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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

Photo by Tarver Shelton

A little guitar talk – you’re primarily a Washburn man, aren’t you?

Yeah, those guys have always treated me well and the guitars and mandolins take a beating. It’s a good relationship: they’ve never asked me to sign anything – everything we do is mutual agreement; mutual comfort level.

I always love hearing that; some companies make great stuff, but they’re not always easy to deal with.

Yeah, I’ve been with Washburn for a long time.

Do you write primarily on acoustic?

Yeah … if it’s a case where the music’s in my head, then I’ll go and find it on the guitar. Or sometimes I’ll be goofing around on the guitar and I’ll hear something quirky that I like. Or maybe a lyrical idea will come in – either lyrics themselves or a concept – and then I’ll go to the guitar and try to match the feeling of what the images are telling me. From there, I’ll usually go to a multi-track situation and create a demo – enough to give the guys an idea of where I was going with it. Maybe a little bass, or some electric guitar or pedal organ … a little percussion – even if it’s just a shaker – just to give it a listenable sound. Not to say, “This is how the song goes and that’s the way we’re going to do it” – but just to give the idea a chance so that they have something to work with.

That’s pretty much how everybody writes: we all just come up with ideas and shoot them off each other. Nothing’s sacred and we usually inspire each other to make it a better song … a band -written song. That’s what makes it fun for me: then it’s almost like you’re playing a cover because it didn’t all come out of you; it came out of the guys you’ve been playing with for 25 years.

The live acoustic setting doesn’t come easy for a lot of people and I think they get unnerved by it.

Yeah – and it’s not just the accidental sounds you get; it’s the percussive elements, as well. And that’s very helpful when you’re writing – the acoustic guitar is more or less your drum track.

That’s always been my approach to guitar playing: it’s a six-string drum.

(laughs) There you go. And that’s basically how I approach it with Jimmy: he’s obviously got this huge musical vocabulary; a command of melody and single-note leads; all the flavors and feeling for different modes and stuff. I like to stick to shapes and movement and things like that.

You don’t have to worry about me saying, “Hey – I wanna take a lead!” (laughter)

Well, it’s a nice mix and you two always work well together. Hey – you mentioned the mandolin earlier: I want to hear some more John Bell mandolin, man.

(laughs) Yeah, who knows? Maybe I’ll work out something for New Year’s.

Cool – bring it on! So looking ahead, we have the pair of New Years shows in Charlotte, NC on the 30th and 31st …

And then we have the Dominican Republic at the end of January – the same sort of things we did in Cancun but applying what we learned to make it better for everybody. We’ve never been to the Dominican Republic before, and that’s pretty cool.

That’s part of it for me: I like being together for 26 years and still doing new things.

It’s great that it feels that way to you, man – I’m tickled to hear that. I should let you go now, John. I appreciate you taking the time to talk about the new album … it’s really something to be proud of.

Thank you. I’ve got to admit, I’m listening to it from time to time now … even with how much I listened to it putting the sequencing together. (laughter)

Thanks, take care, and be careful out there, John.

All right, man – thank you. Cheers.

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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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