Gov’t Mule celebrates 20 years with big tour plans

Photo by ANNA WEBBER -- Gov't. Mule Show caption
Photo by ANNA WEBBER -- Gov't. Mule

Band set to play Varsity on Feb. 13

For singer and rock guitar master Warren Haynes, 2014 is the year of anniversaries.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Haynes joining the Allman Brothers Band and the 45th anniversary of the formation of that pioneering Southern-rock, jam-band congregation.

Another of Haynes’ projects, improvisatory rock band Gov’t Mule, is marking its 20th anniversary in 2014. The band’s early observations of that milestone included full performances of its first three albums last month during the annual Gov’t Mule Island Exodus in Jamaica. The group appears at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge Thursday, Feb. 13.

Playing entire albums in concert was just the beginning of Gov’t Mule’s anniversary events.

“We’re going to pull out all of the old stuff that we haven’t played in a long, long time, play the new stuff from ‘Shout!’ and everything between,” Haynes said last week.

“People who know Gov’t Mule,” he added, “know that every night is different, but we’re going to step it up and make this tour and this year special. There are a lot of big plans because it is such an important year for us.”

Ahead of its anniversary, Gov’t Mule went the extra mile for its latest album, “Shout!” The double album features Gov’t Mule singing the “Shout!” songs on one disc and an all-star lineup of guests singing those same songs on disc two.

Guests include Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Ben Harper, Toots Hibbert (Toots and the Maytals), Steve Winwood, Glenn Hughes, Jim James, Myles Kennedy, Grace Potter and Ty Taylor (Vintage Trouble).

During its touring this year, Gov’t Mule plans to perform with as many “Shout!” guests as possible in various cities. Plans also include concerts featuring multiple guests.

About half of the “Shout!” guests recorded their vocals while Haynes was in the studio. Conflicting schedules made it necessary for the other vocals to be recorded long distance.

The idea for doing a double-CD extravaganza didn’t come up until about midway through the recording of disc one.

“It just kind of mushroomed,” Haynes said. “We knew we had to push the release date back. We knew we were gonna be spending more time and money and energy in the studio. But it was worth it because all these amazing, legendary singers sang our songs. Nobody’s done anything quite like this before. It was really refreshing for us to take on that challenge.”

Haynes made a wish list for who, other than himself, he’d love to hear singing the band’s songs. Most of the singers are friends and artists he’s known and admired for years.

New Orleans’ Dr. John, for instance, sings “How Could You Stoop So Low.”

“He did such an awesome job,” Haynes said. “It was like he was meant to sing that tune.”

Reggae artist Frederick “Toots” Hibbert sings “Scared To Live.”

“I think Toots is the greatest living Jamaican soul singer,” Haynes said. “I’m playing and singing on his new record as well.”

Haynes and Derek Trucks recently announced they are leaving the Allman Brothers Band after 2014. Haynes also expects 2014 to be the final year for the band. Gregg Allman, too, told Relix magazine, “This is it — this is the end of it.”

“Gregg is really enjoying his solo project,” Haynes said. “All of our respective solo efforts tended to take up more time in the past several years than the Allman Brothers Band.

“Everybody still enjoys playing together. I see the door being open for something in the future, but in order for us to do what’s best for each individual and for the band, this is the right thing to do.”