Warren Haynes knows how to celebrate a milestone. With the 20th anniversary of his guitar-centric jam band Gov't Mule at hand, he is preparing to release four new archival concert recordings in almost as many months.
"We never really had any designs on the band being anything other than a fun project," the guitarist says. "We didn't think about the next year or the year after that or a second record or a fifth record or a tenth record or a 20-year anniversary. We were just taking it one step at a time. I think that's part of what has worked for us.
"Once we decided to be a band, it was like, 'Okay. We can have fun with this. We can keep exploring more and more of our influences and bring our friends into the circle. We can include them in the music and just see where it goes."
Haynes began Gov't Mule in 1994 as an offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band, which he joined in 1989. The original lineup boasted drummer Matt Abts and Allman bassist Allen Woody. As the years progressed, Gov't Mule's visibility flourished while the Allmans slowly retreated from touring (its final live shows were presented in New York last month). Though Woody died in 2000, Haynes and Abts soldiered on with what now exists as a quartet lineup completed by bassist Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist Danny Louis.
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"The chemistry with the band right now, musically and personally, is just wonderful," Haynes says. "It's kind of at an all-time high. It feels so good just to be out breaking new ground night after night. I'm very proud of where the band is right now. We're having a blast."
What of the four new recordings, you ask? Let's have Haynes fill us in.
■ Stoned Side of the Mule, Volume 1 (a vinyl only collection of Rolling Stones covers recorded on Halloween 2009): "A lot of our hardcore fans know that every Halloween and every New Year's, we do thematic shows where we cover somebody else's music. The Halloween we did all the Stones stuff was a great night."(Due out Nov. 28)
■ Dark Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD set of Pink Floyd covers recorded on Halloween 2008): "We did 90 minutes of Pink Floyd music with surround sound, a laser light show and three girl singers, two of which had actually toured with Pink Floyd." (Dec. 9)
■ Dub Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD package including a reggae set with Toots Hibbert recorded New Year's Eve 2006): "We did an hour with Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals. In typical fashion for our New Year's Eve shows, it was a really long concert so we included the whole night's audio and a bonus DVD of the Toots performance." (Early 2015)
■ Sco-Mule (2 CD set with jazz guitarist John Scofield): "John has been one of my favorites for a long, long time, and we've become good friends through the years. We've done more stuff similar to this since then, but this marks the beginning of the merging of our two worlds." (January 2015)
Covering rock classics, psychedelic staples, reggae and jazz on four separate live albums suggests Haynes and his Mule crew must possess a boundless love of music, especially when it stretches to styles that fall outside the beefy jams the band summons without the celebrity guest lists.
"I think musicians are the biggest fans of all," Haynes says. "We start out as these geeky fans that want to take it further by learning how to play an instrument, learning how to sing and learning how to write songs. It's all inspired by this passion of music and this feeling of music being an enormous part of your life. I know my passion for it has never dwindled."