While August represents vacation for many folks, here at Jambands.com we’ve been quite busy over the past month. As I noted in my July editorial, August 1 represents the birthday of Jerry Garcia, while August 9 marks the day that he passed away.
Another guitar player beloved to many of our readers, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on August 10, 2002. The final shows that I saw Mikey Houser perform with Widespread Panic were at that year’s Bonnaroo, where the group’s take on ‘Tallboy” remains one of my all-time favorite live music memories.
We honor his memory this month with a few pieces that look back on his life and work.
I interviewed Jojo Hermann who recalls, “we played a lot of chess and we both shared a real love of baseball. Mikey and I used to sit in the back lounge and…he was a big Braves fan and I was a big Mets fan and during all those years that we were together the Braves were just winning ever year relentlessly. And the Mets weren’t, so he definitely got me on that end. Back in those days we just really hung out. We saw each other more than any of us saw our families. We became like a real family when we were out there, so he was a brother. And as far as musically, he sat three feet in front of me every night for all those years we were together, and he just had this ability musically to take me to another place. I could close my eyes and feel like I was drifting to another planet, and that’s really to me what music is all about, that’s what music is supposed to do, and any art. It takes you to another place, and no one did that for me more than Mikey. “
Aaron Kayce spoke with Dave Schools who shared a few memories: “There are obvious moments on stage like his last performance at Red Rocks where Jerry Joseph was sitting in. We played “Road To Damascus” and then this jam just bubbled up out of nowhere. Mikey and I would stay out there and jam into the “drums” segment, we’d both leave pretty much at the same time, but sometimes there’d be this great musical sparring; interesting things were happening. That particular day at Red Rocks it must have gone on for 15-minutes. He wasn’t gonna leave and I sure wasn’t gonna leave, and Jerry wasn’t gonna leave. It was great stuff that was happening, it was emotional, and it was some soulful playing. I was sort of outside of it watching a guy standing there surrounded by people who love him playing music and improvising, and a lot of things came up during that jam but he had this grin on his face that I’ll never forget. Despite everything he was facing at that time, and at that point it was day-by-day for him as far as whether he could play or not, and we all know he made it through one more show in Iowa, and that was just an incredible moment, it meant so much to me on so many levels because here was a guy who loved to play, and a guy who loved to play with his friends, a guy who lived to play. And that was amazing.
“The non-playing moment, I remember right after Waker [Houser’s son] was born, we weren’t in buses yet, we were still in vans, we didn’t have digital cameras and cell phones, this was probably 1991 or something, I remember Mikey sitting in the way back of the van and he was looking at Polaroids of Waker and that was all he had. He couldn’t get on the phone, he couldn’t Skype; it showed a side I wasn’t prepared to see. We were all kids up until then, and then suddenly Mikey became a real live adult because he had a little life to deal with. And we were out on the road sometimes for 12, 14 weeks at a time in a van, and we’d finish sound check and there’d be this mad dash to the closest pay phone to call home, things that kids that are in bands now couldn’t even begin to understand, but somehow Mikey would always find the closest pay phone and he’d be the first one there to call home.”
We also published a series of recollections that originally ran shortly after Houser’s death. Here’s what Warren Haynes had to say: “Mikey was a wonderful spirit. He was one of those guys who was always in a good mood and was always making other people feel better. Musically, he was always exploring. It was all about trying to find some new territory and innocence really took over his musical style. I remember playing with them in 93 in Virginia and it was Freddy Jones Band, my band, Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic, and that tells you how long ago that was. I got up and played Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ for about 45 minutes and it was great. I remember Dave Schools coming up to me and saying you know, Mike does his thing and his thing is like stream of consciousness. He just plays and you just join in there with him. He was trying to prepare me for the fact that it wasn’t going to be like a traditional [jam] it was just going to be like bobbing and weaving and musical conversation. When we got done everyone was smiling and hugging.
“Aside from being a stylist on the guitar, Mike had a cool songwriting style as well. His overall sound was such a big part of Widespread Panic. His approach to guitar was a little different than the average person and that helped make Widespread what it was. It was the sum of all those people, but he was a really big part of that sound. Again, he was such a wonderful person to be around, that plays into the music as well. Your spirit comes through your music.
“We’ve lost a lot of great people recently and the older we get, that’s going to happen more and more. We just have to seize the day and take advantage of the opportunities that are here now and live life to the fullest. Not to say, to excess, but just enjoy your life and be thankful for the friends you have and the experiences that you’ve had because you never know. We always learn from these kinds of experiences.”
Later days and peace,