In addition to a legion of adoring fans, late Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser left behind his debut solo album when he passed away on August 10 from pancreatic cancer.
The all-instrumental effort, Door Harp, is due on September 24 and features Houser playing guitar, mandolin and piano and is described by producer John Keane (R.E.M., Cowboy Junkies) as "an ethereal, laid-back kind of thing that feels like the different seasons. It's the kind of thing you might listen to while meditating."
Keane, who plays Hammond organ, steel guitar and pedal steel on the 14-track album, said Houser began the sessions in early March, one week after being diagnosed with the terminal illness (see "Widespread Panic Co-Founder Dies Of Cancer").
"The disease hadn't gotten so far along that it was affecting his playing," Keane said. "He was in good shape and he was good for three or four hours a day when he was comfortable and not hampered by the medication. It was a stressful time, but he was determined to carry on."
Keane said the old friends didn't talk about it at the time, but they both had a sense that Door Harp would be the last album Houser would record.
"These songs are the ones I've played on my own, at home, for years. They are simple and calming," Houser is quoted as saying in a press release. "I wanted to record these songs in a minimalist and quiet way that was true to their nature."
The folky tracks mostly feature acoustic guitar and piano, with percussion by Panic's Domingo Ortiz and some additional violin, cello and flugelhorn by some of Keane's regular session players.
Though they were written before Houser's diagnosis, Keane said some of the songs have a melancholy feel to them, especially in the melodies the producer laid down after Houser had finished his parts. "[His illness] affected my state of mind and what melodies I came up with," Keane said.
"Spanish Gold" has a mournful flugelhorn melody that Keane described as "something you'd hear in a spaghetti western." A song dedicated to Houser's wife, "Barbette's Song," is somewhat ethereal, while the track "Missoula" is upbeat and bright. "He was a very private, reserved person but he had a real whimsical sense of humor that comes through in the music," Keane said. "He wanted the songs to be sparse and open, kind of spacious and uncomplicated."
Houser had also recorded an album featuring vocals in his home studio, according to Keane. It is expected to be released at an as-yet-undetermined date after some additional studio work.
The remaining members of Panic will keep Houser's spirit alive by doing what they've always done: touring. A 13-date fall outing will kick off with their annual run of Halloween shows, which will take place over three nights at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on October 31, November 1 and 2. Joining them on the dates will be Kudzu Kings guitarist George McConnell and Traffic sax player Randall Bramblett.
Panic will also be featured on the live disc Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002, due September 24, performing "Tall Boy," and the band will release the DVD documentary "The Earth Will Swallow You" in October. Filmed by Christopher and Geoffrey Hanson ("Scrapple"), the road flick chronicling the band's summer 2000 tour was compiled from over 500 hours of footage. It features performances, backstage footage and collaborations with Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane), Taj Mahal and Vic Chesnutt.
Widespread Panic tour dates, according to the band's spokesperson:
- 10/31 - New Orleans, LA @ UNO Lakefront Arena
- 11/1 - New Orleans, LA @ UNO Lakefront Arena
- 11/2 - New Orleans, LA @ UNO Lakefront Arena
- 11/3 - Columbus, GA @ Columbus Civic Center
- 11/5 - Macon, GA @ Macon Centreplex
- 11/6 - Winston-Salem, NC @ Lawrence Joel Coliseum
- 11/8 - Huntsville, AL @ Von Braun Civic Center
- 11/9 - Huntsville, AL @ Von Braun Civic Center
- 11/10 - Charleston, SC @ North Charleston Coliseum
- 11/12 - Greenville, SC @ Bi-Lo Center
- 11/13 - Knoxville, TN @ Knoxville Civic Coliseum
- 11/15 - Memphis, TN @ Mid-South Coliseum
- 11/16 - Memphis, TN @ Mid-South Coliseum