Some songs that don’t sell millions of copies still become well-known favorites as the years go by, and even become standards. While it’s not exactly a standard yet, one such song that has become more familiar and popular with the passing of time is “Soulshine,” written by Warren Haynes of the legendary blues-rock outfit Gov’t Mule.
Haynes has been one of the hardest-working musicians out there for many years, having spent over two decades as a member of the Allman Brothers Band, in addition to fronting Gov’t Mule and working with Phil Lesh and Friends, the Dave Matthews Band, and others. “Soulshine” is a song he wrote in the late 1980s in Nashville, and it was first recorded by bluesman Larry McCray before the ABB cut it in 1994 for their Where We All Belong album. But since then, the Mule has recorded it both in the studio (The Deep End, Volume 1) and live (Live… With a Little Help from Our Friends and The Deepest End, Live in Concert). A song about looking inside oneself for peace in times of trouble, it has become an anthem of hope to many. The Mule has performed the song live for over 20 years, including (though not every night) on their recent string of touring dates opening for ZZ Top.
Several Internet sites claim that “Soulshine” is a nickname given to Haynes by his father. Whether that’s true or not, Haynes said his father did play a role in his writing of the song in a piece Haynes wrote for the 2009 book Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song.
“The song isn’t really about my dad but references him and our strong relationship,” Haynes said of the song, which includes the lines Well you got to let your soul shine/ Just like my daddy used to say. “He is a huge part of my life, a huge inspiration and a great role model. It’s rare to have the opportunity to do that. I thought it was too simple because it came too easily, but when I tried to change it or complicate it, it seemed too contrived…Some songs are better off left alone. Instead of a blues approach about how I felt, I wrote for a universal appeal. However, the more I distanced myself from it, the more I realized how personal it was.”
While he’s well-known for writing “Soulshine,” which has also been covered by Beth Hart and by his onetime boss, David Allan Coe, Haynes originally had some success as a country songwriter. With Nashville writers Dennis Robbins and Bobby Boyd, he wrote “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” a number one hit for Garth Brooks that spent some five months on the Billboard country charts in 1991.