The Tedeschi Trucks Band played Vancouver last summer, in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaign, and in advance of the show I interviewed singer Susan Tedeschi. Knowing that she and hubby-guitarist Derek Trucks were big fans of Barack Obama—and had actually performed for him at the White House—I asked her what they would do if Obama’s nemesis, Donald Trump, won the election. Would they move up to Canada or something?
“He’s not gonna get in,” she declared. “He better not.” Then she added that if Trump did become president they would have to impeach him “for being a jerk”.
Well, the jerk’s still in office, although some of America’s finest musicians are stepping up to take him down a notch. When blues-rock jam band Gov’t Mule released its latest album, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, last June, its pro-democratic message was pretty clear. In one of the disc’s most powerful tracks, “Pressure Under Fire”, singer-guitarist and main songwriter Warren Haynes comments on the sad social situation in the States with lines like “We keep on moving in the wrong direction/we keep on heading down the same old track.” And on “Drawn That Way” his indictment of Trump gets even more severe: “Cartoon savior, how do you spell prey?/You can’t stop yourself from lying, you’re just drawn that way.”
When Haynes calls from his home outside of New York City, I ask him if—considering how fractured his country is these days—Gov’t Mule has gotten much flack for its political stance.
“Well, we’ve dabbled into political commentary from the very beginning,” he points out. “A big difference is now people are paying attention. And maybe with the title being Revolution Come…Revolution Go, people are paying attention even more. But I think it’s just a timing situation; it’s in everybody’s face right now. In the States we’re going through a period where our country’s more divided than it’s been in my adult lifetime.
“And it’s regretful,” adds Haynes, “because a lot of things are rising to the surface that we felt we had buried. But I’m hoping that a lot of good will come from all of this, because it’s gonna force people to deal with situations, and to work together, because that’s the only choice we have.”
It’s not just via new tunes that Haynes delivers sociopolitical notions on Revolution Come…Revolution Go. He included a version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”—which he describes as “one of the most haunting recordings ever”—and added his own words to the mostly instrumental 1927 blues classic.
“Rue the day that we can’t live together,” sings Haynes at one point, “cut so deep and we keep bleeding forever.”
“We had been talking about taking an old existing Delta blues song and reworking it,” he says. “And when I started listening to ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ with that in mind, we thought, ‘Yeah, we could come up with a cool arrangement.’ I didn’t know at the time that I was gonna wind up writing lyrics for it, but as we started digging into it more and more I wound up writing some that are both appropriate for the song and for the times, I think.”
Gov’t Mule plays the Vogue Theatre on Sunday (September 17) as part of the Westward Music Festival.