins with two separate rooms. For a number of years, the band’s co-founder, Warren Haynes, had been talking about the idea of making a blues album. Generally speaking, Gov’t Mule is a jam-rock band, founded originally as an improvisational power rock trio. But once the 2020 pandemic hit, Haynes found himself, like many other artists, writing song after song, and he’d accumulated a significant number of blues tunes that he wanted to lay down. But when the band eagerly agreed to the idea, there was one more stipulation: the group had to record two albums at once. In two separate rooms, simultaneously.
“Amidst the whole pandemic and lockdown situation,” Haynes says, “it seemed to make sense. And for me, I was open to the idea as long as we could record a ‘normal’ Gov’t Mule record alongside it. So, we came up with the plan to do two records at once.”
Everything was different in the adjoining rooms, from the equipment to the layout. The blues room had lower ceilings, vintage amps, a smaller drum kit. The band recorded its more standard Gov’t Mule record during the daytime and hopped into the next digs at night to make the blues album, which the group ended up tracking live. They say each person needs three places: home, work, and your third, a recreational place. But during the pandemic, for Haynes and the crew, there was home, work, and work. They made the best of it. They played the blues.
“It turned out to be a really good recipe,” Haynes says. “We made 35 or 36 songs over the process and the records sound completely different from each other.”
Haynes says the band’s second record will be released in 2022, though he does not have a specific release date in mind just yet. It will be a follow-up to the band’s 2017 studio LP, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, he says. But this new 13-track blues album is standalone. It’s distinct, separate from the lengthy Gov’t Mule catalog that precedes it. Hits include the melancholy cover of “Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City” and the thoughtful “Heavy Load.”
Originally, the band, which began in 1994, started as a side project for Haynes and co-founder Allen Woody. At the time, the two were both playing in the Allman Brothers band. But the Allman Brothers played about half the year, which left Haynes and Woody the chance to explore other ideas during the other half.
“I had just released my first solo album,” Haynes says. “This was like in 1994 and we were on the bus listening to Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, or something, and we were talking about how nobody was doing that—there were no improv rock power trios anymore.”
That’s when Woody turned to Haynes and said they could do it with the right drummer. Immediately, Haynes thought of Matt Abts, and the three were off and running. At the time, they didn’t have big plans, but the jam sessions, recording sessions, and reception proved to be bigger than they’d anticipated. Sadly for the group, Woody died unexpectedly a few years later in 2000. Haynes has continued in his dear friend’s absence, playing the tracks they both helped bring into the world. Haynes, himself, began to appreciate music early, largely due to the radio and his older brothers.
“The first memory that I have that stands out,” he says, “was hearing ‘Sounds of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel on the radio in my parent’s car when I was a kid and just something happened, something just clicked.” He adds, “Also, hearing Black gospel music coming over the radio when I was a kid growing up in North Carolina.”
As he got older, Haynes got into the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He also fell in love with the Allman Brothers. He started singing before playing guitar after hearing all the soul music in his home. He would sit in his bedroom and sing along to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and The Temptations. Later, his older brother got an acoustic guitar. He plucked that and, when he found rockers like Hendrix and Cream, he went wild with possibilities. After that, he says, the sky was the limit. All the way to his dream project.
“I was a big Allman Brothers fan from the time I was 9 years old,” the 61-year-old Haynes says. “My oldest brother had the first album when it came out in 1969 and I had not even picked up a guitar yet. But I was fascinated with Greg’s voice and with the guitar interplay and just the overall impact, overall sound of it.”
Over the next few years, Haynes gravitated to guitar. Once he dove in, he sought as much about it as he could. Now he’s one of the world’s best and most accomplished.
“The thought that, at some point, I would wind up being in the band was a nonexistent thought in my mind,” Haynes says of his time spent with Allman Brothers. “But things happen that are stranger sometimes.”
Now, though, with a new record set for release and another on the way, those two rooms that kept Haynes and the rest of the band occupied during a trying, tumultuous time have helped to yield music that will in turn aid others in tough times. That’s one of the gifts of songwriting, it’s the ability to communicate, share and heal. Haynes knows it. It’s been there for him now for decades, in one fashion or another.
“It’s such a personal experience for each individual,” Haynes says. “Nobody can tell you what to like, nobody can tell you what not to like. It means something different to everyone, but at the same time, it’s this universal language. As Dwayne Allman says, ‘There’s nothing negative that can come from music.’ Music never hurt nobody.’”
Photo by Jay Sansone