Haynes and Abts recruited the crème de la crème of Woody's favorite bassists to make a remarkable record, "The Deep End Vol. 1." One of the contributors to that album, Who bassist John Entwistle, has sadly passed away since its release. Jack Bruce, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Flea, Mike Gordon and Roger Glover were among the luminaries on that album.
Now comes "The Deep End Vol. 2" and another star-studded cast of bassists filling in for Woody.
This time around it's Chris Squire, Phil Lesh, Jack Casady, Les Claypool, Alphonso Johnson, George Porter Jr., Jimi Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and Metallica's Jason Newsted on bass. Also out is the DVD "Rising Low," a documentary of the "Deep End" sessions made by Mike Gordon of Phish fame.
"It's still pretty overwhelming to me that we pulled this off," said Haynes. "We made this long list of bass players thinking most of them would say no."
Instead, virtually everyone asked agreed to do the project and Gov't Mule ended up with 160 minutes of music, most of it recorded live at Theater 99, a former Yiddish vaudeville house on New York's lower east side. Co-producers Haynes and Michael Barbiero (Soungarden, Blues Traveler, Tesla) had everyone set up right onstage, using monitors instead of headphones. Nearly all the bassists plugged into Woody's '70s SVT amplifier.
"It's nice to have that not only that sound but just vibe, the presence of him," said Haynes.
"The DeepEnd Vol. 2" is noticeable for its stylistic diversity.
"Gov't Mule is a rock band with a lot of different influences," said Haynes. "Jazz, blues, folk, funk, soul, psychedelia, all those things would enter the picture. Depending on which bass player we were recording with, we would go further down one of those roads than we had before. The important thing was marrying the right song to the right bass player, so it was a vehicle for their own personality to shine, while making sure it was still Gov't Mule."
One of the highlights of Vol. 2 is "Time to Confess," recorded with the great New Orleans bass player George Porter Jr. and keyboardist Art Neville of Meters fame. Porter has been on the road with Mule for its recent tour and has stunned audiences everywhere he's played with the band.
"This is a song I wrote probably six or seven years ago," said Haynes, "and always wanted to right vehicle for. It just kind of leaped out, like hey, this is the one for George Porter and Art Neville. They did a marvelous version."
The ubiquitous Les Claypool of Primus fame appears on "Greasy Granny Parts 1 and 2."
"Les was the first person we recorded with," explained Haynes. "We spent three days, and by the end of that period we were extremely good friends. I wanted Les' personality to be a big part of the song, for him to sing in his crazy style and juxtapose that against the bluesy soulful thing that I do. He came up with the concept, lyrically, and we just kind of ran with it. He wrote the verses and I wrote the choruses; it was all put to the music he and I and Matt had written the day before."
Haynes is well known for his great guitar playing, but he is an underrated vocalist, and his singing really shines on the Tower of Power classic "What Is Hip?" The song is every bit as topical as it was 30 years ago when it first came out. Rocco Prestia from Tower of Power plays on the track.
"Rocco Prestia was one of Woody's all-time favorite players," said Haynes, "and 'What Is Hip?' is one of the songs that influenced Gov't Mule -- our direction, and the jams in songs like 'Mule,' which we pay tribute to here."
Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna may well be the best fit the band has played with in Woody's absence, and he shows why here on "Slow Happy Boys."
"Jack and Woody were close friends," said Haynes. "Woody always cited Jack as one of his main influences. I had written that song when Woody and I were still in the Allman Brothers, but we had never worked it up with Gov't Mule. Jack came in and recorded it in one take. We did a couple of other takes after that just to see if we could beat it, but they were nowhere near as good."