This Mule Still Kicks

Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule return to shake the rafters at the Taft Theatre

Warren Hayes of Gov't Mule
Warren Hayes of Gov't Mule

Cincinnati has been good to Gov’t Mule. The band has sold out multiple shows in the area over the years. Unlike many groups who may draw a “music lesson” crowd that tends to sit on its hands and complain when somebody dares to stand up and trance up, Mule audiences rock it from note one. The band’s upcoming gig at the Taft Theatre this weekend should be no exception.

There have been many memorable past performances by the Mule in town, including in 2009 when then-local resident and guitar great Peter Frampton showed up to jam his heart out. Guests or no guests, the members of the Mule — Warren Haynes, Matt Abts, Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson — are ready to get heavy.

“We have great shows there,” says Haynes, one of the best Rock and Blues guitarists in the world. “The crowds in Cincinnati are wonderful. We’ve always really had fun there and there are lots of music lovers in that town and in that whole area.” 

“The Taft is cool,” he adds. “That is a really nice venue. It is that size of theater that I really like and I love the old school design of those kinds of places. They just have a vibe of their own. I remember doing that show when Peter Frampton came out and joined us and that was really fun. Some venues are conducive to playing live music and that is one of them.”

Haynes began the more high-profile side of his career when he began to tour with David Allan Coe. That led to a stint playing in the Dickey Betts Band in the late ’80s. Soon after, Betts brought him into a reformed Allman Brothers Band. In the ’90s, Haynes formed Gov’t Mule as a side group with Abts and the late Allen Woody; eventually the trio went into full Mule mode 24/7. A few years later, Haynes kept Gov’t Mule going while returning to the Allman Brothers, where he still trades licks with the great guitarist Derek Trucks. 

The Mule recently went on a one-year hiatus, with each member breaking off to pursue various solo projects. The Grammy-nominated Warren Haynes Band was one of those offshoots. But now, the thunder is back and the band is working on new material and touring its heart out once again.

While Haynes first played in Cincinnati in the early 1980s, his connection to the Queen City began when he was a kid. He grew up in Asheville, N.C., where his dad played records in the house that ranged from the Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson to Hank Williams. At an early age, however, Haynes got the bug for Rock, Blues and Soul music, including some jams that made their way south from Cincinnati.

“I had James Brown singles on the King Records label, the old blue-label King 45 RPMs,” Haynes says, referring to the locally based record label that played a crucial role in the development of Rock & Roll. “And … I remember this, and I’ve always told people and nobody remembers this — I don’t remember what song it was, maybe ‘Cold Sweat’ or maybe ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,’ but on the 45, the ‘K’ for King Records had a picture of James inside the bar of the ‘K.’ Nobody ever remembers that, but I swear I remember that. I must have been 7 or 8 years old. I bought them in the stores back then. That was back when you couldn’t afford the whole album so you just went and bought the single.”

Here is a clip from the live Gov't Mule DVD, A Tail of Two Cities:

If Haynes has anyone on his mind when he takes the stage at the Taft, it will be his recently fallen friend and former Cincinnati musician, guitarist Dangerous Dan Toler. This past February, Toler died from ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

One of the most underrated artists in all of Rock music, Toler played with the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman Band, Dickey Betts & Great Southern, The Toler Brothers (with his late brother Frankie) and the Toler Townsend Band.  

Toler, a native of Connersville, Ind., spent six years in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood, in the glory hippie days of the late ’60s and early ’70s. He was discovered in Cincinnati by Betts, who brought him into his group Great Southern and then eventually into the legendary Allman Brothers Band when they reformed in 1979 after years of implosion.

“I really didn’t get to know Dan and Frankie until well into the mid-1980s when they were playing with Gregg Allman, and we just became instant friends,” Haynes says. “They were both such warm and ingratiating people and they were great musicians. It was very heartbreaking and a tragic loss, both of those guys, and I miss them a lot.” 

“Dan was a monster,” he continues. “He was an amazing guitar player. He was one of those guys that could really go in many different directions. I think that people didn’t realize how versatile he was. He could play Jazz and Jazz Fusion and all of these different genres of music that people don’t associate with him. But he was, technically, an amazing guitar player. He was one of those cats that could shift gears and go anywhere he wanted to go.”

The last time Haynes saw Toler alive was when he flew down to Florida in 2011 to participate in a benefit concert for the stricken axeman.

“It was really heartbreaking because he couldn’t communicate at that point, but he had a huge smile on his face and he was still playing guitar,” Haynes says. “It was tragic. He and I always enjoyed hanging together and we always enjoyed playing together. It was a very healthy rivalry. We would push each other and make each other play stuff that we didn’t know we could play when we were together. I really miss him.”

GOV’T MULE performs Saturday at the Taft Theatre with The Revivalists.

Scroll to read more Music Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.