Remembering the founder of Gov't Mule and his Rumblekat Bass
Today would have been Allen Woody's 63rd birthday and all of us at Epiphone hope that you'll take this opportunity to check out Woody's story, his music, and his legacy--the Epiphone Allen Woody Rumblekat Bass--which Woody designed and auditioned in concert with Gov't Mule in Nashville before his sudden death in 1999. Woody and guitarist Warren Haynes had met as members of the re-formed Allman Brothers Band and had put together Gov't Mule with drummer Matt Abts in 1994 intending to perform on the Allman's off-touring dates. But Gov't Mule's modern improvisational approach quickly developed a devoted following so Woody and Haynes resigned from the Allmans three years later. And Woody--tall, tattooed, and with his distinctive gunslinger mustache--was on his way to becoming a rock icon of his own.
Everyone at Epiphone knew the Allen Woody Rumblekat Bass would be a watershed instrument for the re-energized House of Stathopoulo when it was being designed in 1999. It was not Epiphone's first artist signature bass (that honor went to Jack Casady) but it was a solely Epiphone-created design that heralded a new era of independence and innovation--a perfect match for its namesake, Nashville native Allen Woody, one of his generation's most accomplished and adventurous musicians.
When Woody died suddenly in 1999 at the age of 43 a short time after performing with his Epiphone Rumblekat prototype in Nashville, his band Gov't Mule had been finishing a new album, released as Life Before Insanity shortly after Woody's death.
Woody and guitarist Warren Haynes had met as members of the re-formed Allman Brothers Band and had put together Gov't Mule with drummer Matt Abts in 1994 intending to perform on the Allman's off-touring dates. But Gov't Mule's modern improvisational approach quickly developed a devoted following so Woody and Haynes resigned from the Allmans three years later. And Woody--tall, tattooed, and with his distinctive gunslinger mustache--was on his way to becoming a rock icon of his own.
"We knew that we had a great band in Gov't Mule," Woody told Guitar.com "and we knew we could do something with it. When you hear us play it mesmerizes me. If nothing else, the talent that Warren and Matt possess and the chemistry that the three of us have together, you know, it's a once-in-a-lifetime situation."
Allen Woody was born in Nashville in 1955 and attended college at Middle Tennessee State University. "When I was a kid, my dad was deep into the blues," Woody recalled to Guitar.com. "There was a blues radio station in Nashville, WLAC, that was a clear-channel blues station. The two deejays on there would be playin' Little Milton, Howlin' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, they'd be playin' Muddy and John Lee. They played the real blues, before it was fashionable. My dad got listening to that radio station and got me listening to it, so I think the positive part of being a "Southern rock" band is that - let's face it - all the musical styles of America were basically born in black music in places like Memphis - the blues - and jazz down in New Orleans. You've got rock 'n' roll and gospel. Those are the only styles we have to call our own in America. And by the grace of God, they came from the South."
Woody worked part-time at Gruhn Guitars as well as Gibson Customer Service where he easily made friends with anyone who was a good musician passing through Nashville. Scott Harrison, a longtime member of Epiphone's R&D Department, met Woody while working in the Custom Shop. "We got to be good friends, both being bass players. He was a gregarious guy. He was funny. He was sharp. He always found the little things he could poke you with. He was good natured."
In the late 80s, original Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks heard Woody playing in the Artemis Pyle Band and suggested he try out for the Allman Brothers, who had decided to reform and record a new album with their longtime producer and engineer, Tom Dowd.
"It was such a perfect fit," said Harrison. "He knew everything--note for note--and just slayed it. We knew the next day he had gotten it. He would still come around on a regular basis. We all got pretty excited for him. It gave us the opportunity to examine doing a signature model."
Woody was already a serious collector ("He had a huge collection--he'd put on a bass show if you went to his house") and when Epiphone suggested he help create an Allen Woody signature model, Woody took inspiration from several new Epiphones. "Paul McCartney was an inspiration and he liked the Viola's New York mini- humbucker pickups." The new Wildkat, Epipone's first new archtop-style design since the early 60s. also inspired the Rumblekat's profile. "We ran through several possibilities," said Harrison. "Everything else was pretty flexible but he wanted those New York-style pickups, a short scale, and that Wine Red finish... and gold hardware!"
The Epiphone Allen Woody Rumblekat Bass has not changed since Woody signed off on the instrument in 1999. "We saw him perform with it down by the riverfront here in Nashville," said Harrison. "But he didn't have it for long, unfortunately. He loved it though." The Epiphone Rumblekat features a chambered Mahogany Body, a unique 30" scale length neck (most basses have 34"), a 5-ply Maple top, a 3-point adjustable bridge, and Woody's favorite NYT mini-bass humbuckers.
Be sure to check out Woody's work on the Allman Brothers' first reunion album Seven Turns as well as an Evening with the Allman Brothers, produced by Tom Dowd and recorded live in Macon, Boston, and New York. Also check out Gov't Mule's debut from 1995 as well as Live from Roseland Ballroom and Dose. And visit the Allen Woody website at www.allenwoody.com.
Allen Woody remains one of Epiphone's most intriguing signature artists. Like Duane Allman before him, Woody was a catalyst and inspiration to young musicians from many backgrounds. And virtually every Epiphone signature model since has been made with the same hands-on enthusiasm that Woody brought to the Rumblekat.
"There used to be a formula in the Allman Brothers that made it click," recalled Woody. "The sound was defined with the first lineup. With Gov't Mule, we don't have to look back and say, 'What did the guys before us do?' because we're the guys before us (laughs)."