When the jam band Gov't Mule was in the middle of recording its terrific new studio album, Shout!, singer-guitarist Warren Haynes and his band mates — drummer Matt Abts, multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson — thought it might be good to include a few guest vocalists.
"Initially, there was the thought of having a guest on one and then two and then three," says Haynes. "The first three were Toots Hibbert, Elvis Costello and Dr. John. We were half-way joking about having those guys sing a verse of part of the song. It was still not an official idea. Then, the thought of a cameo wasn't enough. I thought that maybe they should sing the whole song and then do an alternative version of a few songs. And then I thought maybe we should do an alternative version of each."
One night at what he says was 3 a.m., Haynes was so excited about the idea, he woke up and made a list of who he would like to have sing which song. He ran it by his band mates the next day, and they loved the idea. From there, it was just a matter of making some phone calls and lining things up. As a result, a bonus disc featuring guest singers taking on the vocals of each of the original album's 11 songs accompanies the release.
"There were a couple of people who were unavailable," Haynes says. "But almost everyone we asked was available and interested, partially because we chose the right singers for each song. The marriage of singer and song is the most important aspect of this whole thing."
While Haynes, a veteran guitarist who has played with the Allman Brothers Band for the past 25 years, knew most of the artists who appear on the album's bonus disc, he wasn't entirely familiar with Vintage Trouble singer Ty Taylor. So the two chatted via Skype and quickly established a rapport.
"I sent him ['Bring on the Music'] and we had made plans to do some stuff in the future," Haynes says. "We're going to tour together. We're just like-minded bands."
A simmering blues song, "Bring on the Music" sounds a bit like it could be an old Bob Seger tune as Taylor's gruff vocals really resonate, and Haynes lingering blues solos simmer. It's just one of many highlights on the disc.
Another highlight: Elvis Costello sounds particularly prickly on the sneering "Funny Little Tragedy." And country singer Grace Potter explores her soulful side on the woozy "Whisper in Your Soul."
"She and I are old friends," Haynes says of Potter. "It was great because she sang it in my key. I sent her the tune and asked if we need to change the key. She just said she would just voice it up. She interpreted the melody in her own way. I really love what she did."
Given the caliber of guest contributors (Ben Harper, Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Jim James, Dave Matthews and Steve Winwood all make appearances), some fans are likely to favor the bonus disc over the disc of tunes featuring Haynes on lead vocals. And that's okay with Haynes.
"That's not a big concern to me," he says when asked if he's worried fans will gravitate to versions of the songs that he didn't sing. "I'm sure that will happen in some cases. Everyone will have their favorites and I even have mine. I don't see a negative version of that. If someone likes Steve Winwood's version of 'When the World Gets Small' better than mine, hey, Steve Winwood is on it and he's one of my all time favorite singers. I wouldn't even argue with them."
The album represents yet another benchmark for a band that was originally intended to be nothing more than a side project.
"We started Gov't Mule in late 1994, and it was an experimental project," says Haynes. "[The late] Allen Woody and I were full-time members of the Allman Brothers, but they only worked a small part of the year. We got the idea just to do something for fun. We had no expectations of becoming a touring band or making a second or third record or anything. We were just taking it a step at a time. It caught fire in its own way. The next thing you know, we became a full-fledged band, and we were touring and making records. It was all very organic."
Haynes has certainly gotten his due. He has a street named after him in Lower Hominy, N.C. as a tribute to the degree to which he's supported Habit for Humanity. He was also presented with the key to the City of Asheville, his hometown, in 2002. So what could possibly left on his bucket list?
"Well, there's still people I would love to collaborate with," he says. "There are a lot of different records I would love to make in the studio as far as different directions stylistically. I've been very fortunate that I've been able to meet or jam with most of the people I've grown up listening to. I have to stress what an honor it is for me to have that opportunity. I would love to continue collaborating with people in the future that I admire and enjoy working with."
As if Shout! wasn't adventurous enough, he's got a wealth of ideas he'd like to try out the next time he's in the studio.
"I want to make a record more centered around acoustic instruments and more of a singer-songwriter record," he says. "I want to make a blues record and a jazz-influenced record. Of course, with Gov't Mule, the sky is the limit with us. We can do whatever what we want to and our audience will support us."