Photo by Chris Patras
Still reeling from the losses of Mark Vann (Leftover Salmon) and Allen Woody (Gov't Mule), the jam-band world suffered another setback with the death of Widespread Panic guitarist Michael "Mikey" Houser on Saturday, August 10, at his home in Athens, GA. Houser was 40 years old.
News that Houser was suffering from pancreatic cancer swept the "Spreadhead" scene a half a year ago. But Houser continued to perform with the band until July 3, when he left the tour before a Milwaukee show. Houser's last performance with Panic was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He played the Red Rocks show in Colorado prior to that and the band's numerous sets at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee.
Houser's other nickname, "Panic," was the catalyst for naming the band Widespread Panic in 1986. Houser began jamming with singer/guitarist John Bell in their hometown of Athens, where they attended the University of Georgia. They were soon joined by bassist Dave Schools, keyboardist John "Jo Jo" Herman, drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz.
About the band's name, Schools once told Spin, "One day he said he wanted us to be called Widespread Panic. He'd seen a poster for the Widespread Blues Band or the Widespread Depression Orchestra--something like that."
Like Widespread Panic, Houser was underrated. He'd sit on stage and quietly pump out powerful solo after solo. But few rock fans outside the Spreadhead legions knew about Houser's mad Southern-rock skills.
"I would much rather have to take our whole life to get where we want to be then to get there right off the bat," he told me in 1997.
Mikey Houser's life might have been shortened, but he did see his band become an institution before he died. Hopefully, that counted for a lot.
For more information, go to widespreadpanic.com