Musicians’ Memories of Mikey Houser
Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser passed away 10 years ago. Here are some of his fellow musicians’ recollections that we ran shortly after his death due to pancreatic cancer in 2002.
Col. Bruce Hampton was the frontman for Aquarium Rescue Unit and later with The Fiji Mariners and The Codetalkers. ARU and Panic have a long history together and both toured with the HORDE Festival in 1992 and 1993. Hampton has appeared on stage with Widespread dozens of times, dating back to 1989:
There was probably no better spirit anywhere. The courage he showed was just unbelievable. He was an inspiration to everybody. Its a tough time to talk about it, but he was just an amazing guy. Ive known him 17 years and I wish I got to hang with him more. We went to ballgames together when neither one of us was working. He was just a quiet, courageous guy, to say the least. I don’t have the guts to face what he faced. I talked to him about 3 months ago. We were the ones crying and he was the one keeping everybody above water. Hes probably the strongest person Ive ever encountered. He did everything in a quiet way. You just don’t find people like him. They don’t make that type anymore.
Guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish performed with Widespread last October in Seattle and in November of 1993 in Los Angeles. Phish and Panic also played four shows together on the first leg of the inaugural HORDE tour in July of 1992 and opened various shows for each other in the early 90s:
Michael Houser was truly one of the kindest and most beautiful people that I’ve ever met. I say that from the deepest part of my heart. He was unique. The first time I met him was backstage at the Roxy in Atlanta when Phish was opening for Panic. Dave Schools brought me into the dressing room and there he was, kneeling in front of his wife Barbette, who was sitting in a chair. They were holding hands and he was just lost in her eyes, radiating love. I’ve never forgotten that moment. She was pregnant with Waker at the time and it was like they were actually glowing, not even aware of all the noise and commotion around them. Just at peace, floating. He was capable of that kind of emotion and it was beautiful. Just a rare, beautiful thing. I know that people who love his music already know this. We’ll all miss him terribly.
Rev. Jeff Mosier played banjo for Aquarium Rescue Unit and Blueground Undergrass. Hes sat in with Panic three times, most recently alongside Col. Bruce in August of 2000 at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham, AL. Mosier also credits the members of Widespread for the existence of BGUG, as their encouragement motivated him to form the band:
He was one of the sweetest, nicest, most unassuming, egoless cats youll ever meet. The reasons for him dying at this age are going on in another department of the universe, because we are certainly not able to understand it in this department. Aquarium Rescue Unit played with Panic in 89 and 90 and Ive played with them a ton of times. Panic welcomed me and they always made me feel like I could rock as hard as anyone. When youre a banjo player, you need to have that. I give them credit for helping me understand that I could rock. The last time I played with them at Oak Mountain, while they were filming their video, I stood there right beside Mikey and he just had pure joy in everything he did. That was his home, sitting in that chair. He wasnt outgoing and he never really got that much into the press, but if you knew him and his wife, you’d just see that he underpinned the vibe of that band. He was one of those guitar players that always played in the music and was never written up for his ability, like a Jimmy Herring, but he underpinned the bands entire sound. Mikey represents the most pristine of all support musicians. Even though he was a fundamental part of the band, he was just an incredible supporter, not only in his stage presence, but by letting JB and Dave do their thing. Kind of like Mark Vann, you don’t really notice it until hes gone.
Drew Emmitt plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar for Leftover Salmon, a band that recently had to deal with the passing of one of its own members, banjoist Mark Vann. Drew sat in with Widespread Panic twice in July of 1998 in Charlotte, NC and Cleveland, OH. He also joined them in October of 96 and June of 97:
We did some touring with Panic and I got to sit in with them a bunch, which was really great. When Id sit in, Id sit down with Mikey and he’d show me the chords to the tunes. I remember one time in particular, sitting on his tour bus, just the two of us and we just really connected. I remember him telling me that in high school he was the only musician that could play all of Freebird. He knew the whole solo and I just thought that was really cool and really funny. He said that was his claim to fame in school and we were laughing about that. Its hard to imagine the band going on, in their case and in our case because the sound changes so much when you lose someone so integral to the band. It’s really tough at first. Somehow, the music does go on and the energy goes on. I think the people that leave us, that’s what they would want; for the music to go on and for the fans to keep supporting the band even though its not the same and you really miss those people. I really feel that there can be a new birth of a band. The music can be reborn. Its really really tough and there’s no way to replace those people and I don’t think that’s the idea, but we need try to keep the music going. That’s all we can do is keep moving ahead. Life goes on.