The Mule Rule on Their New “First-Ever Blues Album”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, guitarist, songwriter and producer Warren Haynes doesn’t strike me as an artist who does things half-ass. Still, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I saw Gov’t Mule came out with what the Southern jam rockers billed as their “first-ever blues album.” In fact, I don’t follow the group closely, so had missed when they had first announced the record back in September. Well, I suppose, based on this post’s headline, you already figured out that I’m pretty excited about Heavy Load Blues, which was released last Friday, November 12.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the album was recorded live in-studio at Power Station New England. The MuleWarren Haynes (guitar, lead vocals), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Matt Abts (drums) – recorded the tracks to analog tape, using vintage equipment. Clearly, this was all done to create an authentic sound, and the result is sweet! The album, which was co-produced by Haynes and John Paterno, covers tunes by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Junior Wells, and includes some original songs written by Haynes.

Govt Mule Press September 2021
Gov’t Mule (from left): Matt Abs, Danny Louis, Jorgen Carlsson and Warren Haynes – Photo by Jay Sansone

“For me, personally, it’s kind of been on my list of things to do for years,” Haynes said in a statement on Gov’t Mule’s website. “I didn’t know if it was gonna be a solo album or a Gov’t Mule record,” he further noted. “We play some traditional blues on stage from time to time and although it’s usually never more than a few songs per show, our approach to the blues is unique and based on our collective chemistry as a band. This album gave us a mission.”

Well, let’s get to some of the goodies. Kicking off the album is a great rendition of Blues Before Sunrise, which I believe was first recorded in 1934 by blues guitar and piano duo Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. Interestingly, Gov’t Mule’s clip lists Elmore James and Joe Josea as the tune’s composers. I found a recording by James from 1955, credited to him and Josea, which implies they couldn’t have written the original song. Perhaps they changed it up a bit and subsequently claimed it as their own – not unheard of, especially when it comes to the blues. In any case, I love The Mule’s shuffling rendition. Haynes’ slide guitar sounds great, as does his voice, which reminds me a bit of Gregg Allman.

Hole In My Soul is one of the original tunes written by Haynes, and it’s a true beauty. The horn section of Pam Fleming (trumpet), Jenny Jill (tenor saxophone) and Buford O’Sullivan (trombone) sounds beautiful, adding a nice soul vibe to the track. Danny Louis’ Hammond in the background gives me goosebumps – admittedly, a Hammond does that to me pretty frequently! Again, Haynes is doing a great job on guitar and vocals.

One of the album’s highlights is a medley blending Snatch It Back and Hold It, a 1965 tune by Junior Wells, and Hold It Back, a jam credited to The Mule. Check out the official video. Seeing these guys in action in the studio is really cool! Yes, at close to 8 minutes, it’s on the longer side, but what do you expect from jam rockers? BTW, long tracks are one of the reasons why I’m not an all-out fan of jam rock. However, in this case, it doesn’t bother me since I dig the blues, plus the band doesn’t overdo it by playing millions of notes during their solos!

Some people said it was cocaine/Some people said it was gin/But I know the name of the motherfucker that did my brother in//They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill/They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill…You know a song that starts out that way just has to be good. Co-written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Clyde Otis, Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt) was recorded by The Animals for their 1977 reunion album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. On Discogs, I also found a 1964 version by The Honeyman, an alias of Charles Otis, a drummer who performed with the likes of Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke.

Here is the album’s de facto title track Heavy Load, another Haynes composition, and one of two acoustic blues songs on the record. During an extended webcam interview with Musicoff – Where Music Matters, Haynes explained he used a 1929 Gibson L-1, the same type of guitar delta blues legend Robert Johnson played, while Danny Louis performed on a ’60s Gibson Hummingbird. For folks who are into music gear and recording, the 21-minute interview includes a wealth of additional information. Meanwhile, check out this tune, which sounds really neat!

The last track I’d like to highlight is I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline), a song written by Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf. The tune appeared on his 1959 debut album Moanin’ in the Moonlight. The Mule’s rendition is quite heavy and funky. In the above Musicoff interview Haynes explained he wanted to maintain and capture the “nastiness and darkness” of the original while giving it a distinct musical feel. This sounds really raw!

I think this statement from Haynes nicely sums up Heavy Load Blues: “Although in some way it was ‘anything goes,’ we wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blues in a traditional sense. It’s not a blues/rock record – it’s a blues record. We wanted it sonically to sound different from a normal Gov’t Mule record.”

Speaking of a Gov’t Mule record, in the above Musicoff interview, Haynes noted that during the pandemic he had written a lot of new material for the group. When they decided to make a blues album, Haynes suggested recording it along with a new Gov’t Mule album. Apparently, that’s what they did after they had been able to find a studio that allowed them to set up in two different rooms: a small room with a low ceiling where they were close to each other, like performing on a stage in a small music club, and a big room where they could set up for a “normal” Gov’t Mule recording. Again, check out the interview for additional insights.

My takeaway from the Musicoff interview is that in addition to Heavy Load Blues fans of The Mule can also look forward to an original album in the not-so-distant future. I’m actually surprised the interviewer didn’t ask Haynes about it, even though Haynes brought it up. Perhaps it had been agreed that discussing the details was off-limits at this time not to distract from the blues album. I guess for now fans will have to wait and see.

Double LP Back Cover

Heavy Load Blues comes in a standard 13-track version and an expanded deluxe edition. The latter features eight additional studio and live bonus tracks, including one more Haynes original and renditions of tunes by Savoy Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. Following are the track listings of each edition.

Standard Edition Track Listing:
1. Blues Before Sunrise
2. Hole In My Soul
3. Wake Up Dead
4. Love Is A Mean Old World
5. Snatch It Back and Hold It – Hold It Back – Snatch It Back and Hold It
6. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
7. (Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt
8. Make It Rain
9. Heavy Load
10. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
11. If Heartaches Were Nickels
12. I Asked Her For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
13. Black Horizon

Bonus Tracks on Deluxe Version:
1. Hiding Place
2. You Know My Love
3. Street Corner Talking
4. Have Mercy On The Criminal
5. Long Distance Call
6. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Extended Version)
7. Need Your Love So Bad (Live)
8. Good Morning Little School Girl with Hook Herrera (Live)

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Gov’t Mule website; Discogs; Musicoff – Where Music Matters; YouTube

John Mayall Has Turned 85 And No Plans For Retirement After More Than 50 Years

The Godfather of British Blues has announced a tour and a new album for 2019

What do Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce have in common? Together with Ginger Baker, they formed what perhaps was the ultimate blues rock power trio Cream. How about Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood? Well, they became part of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser? He joined Free as a 15-year-old bass player. Last but not least, Mick Taylor? He of course became a member The Rolling Stones during what is widely considered their musical peak. What else do all these top-notch artists share? They all played with John Mayall, mostly before they became famous.

As a ’60s blues rock fan, it is pretty much impossible not to come across the name of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. That being said, I’m the first to admit that oftentimes my music knowledge is still pretty insular. While I was well aware of Eric Clapton’s connection with Mayall, I didn’t know about all of the other above mentioned artists. I also had not heard much of John Mayall’s music and had not appreciated that in addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a pretty good vocalist. What finally caught my attention was a great story about him for his recent 85th birthday in German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which I spotted on Facebook the other day. It made me start listening to some of Mayall’s more recent solo albums I dug instantly, which in turn inspired this post.

John Mayall was born on November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England, and grew up in a village close to Manchester. He was first exposed to jazz and blues as a young teenager when he listened to the 78 record collection of his father Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music fan. So it certainly was no coincidence that young John initially became attracted to the guitar and guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Leadbelly. As a 14-year-old, he began to learn the basics for playing the piano. A couple of years later, he also picked up the harmonica. Not only does this mean Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also self-taught – pretty cool!

Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ca. 1966 (from left): John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Hughie Flint and John McVie

While Mayall had been playing music since his teenage years and during his twenties, it wasn’t until 1962 that he decided to make a living with music. He gave up his job as a graphic designer and moved from Manchester to London. Soon thereafter, he started The Bluesbreakers. In the spring of 1964, the band recorded their first two tracks: Crawling Up A Hill and Mr. James. Afterwards, they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour. At the end of the year, Mayall signed with Decca and recorded his debut John Mayall Plays John Mayall, a live record that appeared in March 1965, but it was not successful.

Things started cooking for The Bluesbreakers when Eric Clapton joined the band in April 1965. While initially Clapton only stood until August and left for another venture called The Glands, he returned in November. A few months later, the band recorded Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. But by the time the album was entering the charts, Clapton and then-Bluesbreakers bassist Jack Bruce had already left to form Cream. The next few years saw a succession of guitarists who came and left, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In fact, frequent line-up changes would become a constant for Mayall, yet I haven’t read anything that he was ever annoyed about it.

John Mayall 2018
John Mayall at 2018 Jazz Fest in New Orleans

In 1969, Mayall moved from England to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and began playing with American musicians. Over the next three decades, he recorded many albums featuring artists like Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins and Mick Taylor. In 2008, Mayall decided to retire The Bluesbreakers name. The following year, he started touring with Rocky Athas (guitar), Jay Davenport (drums) and Greg Rzab (bass). In 2016, after Athas had been unable to attend a festival gig due to airline cancellations, Mayall was left with Davenport and Rzab. He liked the trio format and decided to keep it until May of this year, when guitarist Caroyln Wonderland joined the band.

With a recording career of more than 50 years and 60-plus albums, it’s impossible to do Mayall and his music full justice, so the following selection can only scratch the surface. Let’s start with the above mentioned Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. Here’s Double Crossin’ Time, a tune co-written by Mayall and Clapton. Apart from them, the core line-up of The Bluesbreakers at the time also included John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).

In September 1967, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers released their fourth album Crusade. It was the first record with then-18-year-old Mick Taylor. Check out this hot track called Snowy Wood, which is credited to Mayall and Taylor.

To A Princess is an unusual tune from Mayall’s 13th album Empty Rooms, which appeared in 1970. It includes a bass duet featuring band member Steven Thompson and former Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor as a guest. In addition to Mayall (vocals, harmonica, guitars, keyboards), Thompson and Taylor, other musicians on the record were Jon Mark (guitar) and Johnny Almond (saxophone, flute). Mark and Almond left right after the album’s recording to form the duo Mark-Almond.

Next up: The title track of Mayall’s 19th album Ten Years Are Gone released in September 1973. I dig the brass work on this groovy tune, which gives it a cool jazzy and soulful vibe. The musicians on the record included Mayall (piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Freddy Robinson (guitar), Victor Gaskin (bass), Keef Hartley (drums), Sugarcane Harris (violin), Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Red Holloway (saxophone, flute).

In 1975, Mayall’s 22nd album Notice To Appear came out. For the most part, it featured covers, including the following hot funky take of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The track features Mayall (vocals), Rick Vito (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Soko Richardson (drums), Jay Spell (keyboards), Don Harris (violin) and Dee McKinnie (backing vocals).

In 1988, Mayall recorded his 34th album called Archives To Eighties. It included revised versions of select tunes that originally had appeared on his 1971 release Back To The Roots. Just like the earlier record, Archives To Eighties featured Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Here’s Force Of Nature.

Wake Up Call was Mayall’s 39th album. The Grammy-nominated record from 1994 brought together many prominent musicians, including Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins and Mavis Staples, among others. Here’s the smoking hot title track with Taylor on guitar and Staples on vocals.

In 2005, Mayall released his 53rd album called Road Dogs, one of the last under The Bluesbreakers name. The band’s line-up at the time included Buddy Whittington (guitars), Hank Van Sickle (bass) and Joe Yuele (drums), in addition to Mayall (vocals, keyboard, harmonica). Following is the record’s closer Scrambling.

Here’s the title track of Mayall’s 61st record A Special Life from May 2014. It featured his then-core backing band Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass, percussions) and Jay Davenport (drums), as well as C. J. Chenier (accordion, vocals). As usually, Mayall provided vocals, guitar, harmonica and keyboards.

The last album I’d like to touch on is Mayall’s most recent, Three For The Road. Released in February 2018, it is his 66th record – unbelievable! It presents live recordings from two 2017 concerts in Germany, performed by the trio format of Mayall, Rzab and Davenport. Here’s Lonely Feelings.

Just before his 85th birthday on November 29, Mayall made two announcements. After completing a few shows in California, he is planning a 2019 tour and has started booking gigs in Europe. A look on the current schedule already reveals 22 dates starting February 26 in Tampere, Finland and stretching out to March 24 in Ancona, Italy. U.S. dates are supposed to be announced soon. Mayall also revealed a new studio album, Nobody Told Me, which is scheduled to be released on February 22, 2019. Apart from his new guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, it includes numerous prominent guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Steven Van Zandt and Alex Lifeson.

I’d like to finish this post with a few quotes posted on Mayall’s website, which I think speak for themselves:

John Mayall has actually run an incredible school for musician. (Eric Clapton)

John Mayall, he was the master of it. If it wasn’t for the British musicians, a lot of us black musicians in America would still be catchin’ the hell that we caught long before. So thanks to all you guys, thank you very much! (B.B. King)

I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ-type guy. You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say “Just check this out.” He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton – he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. (Paul McCartney)

As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world. (Walter Trout)

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mayall website, YouTube

Buddy Guy To Release New Studio Album

“The Blues Is Alive And Well” features guest appearances from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and James Bay

A Facebook post from Buddy Guy’s page I spotted earlier made my day, or I should better say my evening. The 81-year-old blues legend will release The Blues Is Alive And Well, his 18th studio album this Friday. With his late fellow artists B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Junior Wells all having passed away, some may consider the title as optimistic, but when it comes to this record, the music surely is still cooking, based on the three tracks that are already out.

The album includes guest appearances by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and James Bay, a 27-year-old English singer-songwriter and guitarist. Guy has known and been friends with Jagger, Richards and Beck for decades. While other black blues artists at times have resented that white guys took their material and oftentimes became more successful than they did, Guy has a different view. He appreciates many of these white artists, especially British blues rockers, since they helped popularize the blues among white audiences, which he feels has also benefited black artists like him.

Here’s a clip of the most recently released track from the forthcoming  album.  Cognac features Richards and Beck. I just love how Guy calls them out. Plus the music and his singing are awesome. Guy still has a great soulful voice!

The album was produced by Guy’s longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge, who has worked with him since his 14th studio album Skin Deep from July 2008. Like on previous records, Hambridge was also involved in the writing.

“Every time I go into the studio my hope is that I give my best and come out with something good enough to try to keep the blues alive,” Guy told music journalist and Forbes contributor Derek Scancarelli. “But that’s not the case always. I don’t even think the Stones made a hit every time they went into the studio.”Added Hambridge: “It’s an important piece of music that’s coming out. He puts his blood and sweat in this stuff. This is a statement about his life. This is everything he has.”

I surely look forward to listen to the entire album this Friday.

Sources: Wikipedia, Forbes.com, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Albert King, B.B. King, Robert Cray et al/Blues Medley

Inspired by this recent post from Music Enthusiast, I’ve been listening to Koko Taylor and originally intended to post a clip of this amazing artist who was also known as The Queen of the Blues. Then I came across the amazing clip above, which apparently was captured at the Grammy Awards in 1987 and shows two back-to-back performances by some of the greatest blues artists on one stage.

Things kick off with Willie Dixon and Taylor singing the Dixon tune When I Make Love. The backing band includes Dr. John, Junior Wells and Ry Cooder, among others. Next up is the Louis Jordan song Let The Good Times Roll, performed by Albert King and B.B. King, together with Big Jay McNeely, Robert Cray and Etta James. The audience is on their feet and McNeely on his back by the end of the track – any doubts you may have had whether the blues is here to stay will be gone after you’ve watched this!

I’ll definitely do something on Taylor soon and also post on some of the other blues pioneers who wrote music that was made popular by others, often white artists.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube