Widespread Panic: Running With Ghosts (Relix Revisited)
Talking about full-bodied, Bell gained over 30 pounds in the 15 months that the band took off in 2005. That was his time to come to terms with what had happened in his band.
“Personally, I numbed out a little bit afterwards. We still had a business to run, to put it bluntly, with a lot of people behind the scenes that make their living being a part of what we’re doing. It didn’t feel right to just stop right after Mikey died. It was almost like we should keep going because it just felt like that was the right thing to do for so many reasons. And not to get out of touch with what you were doing, because we didn’t know what it would be like coming back if we’d taken our year off right then.We had planned to take that year off even before Mikey announced that he was ill. And so that was a long time coming. But then we were like, ‘Nah, this isn’t the right time either, to take the time off.’ But then it was. What did I do? I ate a lot. I mean, I’d just sit there and cook and eat and I wouldn’t say I was in a state of denial but I was letting the process move through me slowly. And I gained about 30 pounds while I was doing it.”
Bell is an affable man, or so he’d like you to believe.Wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball jersey and baggy jeans, he’s a cross between a Confederate general and Kris Kristofferson. The singer/guitarist and co-founder of Widespread Panic attempts to lull the listener into placidness—if not with libation—than with his combination of earnest New Age platitudes, chaos theory and sports analogies, but beneath that seems a cold banked anger, and some very stringent boundaries about what he will and will not tolerate.
While he says that the band is a total democracy, other band members insist the buck stops with Bell. It was his idea to split the publishing at the very onset of their career, despite protests from Houser. “Yeah, I knew that would be good for all of us. And we had R.E.M.’s example. Mikey didn’t see it that way at first, but eventually he did. And it’s worked out for the best,” explains Bell.
Sitting in this backroom, designated by a small hand-lettered sign that says “Wives,” he exudes a Zen-like calm in the half-light, the only source of illumination a small table lamp across the room and a flickering orange candle. The illumination certainly isn’t coming from Bell. Like Mandrake, the fabled comic book magician, John Bell has the ability to cloud men’s minds. Slippery as a fast-moving fish, the singer darts and dodges from fixing himself to a single point, unwilling to even say what ties all the band’s song together.
“I think I’m reluctant to tell you, like, what always seems to pop up for me, because who knows, that could change, and I’m not really comfortable with folks thinking that, oh, that’s the way it is. Or that’s what’s going to be expected of me, or that’s how I identify myself. Because it is open to just fluctuation. But I do notice that in the music, what pops up are kind of like dreams. They’re like little dreams that you have when you fall asleep, and either it’s obvious to you that that’s something your subconscious has been working on, or there’s maybe a secret in there that’s yet to wholly reveal itself to you. And sometimes it’s just nonsense, and you’re like, ‘Wow, glad I woke up.’”
He just woke up, but I’m the one rubbing my eyes.Wait, what did he just say? Blame it on the poor light source, but the deep grooves and web of wrinkles in Bell’s face seem to converge in a single point that looks like a Third Eye, and it’s rather unnerving to say the least. But what is most unnerving is watching him veer from subject to subject, trying to throw observers and fans off the scent of where he is at any single moment. It’s all open to change. And then there’s a matter of the ever present red voodoo doll that always accompanies the band onstage. “I once picked up the doll, and the guys said, ‘Put that down George, that’s some heavy gris-gris,’” explains McConnell. “I put it down right away.”
‘It sounds great.’ It seems like it’s working. But, you know, people are finicky. Our fans are finicky. Believe it or not, as fucked up as some people can be, they really do pay attention, and you have to respect that. And we’re guilty of not taking care of our fans.
As for McConnell, he still feels a little embattled not only by the fans, but his peers. “I’ve had other guitar players come up and tell me that they should be in this band instead of me.”
“Oh, hell yeah. Some semi-famous guitar players that a lot of people know very well flat out have said that. “I never, ever thought that I was there to replace him,” drawls the lanky musician, who friends describe as being shaped like a question mark. And hunched over his guitar, with a cigarette stuck into its head like a modern day Slash, they’re right. But it’s not only his shape; his whole future was called into question the day he got a call from keyboardist Jo Jo Hermann asking if he would join the tour in spring 2002. Though many have said this, during those last shows, including a performance at Bonnaroo on June 22, 2002, McConnell says Houser played each note as if it was his last. “There was this finality too, and it is one of those things, every last note you played mattered.
Even the audience members were going, ‘Man, he looks great. He’s playing his ass off, he’s doing super.’” But he wasn’t. In less than six weeks he was gone. While the common belief has been that Houser anointed his replacement, that’s just not so. “Nobody ever said this, and this is probably in my own mind, but I just felt like I was the specter of the grim reaper sitting in the corner with my guitar instead of a sickle, and Mikey’s looking over, like, going, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m about to die and this guy’s going to come take over.’ No one ever said that, but that’s how I felt. Mikey was nice to me, but we didn’t talk at all, unfortunately. And I think it’s a misconception that people think that we really hung out and he showed me a lot of songs. He was too ill.
“Mikey didn’t choose me. I really think it was the other band members. I really think in Mikey’s mind, he fully thought that he was going to finish out that tour. No ifs, ands or buts about it. And I think he was—I don’t know when, what they decided or if they ever decided it with Mikey. I’m not sure if Mikey even knew about me taking over.”
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
- Visions of Bonnaroo Thursday (ALO, Jack Johnson, Polyphonic Spree, Allen Stone…)
- Deer Tick Share "The Rock"
- Win a pair of passes to The NINES Festival
- Robert Hunter Will Return to the Stage for Eight Shows
- Mumford & Sons’ Ted Dwane Shares Photo, Update
- Jack Johnson: Bonnaroo Song, Mumford Cover, "Mudfootball" with Preservation Hall Jazz Band
- The Making of Pretty Lights’ A Color Map of the Sun
- Craig Taborn Trio: Chants
- Crystal Bowersox "Dead Weight"
- Interlocken Confirms Daily Lineups, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Punch Brothers, Keller & The Keels and More Added
- Mumford and Sons Cancel Bonnaroo Show, Summer Tour
- Premiere: Robert Randolph & The Family Band "Born Again"
- Ed Helms: Bonnaroo, Banjos and a Bit of Phish
- Tedeschi Trucks Band Share New Song
- Robert Hunter Will Return to the Stage for Eight Shows
- Patty Griffin in Boston
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll