During their stint with the Allman Brothers Band, guitarist Warren Haynes & bassist Allen Woody started a side project known as Gov't Mule. Warren recruited drummer Abts after playing together in the Dickey Betts Band. While this band started as a side project, they quickly discovered that there was a unmistakable chemistry between the three musicians. The Tel-Star sessions is the first ever, never before released recording of the band. This recording captures this group in their rawest form. While some of us Mule hard-cores have had a bootleg of these recordings in our woodshed, we have not had the opportunity to hear it in this pure format.
This album starts off with "Blind Man in the Dark", which is a song that blends the musical influences of rock, jazz, funk, & R&B. There isn't a song in Mule's repertoire that is more appropriate for a opener/encore of a show than this one. Over the years the band has incorporated Frank Zappa's "Pygmy Twylyte" as a prelude to this song. It carries an instrumental dark undertone before launching into this heavy number. "Rocking Horse" is the second number that comes up on the album. It contains one of my favorite lyrics in Gov't Mule's arsenal, "My guardian angel wears a hard hat said the boy with the microphone". This tune was written while the guys were staying at Big House in Macon, Georgia and the Allman Brothers Band played it for years. "Rocking Horse" on this album is in it's earliest form, and while you don't see it on many Mule set lists nowadays, I wish the band couldn't "leave it alone".
Next up, is the rocker "Monkey Hill". I'll leave this up to your imagination of what the song is about as it includes lyrics like, "between the buildings and the alleyways, that's where the living is done, where the young boys chase the dragon, that's where flesh and steel are one". Back in the 90s, Warren uses a microphone component, that is perfect for making his voice sound like he takes a trip into the oblivion of drug addiction. In these early days of Gov't Mule, the trio was as heavy as it gets. The three members had a tendency to push each other and they would be completely in sync, knowing exactly where the other one was going to go musically.
"Mr. Big" is the next song on the album. It is a greasy version of the band Free's "Mr. Big" that was written by Paul Rodgers & Andy Fraser. With songs like this, you get a feeling of just where the band was musically with each member contributing equally in their respective roles. Allen Woody's parts on this song are so heavy, he almost sounds like he's playing the lead on bass. His style on the bass was like no other out there and this album highlights his ability as a musician throughout. "The Same Thing" follows next on the album. It was written by Willie Dixon, known as "the poet laureate of the blues". I believe some of you might know some of this greats other songs that have been covered out there on the jam band scene. These include "Spoonful", "Wang Dang Doodle", "Bring It On Home", "Weak Brain/Narrow Mind", and "Hoochie Coochie Man", just to name a few. "The Same Thing" is another tune that found its way into the Allman Brothers set list. While this song was played pretty heavy during the early years of 1994-1997, it has been shelved for some time now. The next tune, "Mother Earth" originally was a slow twelve-bar blues song written by Memphis Slim back in 1951. It was reconstructed into this heavy blues number by Haynes, Woody, & Abts. It is is one of the good, old school Mule songs that still finds its way into set list with the current lineup.
The next thing you hear on The Tel-Star Sessions is Bud Snyder's voice in the background saying "tapes rolling" as the bands kicks into overdrive with this beefed up version of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid". As a Mule fan through and through, I feel that the placement of this song couldn't be more appropriate. Right in the middle of the album, the band launches into this raw, loud version of it. It's hard not to say that this is a highlight of the album, but I think the entire album is unbelievable. While the band's first self titled album is a great album, this live one captures just how Gov't Mule were firing on all cylinders in 1994. While the 1990s were great to the Allman Brothers Band musically, after hearing this Tel-Star Sessions album, one can understand why Haynes and Woody went on to see just where this band could go.
"Left Coast Groovies" was written in honor of the late great Frank Zappa and was the first song that was written by the three original members. It is a tune where the band asks for the audience help to contribute vocally, way before they did on songs like "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam" and "Lay Your Burden Down". I for one, feel that Allen Woody and his talent as a musician have been hard to replace when the bass needs to come in as heavy as ever. "World of Difference" closes the album with two different mixes. This tune, written by Warren Haynes, is a bluesy number that carries such a serious message. This song would appear in the set list in the early years of Gov't Mule from 1994-1996, but after the New Years show at the Wetlands in New York, it hasn't been seen in the set list much at all and is the only song that I have never heard live.
When I first heard The Tel-Star Sessions album was going to be released, I had to have it on vinyl. The album catches Gov't Mule in it's rawest form in the early days and this live performance captures the band in its element. Gov't Mule is the heaviest, greasiest band in the land. I am proud to be a lifetime, hard core Mule fan and have seen them so many different times through so many various lenses. I cannot wait to see what their work in the studio this month develops into for a new album release. In the meantime, if you haven't ordered this archival album yet, you owe it to yourself to grab it now. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!
The Tel-Star Sessions Track Listing:
- Blind Man In The Dark
- Rocking Horse
- Monkey Hill
- Mr. Big
- The Same Thing
- Mother Earth
- Just Got Paid
- Left Coast Groovies
- World Of Difference
- Bonus Track: World Of Difference (Alternate Version/Original Mix)