Blues is the beating heart of Gov’t Mule, and guitarist/bandleader Warren Haynes can play them lights-out. Standing as evidence is his work on their latest album, Heavy Load Blues, a rugged mix of songs that pays tribute without sacrificing the band’s sonic mission; Haynes’ playing is indeed heavy, and so is the music.
What compelled you to make a blues album?
For several years, I’ve been making lists of cover songs I might want to do. I wanted the album to be stuff I’d never done before – the exception is “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” We have an arrangement of that we’ve worked up through the years and play quite often, so I thought it would be cool to include it. Otherwise, I wanted stuff we’ve never tackled before. More importantly, I wanted it to sound like it was recorded when all our favorite blues records were made. If you look at 1955 to ’75, that’s the window when my favorite blues records were recorded. I wanted to capture that vibe, from a sonic standpoint.
Did you use vintage amps?
We set up a whole bunch of vintage guitars, amps, microphones, and analog tape. The amps that got the most use were a Gibson Skylark from the late ’50s, a Gibson Vanguard from the late ’50s, and an old Supro. I also used a tweed Fender Pro and an old Alessandro that George built for me – a small one with just Volume and Tone and one 8″ speaker. I also used a Gibson Goldtone.
On “Wake Up Dead,” you can hear the room interacting with your guitar and amp.
We were in a small room set up with every instrument bleeding into every microphone – no separation, no headphones, recorded live with the vocals coming through a monitor through an amp to make it even more old-school sounding. We’d set up two or three amps patched together, and I’d put one in the room with me. The other two were in the big room, miked from a distance. One had built-in reverb or I’d use my Fender tank from the ’60s, which Billy Gibbons gave me.
We basically set up to make two records at once – a normal Gov’t Mule album in the big room, and a blues record in the small adjoining room. We’d go in early to do the regular Mule until about nine o’clock in the evening, then take a break and go to the adjoining room and play blues the rest of the night. It turned out to be a cool recipe.
Your inner Albert King is unleashed on “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.”
On the deluxe version of the album, we do the old Savoy Brown tune “Street Corner Talking,” where I played a Flying V that Grace Potter gave me. I went a little into the Albert thing on that, too.
Who are your top blues influences?
If we’re going early on, it’s Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James. A little later, B.B., Freddie, and Albert King. Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. I’m a big Son House fan, as well; that comes out on “Black Horizon.”
Talk about the guitars you used on the album.
On “Blues Before Sunrise,” I played an old Danelectro Pro from the late ’50s. I’ve used it on several recordings. I used another Dano on “Make It Rain” – a parts guitar of two or three put together. I also played my ’59 Les Paul, my ’61 ES-335, a ’63 345, and a ’67 355 that Gregg Allman gave me. On “Heavy Load,” I played a 1929 Gibson L-1 like the Robert Johnson guitar. On “Black Horizon,” I played a ’39 National steel-body. I also played my signature guitar on one song and a Custom Shop tobacco sunburst Les Paul.
You whip out the slide on “Heavy Load.”
From a traditional blues standpoint, Elmore James was a big influence on everybody. The deluxe version has the Muddy tune “Long Distance Call.” When I was growing up, Duane Allman, Lowell George, David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, and Johnny Winter were all slide players I really dug.
What’s up next for you and the Mule?
The regular Gov’t Mule album will be the follow-up to Revolution Come… Revolution Go. It’s original material, most written during the lockdown. It’ll be released sometime this year. I had so much material that making the two records together and not dwelling on one or the other was refreshing. I wouldn’t recommend it on a normal basis, but coming out of the pandemic turned out to be the right thing.
This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.