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Rock bands cut from the blues: Gov't Mule joining ZZ Top at Pinewood Bowl on Sunday

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Putting Gov’t Mule on the same bill with ZZ Top makes plenty of sense to Warren Hayes.

“We’ve done quite a few shows with them in the past,” said the Gov’t Mule leader. “We’re old friends. It kind of makes for a great night of music. I think both bands are an extension of the blues. We’re both rock bands that have been cut from the blues.

“I’ve been a blues lover my whole life and have always enjoyed playing the blues. Gov’t Mule, specifically, blues is a big part of the sound, but we’re not a blues band. We’re very influenced by the blues, but also jazz, soul and all kinds of other stuff.”

The blues, however, will be the emphasis when the Mule takes the Pinewood Bowl stage Sunday before the lil’ ol’ band from Texas closes the show.

That’s because Gov’t Mule’s new album is “Heavy Load Blues,” a collection of covers of songs by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, Bobby “Blue” Bland and that blues duo of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, along with some Haynes originals.

It was recorded over six weeks during the pandemic, allowing Haynes to check his “blues album” box off his list of records he wants to make — a jazz excursion is probably next — while also cutting a rock record that will be released later this or early next year.

“We made two albums back to back during the same time period,’ Haynes said. “The mission was to find a studio that could contain two set up. We found it at The Power Station New England. There was a big room, where we set up all the usual Gov’t Mule equipment, and a small room with a low ceiling where we set up vintage amps and guitars, recorded analog to tape, completely live.

“We’d go in at noon and start recording the normal, if that’s the word for it, Gov’t Mule stuff. We’d do that from noon to 8 or 9 at night, take a break and go to the blues room and play blues until 1. You don’t want to play blues in the daytime … I don’t know that I would recommend doing that on a normal basis, but during the lockdown, it was perfect.”

The recording sessions gave Haynes, a classic road warrior, something to do after the pandemic yanked him off the stage for more than a year.

“That’s the longest I’ve gone without performing since I was 15 years old,” the 62-year-old said.

At 15, Haynes was playing around his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. At 20, he joined country outlaw David Allen Coe’s band, where he spent four years and quite profitably later co-wrote “Two of Kind, Working on a Full House,” which Garth Brooks took to the top of the country charts in 1991.

In 1987, Haynes hooked up with Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts in his band. When the Allmans reunited two years later, Betts brought Haynes into the venerable Southern rock group’s second guitar slot.

Seven years later, Haynes and then-Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody put together Gov’t Mule as a side project, with drummer Matt Abts, letting them work out their rock power trio dreams. Haynes left the Allmans in 1997 to go full time with the Mule.

When Betts left the Allmans in 2001, Hayes went back, sharing guitar duties with Derek Trucks until the Allmans Brothers Band ended with their departure in 2014.

The Mule, however, kept running throughout with Haynes moving back to the band. It now has nine studio albums and 11 live records, evidence of the band’s connection to its audience through its legendary jam-filled live performances.

ZZ Top to play ninth Lincoln show and third at Pinewood Sunday

Those shows came to a screeching halt in March 2020. After the recording session, Gov’t Mule was able to return to touring last year — “We did nine weeks in a COVID bubble, testing every day, no friends or family backstage, and got through without anyone getting COVID,” Haynes said.” But the late 2021 COVID-19 spike forced the band to cancel its winter tour.

“We’re finally getting back to what we love to do, touring and performing music,” Haynes said, adding that the band is getting back into its old groove in putting together and playing shows.

“We do a different set list every night,” he said. “We won’t know what we’re going to do until just before the show. Usually, we’d look and see what we’d done in that area before, so we wouldn’t repeat ourselves. But it's been so long since we’ve been to some of these places, we’re starting with a clean slate."

“When we’re there (in Lincoln), we’’ll do several songs from ‘Heavy Load Blues’ and some from all the phases of our career and see how that’s connecting with the audience. You’re basing that on past experience for the most part. But sometimes you think it’s going to work and it doesn’t. We may call an audible, go in a whole different direction, depending on the energy coming from the crowd.”

Riding the audience’s energy is part of how Gov’t Mule creates the shows that night after night transport the band and fans into jam band nirvana.

“So much of what we do is improvisation,” Haynes said. “The best that can be is if we get completely lost in the music. Thankfully, we have an audience pushing us in that direction. We’re all experiencing it in the same moment — the audience is pushing us to go as far out on the limb as we can.

“The more you play together, the more you’re able to collectively have those kind of moments. I’ve been fortunate to be in several bands where that has been the case.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or On Twitter @KentWolgamott  


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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott, the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award, has written about arts and entertainment for Lincoln newspapers since 1985, reviewing thousands of movies and concerts and hundreds of art exhibitions.

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