Gov’t Mule kicks blues into high gear ahead of Boston show

Aerosmith did it. The Rolling Stones did it. Now Gov’t Mule have joined the ranks of great rock bands who’ve made a blues album.

Of course it was never that big a stretch since Gov’t Mule, the jamming band fronted by singer/guitarist Warren Haynes, has always been steeped in the blues. But when the band regrouped after lockdown, Haynes took that as a cue to dig a little deeper.

“During the pandemic, it felt like the whole world had the blues,” he said this week. “But people who think of the blues as sad or depressed music are missing the point. The blues is the remedy, it brings you out of that feeling.” The album, “Heavy Load Blues,” largely steers clear of oft-covered blues chestnuts: Half the tunes are original, the others are deeper cuts and a Tom Waits song even makes the cut.

“That was a cool little curveball,” Haynes said, “but it occurred to me that a lot of his songs adhere to that traditional blues format- – so why not include him along with Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James? I’d say that all my favorite blues records were recorded between 1955-1975, so it’s meant to reflect that era. We wanted to bring the spirit of the recording back to an earlier time period.”

The blues album came out of an epic recording session that yielded two albums at once; the second is set for release next March.

“We used two different rooms in the same studio, set up with different gear. The other record sounds more like what people would expect from us, though it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done in the past. I love the fact that it’s a very song-oriented record but also very adventurous from an arrangement standpoint, with a lot of moving parts. That was the beauty of making two records at the same time: We’d work on the new songs in the big room, then at night we’d move into the blues room and play the blues till 1 a.m., just like shutting our brains off.”

Haynes has long been a voracious musician. He was a mainstay of the Allman Brothers Band; and in the early 2000s he hit the trifecta of touring with the Allmans, the Mule and the regrouped Dead — plus a handful of side projects.

“What made it exciting for me was being able to express myself in different ways. I’d much rather be that busy in two or three different formats than all the same. It’s refreshing to step out of one format and into another; it allows you to clean your palate and clear your brain space for something new. I’d welcome making up for lost time at this point. That doesn’t mean I’ll be as busy as I was 20 years ago, but being that active would be a nice luxury.”

They’ll feature the blues material at Roadrunner on Thursday, Aug. 11, but as usual, a Mule show can go anywhere. They’ve also been more likely to play Allman Brothers songs since that group disbanded.

“That music just needs to be played, and it’s fun and healing to play those songs from time to time,” Haynes said. “One of the positive things that came out of lockdown was that we were able to start with a clean slate where necessary, in terms of the improvs we do. It’s always good to step away and start fresh, and we were forced to do that after being apart.

“At this point we’ve been playing together so long that a lot of things can make up a really great show,” he says. “But in our minds it’s the uncharted stuff, what happens in our heads that wasn’t rehearsed. You can have a great show anywhere and anytime, and you can usually feel that happening right away. Once you do, you just have to get out of the way and ride the wave.”