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The Mighty Gov't Mule: Still The Best

Posted: Jan 08, 2007

Gov't Mule has been one of my very favorite southern bands for many years now. I'll never forget the first time I saw them live. It was 1998 at The Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. A rather "uppity" venue that usually features opera, Broadway shows and symphony performances. Imagine my surprise when I heard that the Mule would be plowing through this lofty facility. The show was incredible and it hooked me like a bass on a fishing line.

I started going to any and all Mule shows I could make it out to. The power of Asheville, North Carolina's Warren Haynes on both guitar and vocal is amazing and Matt Abts is by far one of the most talented drummers in all of rock and roll. And what can I say about Allen Woody? His style on the bass was one of a kind. When he and Warren were members of The Allman Brothers Band I was in heaven. Like many others, I was blown away when Woody died. It rocked my world for a couple of years. Truth be known, I still haven't gotten over it. I love the new Mule but I really miss Allen.

Probably the coolest Mule show I ever attended was held outdoors in Spartanburg, S.C. on Saturday, May 1, 1999. It was my home town's "Spring Fling" and the weather was simply beautiful. My wife and I made it a "date night," as we always did for The Mule. What follows are some of my memories of that special night, with the mighty, mighty Gov't Mule.


The original Mule.


At one point, Mule bassist Allen Woody stepped up to the microphone and said, “What a nice night for a rock and roll show.” Boy, was he ever right. Gov’t Mule stepped onto the outdoor stage under a full moon, with an early summer breeze blowing through their hair, and proceeded to dominate.

About five-thousand people, ranging from grandmothers to grandchildren and all points in between, joined with bikers and moonshiners (we spotted at least one Moonshiner’s Reunion shirt in the crowd), rednecks and all points in between to enjoy the power drenched rock of Gov’t Mule as they moved through some of their best loved songs including “Blind Man in the Dark,” “Temporary Saint,” “Mule,” “Wandering Child” and so many more. Warren Haynes sang his heart out with the inherent soul of a  blues man, twisting off riff after wicked riff on his Gibson Les Paul and moving between bottleneck-slide and fiery leads with all the precision of a man fully in touch with his muse. My wife expressed her feelings on the music by calling it “deeply sexual.” Well, that is a pretty accurate description. Much like their forefathers, Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Mountain, The Mule play music that stirs the soul and excites the animal instincts of good hearted Southern women -- and men as well.

Earlier, Cravin’ Melon had done a fine job of entertaining the jam-packed Morgan Square audience with a series of their most popular songs including “Sweet Tea” and their cover of the 1971 Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds hit “Don’t Pull Your Love.” But as good a job as the boys did, and they were great, there was no comparison to the power trio that took the stage next.

Matt Abts plays drums like a man possessed and even though The Mule opted not to include Abts’ usual percussion solo, anyone watching could see that the man works his butt off behind that kit. Tonight was no exception.

As a special treat, Warren brought out Marc Ford, the former guitarist for The Black Crowes, who now has his own band. It seems Ford was booked to play a late night show at Magnolia’s, a club in town, and Haynes invited him up to recreate the magic of last New Year’s Eve’s show in Atlanta. Marc added his smoldering guitar work and vocals to the Neil Young tune “Cortez, Cortez,” mesmerizing and hypnotizing the audience with a series of improvisational guitar interludes.

The encore was nothing short of sheer joy for the Spartanburg audience as Warren brought Ford back to the stage along with founding Marshall Tucker Band drummer Paul T. Riddle and local musician Rick Willis, a man who carries the spirit and influence of the late Toy Caldwell like a torch, handed down from one generation to the next in some sort of Southern Rock ritual.

Woody said, “You all might recognize this one. We’re going to have some fun with it.” to which Warren added, “This is only the second time we’ve ever played this one. Last Wednesday night was the first." The opening chords of “Can’t You See” sent the crowd into a cheering frenzy as we all huddled together at the front of the stage in awe. Warren conducted the musicians like Charlie Daniels at one of the Volunteer Jams, signaling each player to take a “ride” on his guitar. Ford wailed on slide, seguing into Willis’ first lead. The intensity and similarity to Toy’s style caused Warren Haynes to grin from ear to ear like a kid who had just seen his buddy hit a home run right over the neighbor’s fence.

By the time all was said and done we were left standing there among the carnival rides and cotton candy stands, numb from head to toe, smiling and staring at the lights like Duane Berry waiting for the mothership to come and take him away.

It was one of the best shows I’d seen in my life and it was free. This must have been what it was like in the 1970s when The Allman Brothers played all those free shows at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. A real spiritual feeling permeated the air and everybody moved slowly away from the stage toward their cars, knowing they had experienced something quite special.



Ah yes, the Mule has been through some rough times to be sure but they have kept on a rockin'. The band's latest CD, High and Mighty, is one of their finest ever, receiving a GRITZ "five star" review. Be sure to check it out. There are also Gov't Mule fan sites, message boards, archived set lists and much more. A good place to start is mule.net. And tell them ol' Buffalo at GRITZ and SWAMPLAND sent you.

As always,
Keep it Real. Keep it Southern, y'all!
-Buffalo
michaelbuffalo@swampland.com

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absolutely! The Mule rules! I too miss Woody every single day....Great review Buffalo!

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