August 10, 2002 – Michael Houser (Widespread Panic) was born on January 6, 1962 in Boone, North Carolina. He graduated from Hixson High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and became a founding member of Widespread Panic in 1986 while attending the University of Georgia with John Bell. Michael’s nickname was “Panic” due to his then frequent panic attacks, and this moniker later became the inspiration for the band’s name.
Widespread Panic’s large rhythm section, and John Bell’s virtuosity as a rhythm guitarist, allowed Michael to pursue an atmospheric lead guitar style that often lingered behind the primary melodies. His predominant use of the Ernie Ball volume pedal caused him to spend most of his performance time balanced on one leg, which would eventually lead to circulation problems causing his left leg to become numb. In 1996, during an acoustic tour through Colorado, known as the “Sit and Ski” tour, he was reminded of how much more comfortable and accurate his playing was while he was seated. Subsequently, Houser returned to playing all shows seated in 1997. He used a volume pedal for sonic effect, rather than just for volume control.
Michael was considered to be the “silent genius” of Widespread Panic but the band always shared writing credits for all of their songs during the Houser era, even though he wrote many of the band’s most popular standards, including Porch Song, Airplane, Ain’t Life Grand, The Waker, Impossible, B of D, and Vacation.
Widespread Panic was a leader among the so-called ”jam bands,” a loosely connected scene of groups like Phish and String Cheese Incident that followed in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead and Bruce Hampton’s Grease Band, playing long, meandering improvisations in concerts that often lasted for hours.
Like the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic also toured constantly, drawing big crowds despite meager record sales. None of the group’s 10 albums went gold, but it was among the country’s most successful touring bands. In 2001 the group earned $14 million from 83 concerts, according to Billboard.
Widespread Panic brought a bluesy, Southern-rock sound to its improvisations, drawing frequent comparisons to the Allman Brothers.
The group’s first album was released in 1988 and its reputation grew steadily before hitting it big on the Horde tours in 1992 and 1993. In 1998 the group drew an estimated 100,000 fans for a homecoming performance in Athens.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002, he died August 10 of that year, at the age of 40.
A solo album of his instrumentals entitled Door Harp was released after his death, and was followed by Sandbox in 2006.
Widespread Panic has continued to tour and record after Houser’s passing as was his wish.
Among others artists Michael played with over his career were Carlos Santana, Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir, and JJ Cale.