UTG INTERVIEW: Warren Haynes Celebrates Two Decades Of Gov’t Mule

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There are few modern guitarists with as profound of a career as Gov’t Mule mastermind Warren Haynes. The 54-year-old North Carolina native has spent the majority of his lifetime showcasing his unique, unprecedented, soulful weaving of blues and rock songwriting.

Outside of his own band, Haynes has played alongside the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead (featuring surviving members of The Grateful Dead), The Derek Trucks Band, and even released a handful of solo records under the moniker The Warren Haynes Band. He’s written songs with Garth Brooks, Dave Matthews, Corrosion of Conformity, Elvis Costello, Les Claypool, Ben Harper, and countless others. In 2011, Rolling Stone rightfully named Haynes number 23 on its ‘Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ list.

Needless to say, he stays pretty busy.

But, despite continuous touring, recording, and collaborating, Haynes doesn’t hesitate in admitting his gratitude toward his profession.

“I’m lucky to get to do what I love for a living,” Haynes modestly confessed. “I have the best job in the world.”

Haynes’ premier outfit, Gov’t Mule, is celebrating 20 years of poignant rock ‘n’ roll longevity through the release of a series of live, previously recorded tribute records, starting with the following: The Stoned Side of the Mule (a collection of Rolling Stones covers released exclusively on vinyl), The Dark Side of the Mule (a nod to Pink Floyd), The Dub Side of the Mule (a reggae tribute featuring Toots Hibbert), and Sco-Mule (a live record from 1999 featuring John Scofield).

Every New Year’s Eve and Halloween for almost a decade, Gov’t Mule plays a different themed cover set along with an onslaught of their own material.

“It was a blast, learning all that material and playing it for the first time,” Haynes said. “[The Sco-Mule record] is the one I’m most proud of because it’s predominately original material. It’s the first time we did that much original material — it’s documenting the first performances with John Scofield. It’s just something that came together in a magical way and influenced our career from that point forward.”

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Last Saturday, Haynes hosted the twenty-sixth year of his annual Christmas Jam in Asheville, North Carolina. This year’s lineup included Vince Gill, Jason Isbell, Jack Parson, and more. Previous lineups have featured the likes of Counting Crows, Steve Miller Band, and Peter Frampton, to name a few.

Christmas Jam provides more than just an opportunity for a group of talented musicians to get together and share their love — it’s a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. All of the musicians play for free, and as of 2013 the event has raised $1.5 million for the cause.

“It’s been an amazing experience, watching the thing grow as it has,” Haynes said. “As musicians, it’s easy for us to give back, because in the case of something like Christmas Jam, giving back is doing what you do every day anyway; playing music, and turning that into homes for people who can’t afford them. It makes for some special music because everyone there is not only doing it for the cause, but with the spirit that reminds them why they started playing music in the first place — for the joy of it.”

This past October, heralded American blues rock act The Allman Brothers Band played its last show at Beacon Theatre in New York City. Haynes spent 25 years of his life playing guitar for The Allman Brothers, which is considered one of the most influential acts in the history of rock ‘n’ roll music.

“Having the opportunity to join the Allman Brothers was an amazing experience,” Haynes said. “I always tell people if I were going to join a band I grew up listening to, The Allman Brothers would be at the top of that list. I was a huge fan before I knew the guys. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I have nothing but amazing memories about it. It’s emotional and bittersweet right now because I hate to see it come to an end, but I also agree with the collective decision to stop touring after the forty-five anniversary. I’ll definitely miss the music that band makes and being part of it. There’s something The Allman Brothers Band does on stage that no other band can do. I love that and am very grateful to have been on the inside of it for so many years.”

Haynes said he has began to conceptualize the follow-up studio record to 2013’s Shout! This double-LP release featured 22 songs, with a different guest artist, such as Myles Kennedy and Glenn Hughes, on each song of the second disc.

“Really all we’ve acknowledged is that the next record is going to be completely different from Shout! and maybe even different from anything we’ve ever done,” Haynes said.

Being a career songwriter is an aspiration for many, but an achievement for few. Haynes weighed in on his thoughts for those who wish to pursue a career in musicianship. His advice echoes happiness and the idea of not getting too caught up in the hunger of wanting to “make it.”

“Unless you’re absolutely obsessed and know music’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, just enjoy it and do it for the joy of it. Don’t put the pressure on yourself of having to make a living from music. It gets harder and harder every decade to do that. The music business is extremely challenging these days. But, if you know that’s what you want to do with the rest of your life then give it 110 percent.”

Despite acknowledging a challenging industry to gain traction in, Haynes’ voice glows with excitement at the recent vinyl resurgence taking place in America and beyond.

“I think it’s awesome because there’s no question vinyl sounds better than digital music,” Haynes said. “I was worried for quite a while — well over a decade — that people were getting brainwashed into accepting lower and lower quality of music, recordings, and the systems they hear it back on. A lot of the equipment we listened to music on in the ’70s is far superior to what people listen to it on now, which is frightening — you think it would be the opposite. There are so many people who are seeking out better sounding recordings, systems, and music and all of those things are on an upswing, and that’s a positive. Life is better when more people are passionate about music and art. I just have to believe that.”

Along with the coming Gov’t Mule releases, Haynes said he is finishing a solo record he hopes to release in 2015.

Interview written and conducted by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)

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