Back in the Saddle 

Gov’t Mule reincarnates after the death of bassist Allen Woody.

But forgive Haynes if celebration isn’t his first priority. His world was shaken three years ago by the passing of friend, Gov’t Mule bandmate and bassist Allen Woody. And Haynes has been going full throttle ever since.

From the memorial concert, held five days after Woody’s death in August 2000, right up to today, Haynes and drummer Matt Abts haven’t skipped a beat. Gov’t Mule has kept going in various forms, releasing “The Deepest End” volumes I and II and a live version as tributes to Woody with 20 guest bass players (from Metallica’s Jason Newsted to R&B singer and bassist Me’Shell NdegéOcello).

A collaboration from 2002’s Vol. 1, featuring Medeski, Martin & Wood’s bassist Chris Wood, jazz guitarist John Scofield and P-Funk organist Bernie Worrell, won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental.

In addition to Gov’t Mule projects, Haynes continued serving as a touring member of the Allman Brothers and Phil Lesh & Friends. He also released a solo EP and plans to release a full solo album in April, plus he can be found all over the country sitting in with a seemingly infinite number of musicians and bands.

“The last three years and this year have been the busiest time period ever for me,” says Haynes from a hotel room in Huntington, W.Va., where Gov’t Mule was scheduled to play with Kid Rock that night.

In the “Deepest End” albums, the band moves away from its Southern blues-rock power trio sound toward different genres, depending on the guest artist.

“Gov’t Mule has always been a product of all the different genres that influenced us,” says Haynes. “And when we worked with all these different bass players, we were able to explore some of these genres a little more intimately — funk with [P-Funk’s] Bootsy Collins, soul music with [Sly Stone’s] Larry Graham, Appalachian music with [Grateful Dead’s] Phil Lesh.” The Mule also worked with The Who’s John Entwistle and Chris Squire of Yes.

“All these different bass players that we’ve worked with are all the ones that brought bass to the forefront of music,” Haynes says. “They’re all legendary, the main players in their field, so obviously we want to tap into some of that. And we’ve learned a lot from each of them, and hopefully that will carry over to everything we do in the future, but that’s kind of what music’s about anyway — it’s a constant learning experience.”

Although the collaborating is not likely to be over entirely, it’s about to become less frequent. Gov’t Mule announced a permanent lineup this fall, featuring Danny Louis on keyboards and Andy Hess on bass.

Hess played with the John Scofield band and the Black Crowes. “You can see a glimpse of how diverse Andy is just from those two things. He has that jazz background and he has that rock background,” Haynes says. Louis has played with Gregg Allman and Haynes’ solo projects, so “Danny’s kind of been part of the family for a while,” as Haynes puts it. Both will be singing backup to Haynes. Louis, who has co-written songs for the Mule in the past, will likely do some writing too.

The new Mule has already started recording an album, which the band hopes to release in September. Haynes was vague when asked if it departed from the Mule’s signature heavy wail and jam sound. The new material, “sounds like Mule but it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before,” he said. “Some of the new directions are directions that we have hinted at in past but again, maybe haven’t explored to this extent.”

A collaboration with banjo wiz Bela Fleck on the “Deepest End” live release finds Gov’t Mule in a softer, quieter mood. It offers a glimpse into yet another possible new direction for the band. Haynes, who grew up in Asheville, N.C., says he hated bluegrass growing up because it was the music of his parents’ generation, but “now more than ever I’m rediscovering a lot of it.”

Another change in sound is likely to come in the form of lyrics and overall tone. “I’m definitely in a different place now, and I’ve noticed a difference in the songwriting especially from a lyrical standpoint,” says Haynes. “Maybe a lot of those subject matters that I had to deal with, now I’ve said all I need to say and now I’m ready to move on.

“And I feel like I’ve reached a place in my life where I’m looking at things differently. Sometimes losing someone, like losing Woody, can have that effect on you, and it takes a while to feel normal again. But when you come through it on the other side, hopefully you’ve learned some things and discovered a different side of yourself.” S

Gov’t Mule performs at Landmark Theater Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the box office, Ticketmaster outlets, 262-8100 or online at www.cc.com. For more information call 646-4213.

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