21st Century Schizoid Mule

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“In 1971 there was all this amazing guitar music coming out,” enthuses Warren Haynes. “My two older brothers had turned me on to Clapton in his Cream era, Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and then I started playing myself. It was an amazing time.”

While he subsequently became renowned for his fretwork with groups including Southern rock stalwarts the Allman Brothers, there’s a palpable sense of teenage dreams coming true on the latest release from his own hard-working, good-time blues rock band.

Haynes formed Gov’t Mule back in 1994 with bassist Allen Woody, and though Woody died all too young in 2000, the Mule endured, and have gone on to release over a dozen albums and establish themselves as a formidable live act Their annual New Year’s Eve bashes are the full, four-hour hootenany (they’ll be seeing 2014 out at New York’s Beacon Theater, armed with a set of AC/DC tunes and fronted by one Myles Kennedy). Their themed Halloween concerts have become real events on the fan calendar too. They might throw in a whole set of Hendrix one year, Led Zeppelin the next, maybe the Stones. It was Neil Young’s turn this past October 31, and back in 2008 it was Pink Floyd’s turn to get the Mule treatment.

Recorded at Boston’s Orpheum Theater before a noisily appreciative crowd, Dark Side Of The Mule is the first in a series of archive releases marking the band’s 20th year. While, as that none-more-black title suggests, the band give their downhome read of tunes from Floyd’s 1973 classic – Breathe, Money, Time – they also blast through highlights of the prog pioneers’ catalogue from Animals, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. The whole set begins with the epic One Of These Days, from Meddle, with a grandstanding slide guitar performance from Haynes that builds on David Gilmour’s musical figures.

“You could tell the crowd were Floyd fans,” he says. “They were attached from the very beginning. One Of These Days and Fearless aren’t Floyd ‘hits’ per se, but they were on it, and were like that for the whole night. We re-created the clocks on Time, the cash registers on Money, and they just lit up. We all rose to the occasion. At its best Gov’t Mule has that first take energy, and that definitely happened that night.”

On the face of it, Haynes’ past record is much more in line with the earthy rock of Greg Allman, Dickey Betts et al than Floyd’s own progressive oeuvre, but as he reveals, there are plenty of other prog heroes nestled among his record collection:

“Growing up in North Carolina, my circle of friends were big fans of Yes. Every record – Fragile, Close To The Edge, right up to Relayer, I listened through to them hundreds of times. I love Steve Howe’s guitar playing. He’s an enigma. I don’t know where it comes from – you can hear Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, maybe Django Reinhardt. But he’s unique.

And Haynes’ prog influences don’t stop there. Gov’t Mule saw in 2000 at Atlanta’s Roxy Theatre, and their olympic set list – captured on live set Mulennium included 21st Century Schizoid Man. “I do like King Crimson. It might not show in my own style but as a listener I do like avant-garde stuff, I can go out as far as you want to go. I really admire Robert Fripp’s playing.”

“I started discovering fusion too – Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report. I actually saw them in 1976 and it was a truly great experience for me.”

“I saw Frank Zappa in 1978 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta during his Live In New York tour. He was a fan of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, and you can hear that in the sting, in the attack of his playing. There was something foretelling about that concert. He played two shows in one night, and he only repeated one song over both. That’s something we try to emulate in Gov’t Mule.”

And what of that other behemoth of 70’s prog, Emerson Lake & Palmer? “In the States there was a Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple or Beatles/Stones thing,” he says. “You couldn’t like Yes and ELP, you had to choose one over another. I liked Pictures At An Exhibition, but I listened to Yes more!”

_Dark Side Of The Mule is out__ _on January 12 _via Provogue/Mascot. Warren Haynes discusses the project in more detail in the next issue of Classic Rock’s sister magazine The Blues, out on December 29._