Gov’t Mule, the blue-rock quartet led by rock n’ roll legend Warren Haynes, has released its first-ever traditional blues album, Heavy Load Blues, via Fantasy Records. The album features a number of covers from the great American blues songbook as well as a few Gov’t Mule originals, all recorded “live” to analog tape with vintage instruments in order to capture an a classic blues sound. Mixed in with new Gov’t Mule originals are carefully chosen covers of an eclectic range of blues songs by everyone from Junior Wells to Howlin’ Wolf to Tom Waits.
We caught up with Warren Haynes ahead of the release of Heavy Load Blues to talk about the recording process, the reasons behind the selections on the album, and the ways these blues staples have influenced Gov’t Mule’s own original music. We also picked his brain about The Brothers 50, his ongoing collaborative relationship with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, and last year’s “surreal” The Brothers 50 celebration. Listen to Heavy Load Blues by Gov’t Mule on the platform of your choice here or stream it via Spotify as you read through some selected excerpts from the conversation below.
Gov’t Mule – Heavy Load Blues – Full Album
Warren Haynes On Recording Heavy Load Blues
We basically found a studio that would enable us to set up two different setups in two different rooms at the same time to record two different albums. In the big room, at The Power Station New England, we set up like we would make a normal Gov’t Mule record with our toys. We normally like to record live as much as possible anyway, but in the small room that adjoins the big room with a much lower ceiling, we set up a bunch of small amplifiers and vintage gear—old guitars, old microphones, and a small drum kit.
We set up everybody on top of each other, no headphones. I was singing through a vocal monitor like we were on a small stage like an old blues club or something. We recorded completely live. There were a few last-minute additions that we added here and there, but 99% of the record was done completely live, with the vocals. I think that’s the best way to capture this kind of music.
Warren Haynes On Selecting Specific Source Material For Heavy Load Blues
I wanted to cover our major influences, though not some of the ones we covered in the past. We covered Son House and Robert Johnson in the past, so I didn’t feel the need to do that. We also did a whole show one time featuring solely B.B. King, Freddie King, and Albert King, which at some point we may release as a live album. Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Junior Wells, those were all important ones. A lot of traditional blues songs tend to be similar to each other from a musical standpoint, so sometimes the lyrics are the separating factor.
Some of these tunes, however, like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Asking for Water”, the original version is so heavy, atonal, and gritty sounding. I wanted to do it completely different but to capture that same weird darkness that the original version had. So, we wound up making it much heavier, funkier, rock version.
The Junior Wells version of “Snatch It Back and Hold It” is only two minutes and forty-nine seconds long, so we came up with this idea of sandwiching a psychedelic instrumental jam in the middle of it called “Hold It Back”. That’s kind of indicative to what we do live sometimes, where we’ll put one song in the middle of another song. The “Snatch It Back and Hold It” part is very similar to the original, and then it goes down a dirt road.
Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” is pretty similar to the original, definitely has our own stamp on it, but stayed pretty true to form, as we did on Elmore James “Blues Before Sunrise.”
I think the most unexpected covers would be the Tom Waits cover of “Make It Rain”, which I love. People don’t tend to think of Tom Waits as a blues artist, but that song and many of his songs have a blues form. The other song that’s a curveball is “Brother Bill (Last Clean Shirt)”.
Anybody that knows that song may know The Animals‘ version but there was a version before that by the artist The Honeyman, who was actually Charles “Honey Boy” Otis. He was a legendary drummer who played with a bunch of amazing artists like Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Lightning Hopkins, and many more. He was also a mentor to Jaimoe, the original drummer of the Allman Brothers Band, as well as a good friend to all of us in the Allman Brothers, who sat in with us many times. So, there’s a personal connection to that song. His version was much more upbeat and old-school-sounding and The Animals’ version was even more upbeat and kind of novelty-ish based on the lyric, which Honey Boy wrote along with [Jerry] Leiber and [Mike] Stoller. I wanted to slow it down and make it much dirtier.
Warren Haynes On Writing Blues Originals For Heavy Load Blues
Most of them are new songs that were written in the last couple years. I don’t really tend to write what I consider “traditional blues songs,” but for whatever reason, in the last couple years I have written a handful. “Hole In My Soul”, “Wake Up Dead”, “Love is a Mean Old World”, “Heavy Load”, and “Black Horizon” were all written in the last couple years. The only old one is “If Heartaches Were Nickels”, which I wrote a long time ago and was covered by Joe Bonamassa, but I had never recorded my own version until now.
How Warren Haynes Spent His Time In Lockdown
Positives from the whole lockdown situation was that I was able to spend more back-to-back time with my family than I ever had. One of the other ones would be having so much time on my hands to write music. I wrote more music during the past year and a half than I’ve written in decades. With more time at home that I’ve had since I was 15 years old, getting back on the road took some adjusting but I’m looking forward to a more normalized version. It felt good to be back on the road, but we’re practicing extremely diligent COVID protocol at this point and will continue until given the green light to do otherwise.
Warren Haynes On The Brothers At MSG (3/10/20)
It was surreal in a lot of ways. It was such a special show and night anyway, but when you add in the whole COVID factor and the fact that people were starting to get a sense of what was going on with COVID. Even that day, there was a lot of wondering if we were gonna get shut down or if we were gonna go through with the show. Of course, the next day, everything did start shutting down. It really was the last big show in New York City and for most of us. My memories of it were amazing. I thought it was a fantastic show from a musical standpoint. I thought everyone rose to the occasion in an incredible way. I will remember that night forever.
Warren Haynes On Sitting In With Tedeschi Trucks Band At The Beacon In October
I love those guys. They are like family. We hadn’t played together in quite some time; we were long overdue! And, of course, getting back to The Beacon, which is kind of my home venue really. I have played there more than any other venue. It felt great. I am looking forward to being back there for New Years.
Warren Haynes On What Surprises Are In Store For Gov’t Mule New Year’s Eve
The only teaser we’ve given so far is a “Black and Blue” New Years. I think that could be interpreted a lot of different ways, but it will be a thematic show. It’s not us doing The Rolling Stones Black and Blue album. That’s the only thing that I could tell you for sure.
Gov’t Mule is set to ring in the New Year with a a three-night run. The first of three shows will take place at Philadelphia, PA’s The Met (12/29), followed by two consecutive nights at New York, NY’s Beacon Theatre (12/30–12/31), which includes “a very special Black ‘n’ Blue New Year’s Show.” For more information and ticketing details, head here.