How Gov’t Mule Became the Jam Scene’s Working-Class Heroes
Gov’t Mule are in the middle of a concert at Central Park SummerStage in New York, about to play the title track from their new album, Revolution Come … Revolution Go. But Warren Haynes, the band’s singer-guitarist-songwriter, says he has “some exciting news” to share first. “Tonight is Gov’t Mule’s 2000th show,” he announces over an awards-show roll by drummer Matt Abts. “I know,” Haynes adds as the audience erupts in surprised applause. “I can’t believe it either.”
That afternoon, backstage after soundcheck, Haynes insists he “had no idea” that Gov’t Mule had played so many gigs until an archivist-friend emailed him the math. And that tally doesn’t include the concerts Haynes played over 25 years, in two spells, with the Allman Brothers Band. He founded Gov’t Mule in 1994 with Abts and bassist Allen Woody as a side project from the Allmans. “It was a one-off concept,’ Haynes says, exploring the heavy-blues dynamics of Cream and Free. “We never thought we’d make a second record.”
Haynes, 57, acknowledges the deaths he’s seen along the way: Woody in 2000; Haynes’ long-time guitar tech Brian Farmer in 2014; and Allmans drummer Butch Trucks last January. Two weeks after the Central Park show, Haynes loses another ex-bandmate, Gregg Allman. “It’s one of those things that exists in anybody’s life,” Haynes contends. “It’s more magnified in our lifestyle. But it’s not a bridge I’ve had to cross yet. Because things in my world are better than ever.”
Revolution Come … Revolution Go is Gov’t Mule’s 10th studio album in a career short on hits but long on more substantial reward. Haynes, Abts, keyboard player Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson are a sell-out act on the jam-band circuit, while Don Was, who co-produced two tracks on the new record, calls Haynes “one of the most soulful guys around.” The producer likens the turmoil and determination in Haynes’ songwriting to the “straightforward honesty” of John Lennon. Was recalls the first time he read the lyrics to “Dreams and Songs,” one of the tunes he worked on. “I felt for him,” he says of Haynes. “And I could relate.”
Revolution Come … Revolution Go is also powered by a political urgency that goes back to “Mule,” on 1995’s Gov’t Mule – with its bitter allusion to the post–Civil War South (“Where’s my mule/Where’s my 40 acres?”) – and Haynes’ childhood in Asheville, North Carolina. His parents divorced when Haynes was eight; the youngest of three sons, he mostly lived with his father, who voted Democrat and had a fierce, independent streak. Edward Haynes worked for a supermarket chain for 25 years, working up to management. When the company shut down in the region, Edward was offered relocation. He refused to uproot his boys.
“He chose starting over,” Warren says of his dad, who took a factory job where “21-year-old kids had seniority over him.” Warren quotes “Company Man,” a song he wrote about his father for 2015’s Ashes and Dust, made with the band Railroad Earth: “Never thought I’d be starting over at this stage/Taking shit from some young punk half my age.” “That was my dad’s life,” Haynes says. “He was raising kids. That’s all he ever knew.”
“We never thought we’d make a second record.” –Warren Haynes
Warren is a father now, raising a five-year-old son in Westchester, New York, with his wife and manager Stefani Scamardo. “When I’m home, we’re together 24-7,” Haynes says, which can be as demanding, in its way, as Gov’t Mule’s 100-shows-a-year calendar. “On the road, your job ends at 11 or 12 at night. Then you gotta unwind, and it’s four or five in the morning. To instantly change that to going to bed and getting up early – inevitably, the first few days at home, I don’t get much sleep.
“But I haven’t had a day job since I was 15,” he says, “so I don’t feel the whole thing of being off the clock. It’s not like, ‘It’s dinner time, I can’t think about this song idea.’ I’ll get up in the middle of the night, writing a song, knowing that if I don’t, it’s not going to be there.”
Haynes does wonder what life might be like with a bona fide hit, beyond the jam-band scene: “I still feel it can happen. People discover us and go, ‘It’s not what I thought they sounded like.’” In fact, Haynes is “doing remarkably well,” Was counters. “He’s at an age where, in 10 years, there will be an appreciation for holding your ground. And you become legendary. If I were him, I wouldn’t trade his career for anybody’s.”