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Published: 2012/11/23
by Brian Robbins

"A Wedding Ring or Two Rattling off the Frets" : John Bell on Widespread Panic’s Wood

I wondered about that: I know you probably roll tape more often than not, but were you specifically going into those Wood Tour shows with the goal of getting an album out if it?

That was the best-case scenario … we actually weren’t even sure we were going to be able to pull it off musically, you know? (laughs)


Yeah – our first thought was basically a one-day-at-a-time thing; we knew we could do it in a room together – to create the dynamics – but we didn’t know how that would come across in a theater setting. We had no amplification outside of the PA to push the sound, so all the dynamics were created without using big volume. You’re dropping down into quiet places; changing the groove; and then bringing the energy up a little. But it wasn’t that we had a game plan or anything – we were just finding out how to do it while we did it. (laughter)

Another thing we got really lucky with was when we went down to Cancun in January. That was an all-inclusive package where folks could buy tickets to stay at a resort where we played for four nights in a row. It sold out pretty quickly – and the next thing we knew the hotel said they had a sister hotel down the way that they could open up and provide transportation to the venue where we’d be playing. That made it so we were able to sell twice as many tickets without it being crowded for people. It worked out well.

So all of those things helped us to take the time off and still be able to work the money thing. There was some math involved there, including the band taking a substantial hit in our own salaries.

Let’s talk some more about the Wood album and the acoustic shows it documents. How do you approach an acoustic setlist? Are there any obvious tunes that you just simply would not try in that setting?

Oh, yeah … like, we wouldn’t try to blow out “Chilly Water” – what we did end up doing was changing the tempo and the feel of it so that we could use it. And the same thing for “Imitation Leather Shoes”: we turned that into a two-step and changed the arrangement around a little.

We looked at our list of songs and earmarked which ones we basically wouldn’t even try to attempt. And then during last year’s fall tour we had an earlier bus call and an hour before each show that was dedicated to rehearsing different acoustic arrangements and stuff. That turned out to be really hip, because after sitting down for an hour before every show, we were loose and focused for the real gig out in the hall. Instead of being warmed by the fifth song, we were warmed up by the first song. And our heads were in the game.

But then we realized that we would be finishing on Halloween last year and wouldn’t be seeing each other again until New Year’s, so a lot of that work and the strength in our hands from playing the acoustics was lost. We had to kind of regroup again and spend a few days in rehearsals to try to create the kind of situation we were about to go into. It ended up working out okay.

Yeah, I’d say. (laughter) You should be tickled with this thing, John – the playing’s great and it was recorded beautifully, as well. I love hearing a knuckle on the face of a guitar, or finger squeaks on a string – that’s part of the warmth of an acoustic performance.

Yeah – you can hear a wedding ring or two rattling off the frets. (laughs)

That’s the good stuff, man – that’s the flavor. So, getting back to song selection – how about some of the cover tunes? The album opener, “The Ballad Of John & Yoko”, for instance.

Let me see … I’m guessing that one might’ve been Jimmy’s suggestion. A lot of times what happens is somebody’s just sitting around with their guitar before we get together and they’re playing a lick. I think John & Yoko was one of the first new covers we brought into that situation. We didn’t expect the recognizability with the crowd on that one, as it’s a younger crowd overall. But you could tell from the bleed through the audience microphones that they at least knew the choruses. (laughter)

Well, yeah – everybody likes a sing-along where you can curse a little. (laughter) “Mercy” and “Imitation Leather Shoes” are both on Wood and Uber Cobra, the live acoustic album you released back in 2004. It was interesting to compare the versions of both songs and the band’s different approach to the same songs.

For one thing, “Imitation Leather Shoes” is in E and what happened on Uber Cobra was, the song right before it was in a relative key –

That’s right: you were coming out of something else and jammed your way into “Imitation Leather Shoes.

Yeah, I think we were coming out of a song in the key of B. Usually if I kind of remind myself that’s going to happen, I’m okay. But you can sing a B over an E and basically get yourself into trouble. (laughs) It’s a valid harmony, but you’re used to singing the whole thing a fifth up. I think it happened both nights at the House of Blues when we recorded Uber Cobra and one night came out a little better.

On Wood, I think the performance was nailed a little bit better. It had a new arrangement in it , so it had a freshness to it. I thought I sang it better.

It’s a different approach – more than just the difference between George McConnell on the earlier version and Jimmy on Wood … it’s interesting.

Another element is that Wood is true acoustic – there’s no electricity on stage. Not even JoJo’s organ – he’s using a foot pump organ.


There are 22 comments associated with this post

Peachhead November 24, 2012, 16:52:28

JB, you’re the man. Looking forward to 2013!

oibfan November 24, 2012, 17:32:02

Nice article, good to hear from the boys during a break. Guess I gotta buy some wood for christmas & can’t wait for some mo panic!!

wayne johnson November 26, 2012, 12:57:32

Hey JB you and the rest of your band stick them tokens you know where.

eric November 26, 2012, 13:08:06

My wife walked down the aisle to “St. Louis” from the Denver Wood Tour show. I actually asked her to marry me after they played the song live. We saw JB at the airport on Monday morning as he was headed back to Georgia. We told him about our story/stituation and he wished us a happy life together! One of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. God bless you JB and all the fellas in WSP.

Non hater November 26, 2012, 13:15:57

Haters gonna hate. There are plenty of rooms available still if you actually look into it in various forums online. With that said, please don’t look into it as your karma probably prevented it in the first place, dick.

Brandy Shepard November 26, 2012, 13:16:28

Great read. I thought the wood cd turned out nicely. I’m looking forward to the NY and some Panic.

Tom Pace November 26, 2012, 13:58:37

Wayne, thanks for you input..I’ll make sure to think about you while we’re down there drinking rum drinks in the sun..Great interview JB..

Steven Rozanski November 27, 2012, 18:16:16

JB, Please bring the mandolin on new years

freddy pop tops November 27, 2012, 19:16:27

JB = Mr.Soul. Can’t wait to Panic in c-lotte. Where are the Spring tour dates?

jk November 28, 2012, 05:59:32

“most people don’t have the luxury of taking a year off”

Blooby November 28, 2012, 06:17:46

Widespread is a band I just don’t get. Could somebody recommend a live show or two for me? Perhaps I just haven’t been looking hard enough.

js November 28, 2012, 10:38:56

To the band…I have the Wood tour vinyl, its great….but why release a short version on record store day with all the same tunes… a little change there would’ve been nice, otherwise many people didn’t pick it up. To Blooby, fundamentally, WSP is one of the few jambands that creates excellent records. I suggest you go listen to everything up to Everday as a start. This is the only band I would recommend the albums over the shows if you are having a difficult time….then go to the Domin. Repub.

Blooby November 28, 2012, 14:01:06

Js, thanks for the response. I have also thought this about their studio vs. live material. Seems antithetical to say this about a jamband. I especially thought this during the Mikey days, which I know is akin to being sacrilegious in the community. I will try the new acoustic live disc as well.

JC November 29, 2012, 13:59:57

Blooby, Get Live in the Classic City (3 CDs). You will not regret it. Derek Trucks on Climb to Safety is unbelievable. Ride Me High, Tall Boy, Red Hot Mama, Worry, Hatfield,Let’s Get the Show on the Road…all excellent. And a great sampling of WSP material. Party on.

timmy November 30, 2012, 14:03:48

Live in the Classic City and Light Fuse, Get Away are both absolutely sick, and a “Live Panic” starting point for sure. They were always great live but ’97-‘02 was definitely their peak., so anything from that era is what you want to get. I’ve seen them 30+ times, and they are different but still rediculouly good with Jimmy. Some old fans say his Van Halen style soloing doesn’t fit their songs, but I love it, and will still travel to see them.

Blooby November 30, 2012, 14:26:25

I have “Light Fuse…” and will have to break it out again. My foggy recollection was that many of their live songs during this time hung around mid-tempo with not much dynamics. I will give it a spin again this weekend. Thanks for the input.

JC November 30, 2012, 16:17:59

Get Live in the Classic City. I am telling you. Better than Light Fuse (although I love that one too). Buy it and start with Ride Me High. Then Tall Boy—Red Hot Mama—Worry. When you are coming home after a long night of partying, put on Let’s Get the Show on the Road. Timmy (Tucker) is right. It is “sick.”

timmy December 1, 2012, 02:06:52

The mistake I think that alot of very music savvy people make when listening to Panic is assuming it’s all gonna be face melting jam. It’s never been like that. It’s much more straight forward, kind of heavier rock. Mikey was called the Lingering Lead for a reason. He was a noodler whose soloing was very subtle. He’s not Trey. Jimmy’s soloing is much different and more in your face. Above all, they are just a great rock band with a very classic rock sound who bring a tremendous amount of energy and musicianship to their shows.

Rod Stiffington December 2, 2012, 18:04:35

I would recommend Disco from the “Panic in the Streets” live album. I first heard them in the Telluride rainout and didn’t get to see the three set show the day after. The three songs were impressive but until I heard that version of Disco, I knew this was my band. To me that blazin’ solo rates up there with “Eruption” or “Stairway to Heaven.”

Stolly December 2, 2012, 19:27:30

I would suggest starting at Space Wrangler. Track 7 into 8…“Stop-Go” into “Driving Song”. Enjoy the ride!

dragen December 3, 2012, 14:15:57

I recommend never listening to them. The music hurts the ears.

D Clubb December 4, 2012, 16:17:14

26 Days until hiatus ends!!!! Can not freakin wait!!!!

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