Warren Haynes: The Timeline of Sco-Mule and Beyond

Doug Collette By

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By all accounts, Warren Haynes is known to be an upbeat forward-thinking individual. In this recent conversation however, he is borderline ebullient. And why not? Last October he aided immeasurably in bringing the forty-five year career of the Allman Brothers Band to a spectacular close. By the time of that historic appearance at New York's Beacon Theatre, the band Haynes founded with drummer Matt Abts and the late bassist Allen Woody, Gov't Mule, had begun the celebration of its twentieth anniversary, continuing its almost incessant touring as significant archive titles were readied for release. The first of those, Stoned Side of the Mule: Volume 1, featuring seven Rolling Stones covers on vinyl from Halloween 2009, was released as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday Event November 2014 exclusively at indie retail stores. The next item to emerge from the vault was Dark Side of the Mule (Evil Teen, 2014), a recording at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Halloween of 2008 (current bassist Jorgen Carlsson's second show with Gov't Mule) during which the band performed an entire set of Pink Floyd material. (Dub Side of the Mule, a collaboration with reggae icon Toots Hibbert from 2006, is due in March of 2015). Yet, it's the third item that is the most anticipated of all: the two CD's of Sco-Mule contains the bulk of two live performances from September 1999, during which esteemed jazz guitarist John Scofield, sat in with Gov't Mule.

During a progressively illustrious career, Scofield had worked with Miles Davis, Billy Cobham and Pat Metheny, among others, and, just the previous year, had begun his cross-pollination of genres and generations in recording with Medeski Martin & Wood on A Go Go (Verve, 1998). His appearances on the 22nd at the Georgia Theater in Athens and the 23rd at the Roxy in Atlanta were a natural extension of that effort, as well as Gov't Mule's own ongoing ambition to alternately fine-tune and expand their approach to improvisation, that initiative shifting into higher gear with the guest-laden New Year's 1998 shows documented on With A Little Help From My Friends (Capricorn, 1999). Flush with the success of a rousing New Year's run with Gov't Mule at the Beacon Theater in New York as well as anther successful 'Island Exodus' to Jamaica, Warren Haynes was more than happy to discuss all manner of topics directly and indirectly related to the various timeline(s) of Sco-Mule.

All About Jazz: I wanted to discuss the timeline of Sco-Mule past present and future, but first of all, let me wish you a happy New Year and let you know how much I enjoyed the shows at the Beacon at the end of December. They were tremendous. I'm not much of an AC/DC fan, so I approached the second night with a little trepidation, but seeing how you and the Mule enjoyed yourselves and how (vocalist) Miles Kennedy really crushed it, I walked out absolutely elated.

Warren Haynes: It was fun in a different way for us and that's how Halloween and New Year's are for us really. I look at it like wearing a costume. Last year we did The Doors with (Guitarist) Robbie Krieger and I was concentrating mostly on singing, letting Robbie do his thing. Though I did play a lot of guitar, I wanted to let Robbie do what comes naturally to him since I had my hands full doing the vocal stuff. This year was the opposite: "I'm just gonna play the guitar!" (laughs). That was a cool couple of days for us. We really enjoyed it.

AAJ: I wanted to talk about how the Sco-Mule project evolved, right from the start. Can you tell me how the thought came to mind to play with John Scofield back in 1999?

WH: We're all big fans of John's music and have been since the Seventies. If we fast forward to somewhere around 1998, Mule was starting to incorporate more and more special guests into the fold. We had done the live record with Derek Trucks, Marc Ford (Black Crowes guitarist), and (saxophonist) Randall Bramblett, (keyboardists) Chuck Leavell and Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic)and it was becoming obvious we loved playing part of the night as a trio and part of the night with other guest musicians, and that each time that happened, the direction of our band, which was changing all the time, was being influenced in a positive way. I don't know where the idea came about to invite John: I think it was something we had been casually talking about for quite some time, so we said "Let's just ask him and see what he thinks?!" He was open to it, so we agreed on the material in advance and we only had one full day of rehearsal, then a couple of soundchecks, so we were kind of waiting, wanting to recording it in the hopes it would turn our great but knowing that it may not. But right from the beginning, it felt wonderful and I love the fact these recordings mark the first time we ever played together.

AAJ: It's remarkable when I listen to it how obviously you guys were winging it, but how obviously too you complemented each other, able to anticipate what each other was doing and always stay right in step and in tune with each other.

WH: I think it was like that 'first date' thing, ya know? (laughs) Everyone's awareness is heightened. I feel confident that combination of talents is going to work anytime you put it together, to varying degrees, but for some reason, it just fell into place, everything lined up and the music was able to play itself and we were able to get out of the way, which is the important thing. Anytime you're playing, improvisational music especially, the best thing you can hope for is to forget what you're doing.

AAJ: I've heard John Scofield say the same thing.

WH: The more you think about it, the more cerebral and analytical you become and that's your enemy at that point.

AAJ: That's one of the great virtues of the Sco-Mule recordings as I hear them too: it never seems to reach a point where anyone was afraid to step on anyone's toes or anyone being too careful. It was like you felt you could afford to risk making mistakes because the payoff's going to be even greater if you do. Not that I heard any mistakes, but the music certainly exceeded my expectations. And I was really looking forward to it, so that's a rare occurrence in and of itself.

WH: Disc one stood out for me immediately after we did the shows. I went back and listened to the tapes and the eighty minutes of music on disc one chronologically sounded like a live record to me. And originally it was going to be one disc; all the time in between has allowed it to evolve into "Well, there's more music there-Let's go back and look at it!... And all this other stuff's great too! (laughs).
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