Widespread Panic Biography

The Allman Brothers Band of the 90s and 00s, this Athens, Georgia, USA-based jam band was formed at the University of Georgia in the mid-80s by college friends John Bell (14 April 1962, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; vocals/guitar), Michael Houser (b. 6 January 1962, Boone, North Carolina, USA, d. 10 August 2002, Athens, Georgia, USA; guitar) and Dave Schools (b. 11 December 1964; bass). This trio recorded a single, ‘Coconut Image’, before Todd Nance (b. 20 November 1962; drums) joined in February 1986, and with the addition of temporary member Domingo Ortiz (b. 4 July 1952; percussion), the new line-up toured extensively, inspiring a devoted loyal live following. A poorly recorded debut album appeared on the independent Landslide label in September 1988, but the band was subsequently signed to Capricorn Records. Tee Lavitz (b. 16 April 1956, New Jersey, USA, ex-Dixie Dregs) stood in as keyboard player for live dates and appeared on their self-titled Capricorn debut. The band’s most settled line-up came about when Ortiz joined full time and John ‘JoJo’ Herman (b. 18 July 1962) replaced Lavitz.

Widespread Panic gained a higher profile with their appearances on the first two HORDE tours (Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere), a roots-orientated package founded by themselves and Blues Traveler in 1992 as an antidote to Lollapalooza. Their Capricorn albums of this period faithfully replicated the band’s loose, jamming live sound, and songs such as ‘Airplane’ and ‘Can’t Get High’, from 1994’s Ain’t Life Grand, were successful radio hits. In 1995, Widespread Panic recorded Nine High A Pallet with fellow Athens songwriter Vic Chesnutt under the Brute moniker (a follow-up collaboration was released in 2002). Their 1999 collection, ’Til The Medicine Takes, attempted to cut out the jams in favour of a more song-orientated approach, but with limited success.

In July 2002, guitarist Michael Houser announced he was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and died barely a month later. He was replaced in the line-up by George McConnell who had already played live with the band as cover for their ailing guitarist. McConnell made his studio debut with the band on the excellent 2003 set, Ball. A glut of live albums followed, befitting a band for whom the stage is their natural habitat. McConnell’s final hurrah with Widespread Panic came on the 2006 studio album Earth To America. He was subsequently replaced by Jimmy Herring (b. 22 January 1962, Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA, ex-Aquarium Rescue Unit).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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