Gov't Mule at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Wednesday (February 12). $31.50. 416-870-8000.
You may not think of the Allman Brothers as role models, but you never know.When Gov't Mule bassist Allen Woody was found dead in a Queens hotel room in September 2000, remaining members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts considered packing it in. But they took a cue from the Allman Brothers, the band Haynes and Woody were in (Haynes still is) before they formed the Mule as a side project.
"The guys from the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead have been through it many times," says guitarist and vocalist Haynes. "I spoke to James Hetfield from Metallica (who lost Cliff Burton) and got a nice letter from Dave Grohl about the death of Kurt Cobain.
"And the Blues Travelers had recently lost Bobby Sheehan, who was a close friend, so we started realizin' that we weren't the only people to have experienced that kind of pain. Everybody kept saying the same thing: you gotta keep goin'."
That's when Haynes and Abts came up with the idea of getting all of Woody's favourite bass players to come in and add to the Mule's gritty, hard, psychedelic, southern blues rock by playing one song each on their new The Deep End, Vol. 2 disc. The list included Bootsy Collins, Les Claypool, Phil Lesh, Flea, Mike Watt, Me'shell NdegéOcello and many, many more.
"We thought a lot of them would be unavailable or not interested. Then they all responded positively, and that's why it turned into so much music and two CDs."
They hadn't met most of these bass players. But strangeness can be an advantage in art-making -- kind of like first sex. You haven't built up all kinds of insecurities and judgments, as you have around people you know well. So on these loose and groovy roots rock records you can feel the openness and get the sense that each invited player left his or her individual stamp.
"Matt and I were very open to what the guests had to say as far as the direction the music might take, because we had so much respect for these people. And one thing I really noticed -- maybe it was because Woody had passed away -- was that everybody checked their ego at the door."
The song Sco-Mule, by the way, has been nominated for the best-instrumental Grammy Award.
"I'm very surprised. It definitely caught us off guard. It's a nice feelin', especially for a band like Gov't Mule. The Allman Brothers have been nominated four times since I've been in the band. We won once, but that's different, because it's like a big institution. For a band like Gov't Mule, somethin' we've nurtured from the beginning, it's more personal."
The recording sessions were documented in a film now out on video and DVD. The documentary, produced by Phish bassist Mike Gordon, won the best-documentary prize at the Newport festival.
"One of the things I think is kind of cool," says Haynes, "is that a few of the takes were keepers but most were outtakes, so when you see the film you get to hear different versions of the songs."
Gov't Mule have added a fourth member, Danny Lewis, on keyboards, and are currently touring with Andy Hess from the Black Crowes on bass. The slot hasn't been filled permanently, but they are looking.
"This whole process is going to lead us to the right person. We're gettin' closer to making a decision, and by the time we start our next project it'll be time for us to decide who it is." firstname.lastname@example.org