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Gov't Mule Goes Full Blues 

Warren Haynes dishes on Mule's latest album while on the road to Bend

There's no shortage of wheelings and dealings when it comes to Gov't Mule's discography. The highly skilled crew has tackled just about every inch of rock music in a variety of ways, from its 2004 Pink Floyd live covers album, "Dark Side of the Mule," to the band's third and highly beloved album, "Life Before Insanity." The four-piece, with a current lineup of Warren Haynes (guitar, writing, vocals), Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboard, guitar, backing vocals) and Jorgen Carlsson (bass), has finally done something neither Haynes nor Gov't Mule had ever done before—a traditional blues record.

With "Heavy Load Blues," a record that had its deluxe version released this April, Haynes can happily check that off of his bucket list.

click to enlarge Gov't Mule knows no bounds. The band recently released a blues album and their tour will bring them to Bend later this month. - JAY SANSONE
  • Jay Sansone
  • Gov't Mule knows no bounds. The band recently released a blues album and their tour will bring them to Bend later this month.

"During lockdown we made it our mission to find a studio where we could set up two different set-ups and record two different albums at the same time, in two different rooms," recalls Haynes. "I had been writing a lot of material, and so we would record for what's going to be the next Gov't Mule record early in the day until about 9pm. Then we would move into a smaller room with old vintage equipment set up in a really tight space like an old blues club. So we would play blues all into the night. It was a good way to cope with the whole lockdown situation. I'm not sure I would want to work like that in general, but it ended up working great for this record."

Recording two different albums simultaneously sounds kind of confusing. One went full-on blues, whereas the other sounds closer to the Gov't Mule many have come to love. Even with the abnormal set-up the band was still able to find a flow in the seemingly crazy process. Haynes noted that the band still pushed to show off sides of themselves that their fans haven't heard yet for what will be their next album.

"It seems like it could be pretty strange but it worked out pretty well. By the time we played blues at night it was a way to shut off our brains. In that way it was a remedy," Haynes says. "It's [the upcoming album] different in a lot of ways than what we've done as well. I mean we had all our usual toys out, but we just had a lot of fun with it. It's a very song-oriented record but also very adventurous from a musical standpoint. In a lot of ways it shows a lot of sides of Gov't Mule that people haven't seen before."

While fans wait for what's to come, there is plenty of music to digest with "Heavy Load Blues." The deluxe edition features 20 live-in-studio takes of both original Haynes-written material and a ton of expertly covered songs from some of Haynes' most admired blues musicians. The whole album is a trip through history with a Gov't Mule twist.

Take "Hiding Place," for example, a song that was actually written by Haynes in the late '80s that other bands have recorded, but one he had never taken to the studio. Or their funky take on Junior Wells' "Snatch It Back and Hold It" that became a medley smashed with their own jam "Hold It Back." The album shows just how fearless Gov't Mule is. Taking on these old blues songs in a unique and fun way isn't easy, but damn, do they pull it off.

"I wanted to record songs by a lot of my favorite blues artists. Like Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. But I didn't want to do the obvious choices. We kind of, on a song-by-song basis, we decided how close we would stay to the original. In some cases they sound very similar, other cases completely different. We just tackled that as we went," he said. "I had also written a lot of original blues songs, which is something that I don't normally do. The hard part was taking the originals and making sure they all fit with the covers. The feel and sound is very much like an old Bobby Blue Bland record."

The deluxe edition also features two live recordings, one from London Bluesfest and the other from Sands Bethlehem Events Center.

"I remember both of those shows just feeling very good. When I listened to the recordings it just made sense to use them. Jorgen, our bassist, remixed those tunes for the records and they really capture the spirit of the live performance. Our fans love excess when it comes to music, so our deluxe editions actually sell more than the standard versions."

Gov't Mule is set to play in Bend Thursday, June 16 in the Century Center. Haynes remembers Mule playing in Bend previously and is excited to get the chance to do it again.

"I really enjoyed it. I love that part of the country and people in that area really love music and live music. So I'm really looking forward to playing there again."


Gov't Mule
Thu., June 16, doors at 6pm
Century Center
70 SW Century Dr.
$40 online plus fees

About The Author

Isaac Biehl

Isaac is living proof that "Iowa Nice" is actually a thing. A journalism graduate from Iowa State University, he regularly writes about music, the outdoors and the arts/culture scene. Isaac loves the Trail Blazers, backpacking and a good IPA. He plans to one day win Survivor. Your move, Jeff Probst...
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