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Warren Haynes: Truckin'

Warren Haynes: Truckin'

Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine, December 2004

Over the past year Warren Haynes has toured with the Dead and the Allman Brothers, recorded and released an acoustic solo album and revived his most excellent band, Gov’t Mule. Think he’s tired? He’s only just begun!

What a short, strange trip it’s been for Warren Haynes.

Four years ago, the guitarist was grieving over the loss of his friend and band mate, bassist Allen Woody, who was found dead of unknown causes in a hotel near New York’s LaGuardia Airport on August 26, 2000. Haynes’ sorrow was compounded by the question of how Woody’s death would affect Gov’t Mule, the trio the two men formed with drummer Matt Abts in 1994.

Today, much has changed. Instead of wondering whether he still has a band, Haynes is a member of three. In the past few years, he has signed on with Grateful Dead survivors the Dead, and he has rejoined the Allman Brothers Band, with whom he served as a guitarist from 1989 to 1996, reigniting one of rock’s greatest institutions for a second time. What’s more, Gov’t Mule are still in business, and thriving, with two new members and a new record, Déjà Voodoo. The album, the group’s sixth studio effort, is its first as a quartet: in addition to bassist Andy Hess, the group features keyboardist Danny Louis.

While the presence of a keyboard player in the Mule has some fans looking askance at the group, Hess undoubtedly bears the greater scrutiny. As a former bassist with the Black Crowes, Joan Osbourne and the John Scofield Band, Hess has an admirable resume. But as the Mule’s new bassist, he has big shoes to fill and a large legacy to live up to.

“It’s very organic,” Haynes says of Hess’ playing. “Andy has that big bottom end bass sound that’s somewhat similar to Woody’s, but they have a different approach. Andy plays with his fingers; Woody played with a pick. It’s just two different things. It’s like the first time I heard Matt and Woody play together. There was that instant ‘lock.’ And it’s the same way with Matt and Andy.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy for Gov’t Mule. In the weeks and months following Woody’s death, the last thing Haynes and Abts thought about was finding a new bassist. Shortly after Woody died, Haynes made two important decisions: to honor his commitment to tour the next month with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s Phil and Friends consortium; and to record a new Mule album featuring as many of Woody’s favorite bassists as possible. The first furthered Haynes’ already growing reputation in the jam-band community; it also helped him rise above his grief by focusing on music, always the 44-year-old guitarist’s shelter from any storm.

Haynes’ second resolve helped the Mule to remain a going concern during a difficult time. Two dozen of the most prominent bassists from the past 25 years— from P-Funk’s Bootsy Collins to Metallica’s Jason Newsted, and from Cream’s Jack Bruce to Phish’s Mike Gordon— answered the guitarist’s call to participate in the Deep End projects. After touring for several years with a rotating cast of bassists, Gov’t Mule ended that era with a blowout New Orleans concert in May 2003 that produced a live DVD and CD, The Deeper End.

After working with some of the world’s finest bass players, one has to wonder how the experience affected the group’s choice of Andy Hess.

“Having played with over 30 of the best bass players in the world, we felt that Andy stood out as the person that really made us sound like a band, more than anyone else,” says Haynes. “We worked with so many great players that it’s a compliment to Andy. He played all the different genres of music that we explore, and when we played with him, it had that kind of chemistry, that kind of sound, that bands are based on in the first place.” Of course, Gov’t Mule’s sound has changed, and not only because of Hess’ presence. Their power trio days are over, and the music on Déjà Voodoo very much reflects that. Louis’ contributions are not incidental; his clavinet, organ and piano share sonic space with Haynes’ guitar, sometimes doubling the guitarist’s parts, sometimes striking out on their own. As for Hess, he takes a more in-thepocket approach than Woody, who played a veritable lead bass style.

But while the Mule’s lineup hews closer to the rock and roll standard, the same can’t be said of Déjà Voodoo. Many of its songs open into multitextured soundscapes, and Haynes’ brilliant guitar work evokes everyone from David Gilmour to Billy Gibbons, while it maintains his own distinct sound. But the group’s emphasis now is less on aggressive, in-yourface playing and more on nuanced songs and a well-balanced group sound. And that says as much about Gov’t Mule as it does their music.

“Woody and Matt and I played hundreds of shows and spent countless hours together,” says Haynes, “so we had an extremely deep level of communication. I wasn’t sure we could ever approach that again. But Matt and I have finally reached the point of once again of feeling ecstatic about what the band sounds like. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

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