Warren Haynes spends a large part of his time with a guitar in his hands; for more than a decade he's been doing double duty with southern-rock legends the Allman Brothers and blues-rock kings Gov't Mule. So it's no surprise that the musician is pictured playing a Gibson Les Paul in the booklet for the Mule's new CD, High & Mighty. What does catch your eye about the instrument being plucked by Haynes's meaty fingers is the headstock. Call me a hick from Chilliwack, but I ain't never seen no 12-string Les Paul before.
“There's only three of those in the world,” explains Haynes, on the line from his band's management office in Manhattan. “They built one for some rich businessman who had said price was no object, and then they built one for me, and then I think Slash saw one of the two and decided he wanted one, so now there's three.”
Haynes used that ultrarare axe sparingly on High & Mighty because the bulk of his band's material requires the fat tone of a regular Les Paul. The new album is one of the group's heaviest, both musically and lyrically; the rugged opener, “Mr. High & Mighty” , wastes no time in lambasting those who think they're somehow better than their fellow man. “Mr. High and Mighty, who are your sights set on now?” bellows Haynes, “With your fair-weather fortune and your gold sacred cow.” It actually sounds as if he could be attacking the sanctimonious jackass in charge of his country.
“Someone asked me if it was about George W. Bush,” notes the long-haired rocker, “and I said, 'not exclusively.' But regardless of where you stand on some of these political issues, this is a very important time. So everyone, starting with myself, should speak up.”
High & Mighty isn't just confined to Iraq. “Like Flies” takes a shot at people whose goal is fame for fame's sake, although Haynes wasn't actually inspired by Paris Hilton's recent entry into the pop-star world. “It's just referring to the dumbing-down of our culture,” he says. “I read somewhere where someone said that art is less important today than it's ever been, and I think whoever said that was right....Now people are more interested in being famous, and whatever they need to do to be famous is okay, including compromising their integrity.”
Integrity is one thing that Gov't Mule has shown in spades since its formation in '94 as a power-trio offshoot of the Allman Brothers. After a heart attack claimed Allmans/Mule member Allen Woody in 2000, Haynes and drummer Matt Abts performed and recorded with over 30 bassists for the acclaimed, two-volume Deep End project; they weren't in a rush to replace the revered Woody. Eventually, keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Andy Hess would lock in to form a formidable quartet, one that's finally drawing raves from the mainstream press. “[Gov't Mule's] dedication to craft is edifying, life-affirming, and deeply satisfying,” raved Entertainment Weekly in awarding the new CD an A- rating. Billboard jumped on the Mule bandwagon as well: “High & Mighty is a quantum leap for the band and will be remembered as its Houses of the Holy.” Indeed, a track like “Streamline Woman” brings to mind the heavy riffing of Jimmy Page, but what does Haynes make of the reference to Led Zeppelin's varied 1973 opus? “I'm a Zeppelin fan,” he states, “and I think Houses of the Holy was one of their best records, so I'm proud for someone to make that comparison.”
Gov't Mule hooked up with another Led Zep admirer, former Big Sugar guitarist-vocalist Gordie Johnson, who coproduced, mixed, and engineered High & Mighty. “We agree on what great music is and what great music should sound like,” notes Haynes, “and we have a lot of common influences and tastes.”
One of those influences may be Little Milton, the Mississippi blues legend who passed away last year, and who High & Mighty is dedicated to. “He was a really close friend,” says Haynes, “and of course an inspiration and an influence. We did a lot of stuff together through the years, and he was just a beautiful human being and a great artist, and we miss him a lot.”
Gov't Mule plays the Commodore on Tuesday and Wednesday (October 17 and 18).