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Published: 2012/08/10
by Aaron Kayce

Dave Schools Remembers Michael Houser

Dave Schools and Michael Houser, H.O.R.D.E. Tour 92 – photo by Steve Eichner

Ten years ago today we lost one of the greats when Widespread Panic co-founder, guitarist, songwriter and singer Michael Houser passed away at age 40. A humble, beautiful, complete original in every way, his “lingering lead” approach to the guitar made Houser one of the most unique musicians of the past quarter century, but for those who knew him, like bandmate Dave Schools, it’s the man behind the Telecaster that they remember most.

It’s been ten years, hard to believe it’s been a decade, when you think back about Mikey now what comes to mind?

Dave Schools: A guy who is too smart to have the sense of humor he had. A lot of people that are that smart, they are so cerebral that they don’t get a lot of humor, whether it’s low-brow or high-brow, but he got it, and he instigated it. He was like anybody, he would wallow back and forth, there were certainly days where he wasn’t in good humor, but he’d find something in an article in the newspaper and he’d just go insane, cackling with laughter. It would be like a running joke, sometimes it would go on for weeks. When I think back all the other stuff falls away, the dysfunction of brotherhood and spending a lot of time together in cramped quarters, and what I tend to remember was that he was smart and had a sense of humor that most people that are that smart just don’t have.

What are a few of your favorite Mikey memories, maybe one of him playing on stage and one of him off stage?

Dave Schools: 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.

What made Houser so unique as a guitarist and as a songwriter?

Dave Schools: On one hand I want to say stubbornness. It was an artistic stubbornness that I’ve come to appreciate over time. Some people will learn as much language as they can, if they have the gift of gab they will read as much as they can and learn how to use language. Mikey had a unique approach to playing the guitar and despite loving people as well spoken in guitar world as like Steve Howe or Trey [Anastasio], he adored Trey, he didn’t want to learn their language. There was this stubbornness to him where, “this is what I do, and this is how I do it, and I’m happy with it.” And it was totally of him, it didn’t sound like anyone else, and that went through to his songwriting too.

What’s your favorite Mikey song?

Dave Schools: You could ask me what my favorite Panic song is or what my favorite Mikey song is and they’re one and the same and it always has been “Pilgrims.”

It’s been ten years, it feels appropriate to consider his legacy 50 years from now, how will Houser be remembered in the history books?

Dave Schools: That’s not for me to decide, that’s for journalist and fans to decide. I think there’s some power in the songwriting. I think there’s a lot of comfort that can be derived from Mikey’s style. His lyrics aren’t so pointed that they’d become anachronisms. I think a lot of his songs are everyman songs; they don’t usually have a specific time stamp on them, I think that the messages inherent in his lyrics can be applied to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and that’s the mark of a great songwriter and that’s something that will allow those songs and melodies to live on. But we’ll see, that’s my hope and my prediction, but we shall see.

To say nothing about what you enjoy in regards to playing with Jimmy Herring, what do you miss about playing with Mikey?

Dave Schools: I’ll go back to that stubbornness, it could be frustrating on stage sometimes, but it could be utterly surprising and that’s what I look for; moments between songs where surprising things happen and alchemy can occur, unpredictable alchemy. I miss that a lot, sometimes I have dreams where he’s back and he’s the seventh member of his band.

Comments

There are 19 comments associated with this post

Luvmuscle77 August 10, 2012, 13:55:23

Miss you brother!! Truly one of the all time greats.

timmy August 10, 2012, 14:28:48

I was late to the Panic bandwagon, but I’m glad I got on when I did. Otherwise I would’ve missed Mikey completely. I started seeing them in 2000. I was lucky enough to catch about six Mikey shows before he passed on. I’ve seen them about 26 times since then, mostly with Jimmy. But the best Panic show, and one of the all time best shows I’ve ever seen was 7/4/01, Harmoney Park, MN. They were on fire that night, and the lingering lead was in full form. RIP.

jill August 10, 2012, 14:57:26

I miss that a lot, sometimes I have dreams where he’s back and he’s the seventh member of his band. i dream a version of this too. thoughtful interview. thank you. jg

panic inc August 10, 2012, 21:08:18

Thank you Dave for your reminiscence. I have always said that Michael had his own voice and a signature sound. That is something few people accomplish. And i will admit that i didn’t fully appreciate and understand his contribution until he passed. Luckily i have 13 good years to remember. thank you Mikey and Thank you Widespread Panic.

Christian August 11, 2012, 11:55:15

I was on many tours including the last..then i went home ..found my wife..had a son and named him Waker..now i also have a daughter and play music for my money..really enjoyed this interview.

Jeff Brock August 11, 2012, 13:37:25

Thanks Dave. Miss u mikey

Food from there August 11, 2012, 18:54:17

Phil Mickson

Bob August 11, 2012, 19:52:40

I came on board when Mikey used to stand in 1990.I used to get issues of the Panicle with setlists,writings, and info which indearedme to the band’s communication with it’s audience. Mikey had the ability to communicate with people through the guitar without words which is a unique gift. Anyone interested in WSP should also listen to Mike Houser’s solo records as well. Some fun and deep songs which show his sense of humor and commonality words.

makersandh20 August 14, 2012, 14:34:37

Thanks for the interview Kayceman. Glad to see you still at it and always representing for WSP. We miss you Mikey

brett August 18, 2012, 15:41:54

Kayceman, this was f’in awesome. Thanks bro, we needed that for sure. Remember seeing Panic at the Roo with Steve Winwood? Yeah I have trouble to but I know we where there! Love ya bro!

Shaka December 22, 2012, 18:37:45

Im one who always loved Panic with Houser-I still love Panic Its just lost a little innocense without him

Shaka December 22, 2012, 18:40:49

I loved The Earth Will Swallow You- Mikey made me laugh-I love how he hated the Beatles-Im the same way

Shaka December 22, 2012, 18:40:53

I loved The Earth Will Swallow You- Mikey made me laugh-I love how he hated the Beatles-Im the same way

doorharp11 March 19, 2013, 11:29:20

I have always enjoyed housers gift and the music of wsp its ingrained in my soul and the 26 shows i saw of houser will be remembered as some of my favorite moments! I saw the red rocks and was front row for the iowa show mike side i will never forget the silent man sitting on stage playing his soulful style!

Al Walker April 20, 2013, 02:00:32

Every song is a gift. Always was, always will be.

Clarence johnson tampa August 10, 2013, 05:41:45

I first saw Mikey at the Florida Theater in Tampa back in 1992. My friends and I would go there only because they’d let us in. Period. All of a sudden, out of left field, came this guitar noise from this Widespread somebody. I was immediately hooked like a Florida snook! All of my friends were socially accepted – not ugly and hudky like me- so a strange trip happened. Mikey became my only friend, girlfriend, brother, and sll else for me for the next 6 years. His shows filled a void in my life – I wasn’t lonely- I had Mikey! I would go see him anywhere in tge doutheast, including empty basebsll fields in cocoa beach, half empty nights in Augusta, Tipitina’s with a 150 folks. Every dingle friend from those years has turned into stuck up know it all deuchebags! But I miss Mikey… I loved Mikey….mikey made music that made me feel accepted, loved, and alive. Mikey houser was the best thing that ever happened to me until I met my wife and had my kids. No disrespect to the other mudicians on earth, but Michael F’n Houser they sure as a duck ain’t! RIP head down hair blowin LEGEND!.. And thanks for loving me

Clarence johnson tampa August 10, 2013, 05:46:37

I first saw Mikey at the Florida Theater in Tampa back in 1992. My friends and I would go there only because they’d let us in. Period. All of a sudden, out of left field, came this guitar noise from this Widespread somebody. I was immediately hooked like a Florida snook! All of my friends were socially accepted – not ugly and hudky like me- so a strange trip happened. Mikey became my only friend, girlfriend, brother, and sll else for me for the next 6 years. His shows filled a void in my life – I wasn’t lonely- I had Mikey! I would go see him anywhere in tge doutheast, including empty basebsll fields in cocoa beach, half empty nights in Augusta, Tipitina’s with a 150 folks. Every dingle friend from those years has turned into stuck up know it all deuchebags! But I miss Mikey… I loved Mikey….mikey made music that made me feel accepted, loved, and alive. Mikey houser was the best thing that ever happened to me until I met my wife and had my kids. No disrespect to the other mudicians on earth, but Michael F’n Houser they sure as a duck ain’t! RIP head down hair blowin LEGEND!.. And thanks for loving me

MemphisPanic August 10, 2013, 23:12:43

In the 11 years since Mikey passed, I have listened to many bands and been to hundreds of shows, but nothing will ever compare to those great moments I shared with Mikey and the boys. His guitar sound could slice through the air and be the loudest, most intense sound you’ve ever heard and then fall to the background and be barely recognizable, all in the same song. He was a brilliant guitarist and song writer, and I consider myself to be truly blessed for having gotten to see as much Panic as I have. One moment I will never forget is the 4-28-02 Oak Mountain show when JB was singing Genesis directly to Mikey. We all just found out he was sick, and no one knew if he would be able to play another show. I think JB told Mikey goodbye for all of us that night. That was, hands down, my most emotional Panic moment. My favorite Panic moment was 10-29-00 when the boys opened with Sympathy for the Devil. The place was SO loud and so pumped for night 3 that they were halfway through the song before I could really hear what was being played. You can even hear it on the audience recordings. To this day, that was the loudest place I’ve ever been. Thanks for the memories Mikey. Your music will live forever, and you are dearly missed.

Jonny Utah October 13, 2013, 11:26:18

Man….you fellas are so…gifted in how you process,iterprit and share you’re…...ideae’s? and “take’s” on subjeect’s. Spose thats part of what makes y’all so special when you take all of us on the ride’s/journey6’s that you do…True art in the raw. Anyway, just wanted to share that I loved Mikey’s style so much, he inspired me to get off of my ass and pick up an ax. I will never be abele to serphentein my way through any pice of music as Mikey did, ever. But the point is I believe he’s sitting there with me anytime I attempt to pick myself a little bit of joy. Miss you so much brother.

John Trach November 28, 2013, 16:22:13

Michael Houser was such a gentle giant.

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