INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BELL OF WIDESPREAD PANIC
GRADY'S RESTAURANT, ATLANTA GA,
ROCK & ROAD: I'd like to get you started by just giving us a general
rundown of the band's history; what your big break was, if there was one;
past bands that the members were in...
JOHN BELL: We were always, "Give me a break." Lemme see, I started
playing in Athens in '80, when I came there outta high school, and I met
Mike about two years later and we started playing guitars together. I'd
been playing in bars. Mike and I started doing little duo things, not so
much in bars-- although we did a few gigs like that-- but we were a little
wierder than your usual duo. We were doing just parties, seeing what
We met Dave a couple years after that, and Todd a couple years after that.
That four, that was the core of the band. We even had a girl that sang
with us for about six months, but that was short-lived. We were about to
hit the road, and she had a "real job".
From that moment on there was a whole lot of traveling, you know, pretty
much scratching for digs, scratching for vehicles, getting the parts in
the middle of the night and stuff like that. But that was part of the
That was the core of the band. That's never changed. T. Lavitz recorded
with us a couple years ago, and hung with us for a year to support the
record, and then he went back to play with the Dregs and do his own bit.
"T. Lavitz and the Bad Habits". And we had met Sonny, our percussionist,
half a year after Todd got with us. He moved to Athens and sat in with us
that night. We had always left a place in the band for him, when we were
able to support him. He was an "old-timer" musician, [in the sense that]
he'd been on the road with some other bands and pretty much paid his dues,
or at least knew what was out there in the way of floors and
side-of-the-road things. And so we took him on fully maybe two years
And then the last member of the band, who joined us a couple years ago, is
John Hermann-- JoJo-- playing the keyboards. We'd known JoJo for three or
four years. He played in another band that we played with.
R&R: So you didn't have a keyboardist before that?
JB: Not really. There was T., and he was brought on to help on the album
when we signed with Capricorn. And then we said, "Hey, come out on the
road with us." And he said, "Okay". But the Dregs is his first band, his
Widespread Panic. So we never felt that that was going to be a permanent
thing, you know?
R&R: The addition of a keyboardist is something that adds a substantial
new layer to the music...
JB: Yeah, and there's so much a keyboardist can do that it's not just
like adding an acoustic guitar player or something like that. It takes a
special person like Jojo. We'd pretty much never considered it. We'd had
people play with us, but personality-wise we never saw ourselves getting
into something we felt comfortable with, just in meeting guys who'd say
they wanted to jam with you. We'd gotten into a very.... The band had
gotten into a thing where we were waiting for the personality to come
first, and talent could come right behind that. We were going to learn
how to play together, and become what we were going to become, by playing
together anyway. Shoot, for us just getting along was the most important
R&R: Was that tough?
JB: Nope. When you look at it and think it's the most important thing...
I give it a little respect and the attention it deserves, so you can
sustain those relationships in a positive way. Because, you know, you can
have the best musical idea in the world but if you're jamming it down
somebody's throat instead of sharing it with them... It's just a
difference in communication procedures. And that just deals with minding
your P's and Q's about the ego and remembering what it's about, cause all
the sudden... it's a band. Like for us, that's the way I see it. The
only way we're gonna sound like we sound is us coming together. There's
not one guy, there's no obvious leaders... and we've all contributed to
making sure that's the case. Everybody is allowed to develop, everbody is
welcomed and encouraged to contribute. That kind of thing. We share all
our songwriting credits.
That's not to say that there's any one way the music comes in. You know,
one person could write a song or most of a song and introduce it to the
band, and then they gotta be willing to let it take flight now, and let
the other guys apply it as their own personal inspirations see fit.
R&R: So you're all composers.
JB: Yeah, very much so. And we all have different personalities,
different musical approaches, sounds we like to hear. When I introduce a
tune... let's say I wrote it now, or it started bubbling up right now, so
I had till March 15th [the date Panic's next tour begins] before I was
going to share it with anybody, it just starts to grow on its own. If we
were on the road I'd share it with them and it'd start to grow like that.
[snaps fingers] But it never ceases to amaze me that even if it feels like
a developed, full song, as soon as you let it go into the hands of your
friends, they're coming up with stuff that's, "Wow! That's really cool!"
And you can tell it's not what they're *trying* to do, that's just what
they heard. They're really even hearing a different song when you play
it, and they're applying themselves "thusly".
And that's great. We try to do that every night spontaneously. It's
like, we've got the framework of the song and just pretty much attck [it]
however the mood or the communication sees fit. We don't always hear
things the same way on stage. In the mix, something could be buried
because it's a huge hall or something. You know what I mean? So anything
could be different, and you have to take it like that, and let it happen.
R&R: Does one member of the band generally come up with the nucleus of a
song and bring it to the rest or do you write lyrics together as well? Do
you compose on the bus? How does that mechanize itself out?
JB: Always. Anywhere an inspiration comes in. Usually a song... If
somebody's introducing a whole song it's because the inspirations came
out, like I said, off the road.
R&R: Somebody on the Internet asked me to ask you about the inspiration
for the song "Charlie Brown". Do you sympathize with Charlie Brown so
much or is that a backwards look at the character?
JB: Well, a friend of ours who was Mike's roommate in college, he wrote
"C. Brown". He introduced it in its raw form to us and we took it over...
He was very willing to let us just manipulate the heck out of it. And the
way it started out, it was pretty much... I think it was the sympathy for
the Charlie Brown kind of character. You know, he's not the jock, he's
not the head of the class, but there are a lot of other people out there
who are either like that or they're being treated like that so they *are*
R&R: Or they just feel that way...
JB: Yeah, they feel that way sometimes, they don't *always* feel that
way, so "Gimme a break and quit looking at me like that".
And that's what I read from him, and then when you start going into the
lyrics and singing something night after night, and finishing out a tune,
it'll... You know, for me, while I'm singing, the image is coming up and
I'm pretty much... the words are a description of what's going on in my
R&R: But do you see that description as Charles Schultz would draw it?
JB: No, no, that's the bit. All of a sudden I'm sitting there it and--
Oh!-- it switches. It wasn't Charlie Brown anymore, it was Charles,
Charles Schultz, as a little kid in school, and he's drawing this picture
of Lucy on the chalkboard, as a kid.
So he's drawing a gun, he's drawing it. As well as, you know, you can see
this image as well, [motions as if pulling a gun from a holster] but the
overall... when I examine the tune, the overall image is, he's drawing a
gun in a square, he's made a frame on the chalkboard, and in a cloud of
dust he erases it, and the whole image is gone. I was tying it into,
maybe Charles was telling us something about his childhood through the
Charlie Brown character. And even as a kid he might have had some, what
you could interpret to be "violent tendancies" toweard snuffing Lucy out.
But in the imagery it's just as, actually more feasible-- arguable-- to
say that you're just dealing with a kid who wrote a slightly violent image
on the board and then erased it.
He acts differently: he felt one way and he manifested it so far as his
drawing. And as he gets older he's controlled that too. You know, you
don't have to snuff out Lucy. She's gonna get hers in the end anyway.
So that's about it on Charlie. It started with somebody else, and we
kinda embellished it. And then it took a wierd twist five years ago or
something, 'cause we hadn't visited the image... All of the sudden
instead of Charlie Brown it's Charles Schultz. And all of the sudden it
just popped up, and...
R&R: In the middle of a peformance?
JB: Oh yeah. And all of the sudden, it was like, Wow, that's the way the
song should be. That's what's happening. And that way, you don't really
take credit for writing that. It happened.
In "Proving Ground"... there's a point in there where I was singing one
thing while we were working on the tune-- and doing it in practice where
everything's muffled, you can'rt hear [anything] for what the words are--
and you're just trying to get thye chords smoothly or whatever. And Dave
said, "Oh, did you say 'blah blah blah blah blah?" and was cracking up. I
said, "No, but that's a lot funnier. That's better!"
And all of the sudden that opened up a lot more character to the song. So
that kind of thing, those little gift horses, you just gotta take 'em,
right there. That's a great thing. That's where the sharing thing comes
back, and really being "a band".
R&R: What if an audience member came up to you after a concert and said
the same thing. Would it have the same weight in terms of the sort of
JB: Very much so. It's the exact same thing. And it does happen, a lot.
Usually interpretations of songs, and I'll go, "Wow! I never thought of
that!" But even just distorting the words and thinking they were just
totally different words, and then having those words work. A lot of times
it just wasn't clear the way I sang it, or phonetically things were so
close and that's the way the guy was picking it up.
R&R: Let me ask you about a couple songs on AIN'T LIFE GRAND. First off,
what is Jack cooking?
JB: Biscuits. Todd's mom... honest to goodness, Todd's mom, would...
she'd bestow all this home cooking on us. She'd be like, "You boys just
sit on down, I'ma whump up some biscuits!" You know, I grew up in
Cleveland. I never knew the love for bread in the South. You know, corn
bread, or biscuits? Who makes the best?
R&R: Biscuits and gravy.
JB: Yeah. So ["Jack"] is just a simple reference to, I guess... You got
Jack, he's a jester. There can be multiple jacks in different places in
the song because of the way a card deck is laid out. You get multiple
jokers as well as multiple jacks. So it's just... That particular Jack
in the kitchen at that point is just the daily bread thing. Just whumping
up some biscuits.
R&R: Well maybe I was off base with it. I kind of got the sense that
"Jack" was resonant of the traditional folk story that "Peggy-O" is based
on. You know, you have a Jester, somebody whose duty is some kind of
official subversion, being pulled under by an emotional force. And
"Jack's cooking in the kitchen for hours" struck me as some sort of
emotional force at work.
JB: Yeah, I can buy that! I couldn't say that there are direct literary
references here. It's more based on a deck of cards, resemblance to
government, and the multiplicity of having four kings, four queens, four
jacks. And I'd say it's more bits and pieces, instead of direct "this is
the way it is". Some of those images are just flashes. That's where they
were at that point in time, when we recorded things.
A lot of times it's wierd because songs don't make sense for a couple of
years. Or you might be at one place and it's... But at that moment to
say you're not... [that] you don't understand, or this is wrong... I
know that the places this inspiration came [from] are like the true
sources. I can tell when I'm faking and I can tell when it's something
coming through me. So even though I didn't understand all the way... And
I still examine that to find out-- as a student-- like I'm picking apart
English 102 or something. Digging through the Wordsworth poem or
something. So what I'm saying is there could be something there. I
wasn't in a position to deny what had already happened and change the
words back. The words need to change on their own.
R&R: You're reminding me of what people always say about poetry; that any
interpretation that can be seen from the words on the pages sort of has to
be accepted as a valid interpretation, even if it's totally foreign to the
JB: I'd agree with that, totally. And that's where the beauty of it
[is]. If you're willing to accept that, then the stuff that comes out of
you has a universality to it. It leaves that window open...
R&R: And it also gives you a sense of freedom. When you're writing a
song you can think, "This doesn't have to be absolutely perfect because it
would only be absolutely perfect to *me* anyway, in my one narrow
JB: Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent, and I personally, I get
afraid of that element that wants to complete it just for the sake of
completion. If you're talking about putting in a doorknob, complete that
task, finish it. But if you're talking about being a channel for art and
letting the natural... the movementof that art take a life of its own,
then you gotta be willing to stop once in a while. You gotta be willing
not to complete that, to wait for the next obvious conclusion, or the next
obvious stage to come through....
R&R: Or the next time a fan comes up to you and says something that peaks
JB: Right. And so as far as the records go, that's where they were at
that point, and a lot of those lyrics have changed drastically.
R&R: Let me ask you about "Fishwater".
R&R: Three things occurred to me on that tune: booze, sex or fishing.
JB: "Fishwater"... The initial-- and I gotta say, this doesn't mean
anything that I'm saying is right or anything. I'm entering into this as
an objective interpreter of the song. And it's pretty cool. For some
reason I feel willing to do that right now. A lot of times I get...
R&R: Why wouldn't you be?
JB: Well, if somebody's approaching me saying "What is it?" and they're
saying "Now this is what it means," you don't want to be... You don't
seem to want to cheat anybody out of their own interpretation. So that's
where I'd feel okay giving mine. 'Cause people give mine more precedence.
And it really isn't like that, I don't think.
R&R: So it makes you uncomfortable that someone would hear your
interpretation and then they wouldn't consider a song could be about
JB" Exactly, exactly. I can say... here I feel comfortable saying
[that] the initial thing about "Fishwater" was... they were just words
coming out of my mouth, because that tune was born on stage straight out
of just a jam in A that had a bum-bum-bum kinda beat, and we were gone.
But we wouldn't even have remembered the song if somebody hadn't come up
to us with a tape a couple months later and said, "What is this?"
R&R: Now that is cool! That is a cool little piece of trivia from the
technological world. I mean, imagine if Leonardo had ever said, you know,
"I never would have remembered my design for the helicopter if someone
hadn't brought me a note, that I'd drawn myself.
JB: Oh yeah! Well, that was the truth. Fella said, "What is this? We
call it 'Fishwater'." So that's what we called it.
And we were on our way to New Orleans. Really excited; I think it was
going to be out first gig there. Either our first gig or our first good
gig. I don't know if we were playing during Mardi Gras at a frat, or if
it was our first gig at Tipitinas, but we were excited about going down
there. So the first thing about "Fishwater" is clam juice. You know, the
broth from steamed clams. That's what came into our minds. And from
there, it was like "Fiiiishwaaaaterrrr!" You know, sexy stuff. And I
said, "Yeah, that's gotta be the right one!"
R&R: And "some of those women turn out to be men."
JB: Yeah! It's a tune about just excess and the nature of New Orleans,
and it really doesn't go much deeper than that. You're lucky to be alive
at the end of the tune.
R&R: Switching directions a little bit, tell me about "Raise The Roof".
Because I think it's the prettiest song on the album, and I read that it
was a song you pretty much composed in the studio, is that right?
R&R: Well, that was just the way... The song came from Mikey's direction
and we all just hauntingly followed along during the demo sessions, and
cleaned up the vocals on the demos, and left it like that. Then we were
on the road for a month and a half, and when we listened to the demos
again we thought, "There's no place really to go except maybe put some
more guitars on, add a third vocal part or something. Make it a little
fuller, but not to... Shoot, didn't need a jam. In essence, it had what
it had, you know? There again, to contribute to a song appropriately,
sometimes you gotta know... It might not need anything.
R&R: Alright, as we flip the tape we're giving John a few minutes to
mange up his trout, which he's been neglecting.
JB: That's a nice way of saying "mopping the trout off his face".
R&R: Just to finish up with songs... You've done a lot of covers.
Someone asked me to ask you about your "funky" China Cat Sunflower from
1986... If you're ever gonna do that again.
JB: [Laughing] Good God! Naw, we really... you know, any of those
Grateful Dead tunes that we did... When I started playing those there
weren't a lot of people playing Grateful Dead tunes. I had to travel a
long way, musically, to figure... In my own way of doing things, I
started out playing the songs that I heard on the radio that excited me.
You go through a heavy thing. All the sudden you're like, "Where do I fit
in, 'cause this is other people's stuff."
At that time, you know, the tunes that we had to play and jam with and
that were giving us pleasure, those were some of the hippest things to do,
the Grateful Dead tunes. 'Cause they really were... they weren't
standard at the time, you didn't have a lot of bands playing them. We
were the only guys in Georgia playing like that. But as far as it goes
for revisiting some of those tunes, we just wanted to grow in the
direction we were growing, which was creating songs on our own, inspired
as we might have been by bands like the Dead, the Allman Brothers,
Santana. I mean you name it. Black Sabbath, Yes, Van Morrison, Cat
Stevens, Todd Rundgren... Everybody, everybody. Phish, Blues Traveler.
The way I approach the guitar and vocals and everything is different...
It's noticeably been changed just after I watch the opening band. I have
nothing to do about it. You know, you get involved with the way another
band's doing something, and the next thing you know you're living through
that impression that you were just working with, and you're there too.
So it's hard revisiting China Cat. It probably wouldn't happen, 'cause,
you know, there's a great band out there that's doing it. If anybody's
gonna screw it up, they should do it.
R&R: Well, you recently did "And It Stoned Me," which is a favorite for
people who do covers everywhere.
JB: I know, and I started playing "Stoned Me" clean off the first time I
heard the Van Morrison record. Same with "Dear Mr. Fantasy". See, that
tripped me out. You start going, "Here's a band I admire".... But more
so, they were like Jerry tunes. And he was picking covers that were the
ones that I was choosing independently. And a song would come up and I'd
go, "God, I gotta play that! I just gotta see what it feels like to ride
"Second That Emotion" was another one. And that just made me feel good,
because at that point... Shoot, 'cause I was younger and I was doing
those in my acoustic bit. But you'd never convince anybody that you
weren't just doing it because somebody else had done it.
R&R: It's interesting that you put it that way, because one of the bands
in our group is a bona fide Dead cover band.
JB: Let me guess... The one that sounded like the Dead more than any
other band that I had ever heard, and they could do genres, and particular
shows, even down to microphone troubles, they do the whole bit... was
Living Earth, out of Philadelphia. And they were the best. You sat down
and were like, "Man!" It was better than watching the best Beatlemania
team. These guys were hot.
R&R: Well, this band is called Lost Sailors. The cool thing about them
is they're sort of the opposite. I mean, I view them as a group of really
talented musicians who play Grateful Dead tunes. And they don't "sound
like the Dead". They sound like themselves playing Grateful Dead music.
And it's terrific that way because, like, the lead guitarist doesn't use
the same effects that Jerry tends to use. He has a very distinct sound.
It's much crisper than Jerry's. Sort of more intimate than Jerry's. It
sounds like it's got rounded edges.
The point I'm trying to make is that these are musicians primarily, who
happen to be big Deadheads, and happen, when they set up to play their
music, they happen to play things attributed to Hunter/Garcia. But they
do an amazing job of it. You get to a point where you think, "Not only do
these guys really have this Dead song *down*, but they're also doing
something with it that I wouldn't expect to hear from the Grateful Dead
JB: You know, that sounds very intriguing to me. I admire them for that.
I would like to think that we were accused of having our own sound about
those tunes. I know within our discussions it felt like there was a
stigma attached to it, and we had to abandon it. And it was sad. It's
wierd because we basically abandoned it because it was so prevelant at the
time that we were being lumped together with other bands and it wasn't
allowing us to grow.
R&R: Yeah, I imagine that type of external pressure would mount when
you're playing something like "China Cat". But what if you, at this point
in the band's career... You know, if you're playing a hot, sizzling show
of your songs, and it's awesome and everyone's totally pumped, and then
you come out for the encore and do "China Cat", would you still feel in
that circumstance that you were cheating a little bit?
JB: That's a good question. If you want to take it like if that's a
possibility right now? I think that's so unexpected that...
R&R: That the crowd would go nuts.
JB: Yeah, they'd probably dig it. It would be a cross of the kind of
expectations they have, or the lack of expectations they have, being
smacked with something they know something about. Although that's an
assumption on my part that a lot of our audience have a good base in
Grateful Dead 101.
R&R: Did you hear anything about Phish's Halloween concert, where they did
the White Album?
JB: Yeah, I heard they did the White Album. Actually I heard they did
R&R: Well, the thrill of seeing a band as cool as Phish make such an
awesome showing of covering a Beatles album was a real charge. I guess
I'm just wondering how feasible it is to think, "We're going to take this
tune that everyone in the world knows as a Beatles tune or a Grateful Dead
tune and make it into a Widespread Panic tune"?
JB: No, I think... first of all I always thought Phish is very cool.
They're the first ones on the block with all the hip ideas. And they're
very courteous gentlemen; they give me the impression of genuinely sitting
down and caring about everybody they come in conatct with. And that's...
You know, the bottom line is, that's real.
My next thing would be like, "Well, now we could never do that 'cause we'd
just be copying Phish!"
R&R: That's a complex!
JB: I know the way we approach the covers-- and this is to answer your
question right before that-- is... there's music that we run into that is
a good story or a folk tale, or something that has some benefit beyond us
trying to get an audience response for ourselves. These are songs that
moved us. And on top of it being fun for us to take a chance at
interpreting them as a band, it's also a little bit of our duty to give
people a little point of where our big inspirations are, and share a song
that they might not get to hear. It might not be in their collections.
They might never run across it.
So it's a good way... It reminds us that we're paying tribute to stuff
that's really helped us come along. It's a good way to share those things
with other folks, and it reminds me of... remembering that you're not the
R&R: Well if you guys keep putting out albums like AIN'T LIFE GRAND,
you're not gonna be able to think that for too long.
JB: Well, you know, I'm really critical about us. And cynical about
everything I come into contact with. Certain lessons have lead me to be a
cynical person. But it's great to make a record and still like it. I
mean, if you can be involved with something and hammer it out in two and a
half months, there are points of it that are gonna be, like, ugggh...
It's like eating spaghetti that long.
R&R: It's like when George Harrison said he doesn't own any Beatles albums
'cause it just embarrased him to listen to them.
JB: Isn't that heavy? That's wild! Yeah, I feel that way about certain
[songs]. I go, "Christ, jump on that bad boy, remix it, and there might
be a song in there somewhere!"
R&R: Let me ask you about HORDE. Someone sent me a question saying, "Ask
him about HORDE '95 because I really missed Widespread on HORDE '94." Can
I ask you to comment on HORDE and that whole scene?
JB: I can tell you everything I know. When we started out P.H.--
Pre-HORDE -- we had done this bit through meeting up with Blues Traveler
and Phish, and in the midst of that becoming aquainted with Colonel Bruce
Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and eventually the Spin Doctors. We
all got together... We had discussed this situation because we were
sharing territories and helping each other...
R&R: You, Blues Traveler and Phish?
JB: Yeah, the three of us. Phish was helping us up north with the
Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Boston kind of thing. Blues Traveler was
helping us do the New York. And we were doing the South, and they were
coming down and opening up to those audiences. You know, a one-shot deal.
You play in front of a thousand, two thousand people, instead of having to
go work the clubs down there.
So basically we always said, "Okay, every time we're doing this... It's
like... The problems with equipment. You know, it's a great thing but
there's too many things to make it too tough to do. " Shrinking the size
that you have to move around and feel good in backstage, you got time
limitations, you got all that stuff that limits the enjoyment of
performance. So we were like, "Hey! Wouldn't it be great? Here's the
deal. What if we had four bands that just play a couple hours each and
that's your day festival. We do it outdoors and just move 'em in one side
and move 'em out the other."
So then John Popper had called up... He'd done some preliminary work
with Bill Graham on this, and Bill Graham said they were behind it. Let's
have a meeting and see what we need to do. And so we had a meeting up in
the Bill Graham offices and finally decided we were gonna do four areas in
R&R: That meeting was the three bands, or were there more people involved
JB: At that point it had turned into five bands. It was Phish, Blues
Traveler, ourselves, Colonel Bruce and the Spin Doctors. But it had
started with us and Phish and Blues Traveler. And basically they were
like, "Who is this Colonel Bruce guy?" And we were like, "Well, we don't
go anywhere without him!" And we'd gigged with the Spin Doctors a few
times. It was cool-- at first we didn't understand the loyalty, but we
figured Blues Traveler must feel about the Spin Doctors the way we [felt]
about Colonel Bruce.
So, integrity intact, instead of four bands we had five bands, and
that's not so much of a hassle. And then Phish said, "Well, we only want
to do the North, we don't want to do the South. So they split their half
of the tour with Bela Fleck, who was intense.
So our deal was to give an incredible ticket price for folks, play in
some bigger outdoor venues, because it's summertime and easy to do, hit
some areas, and you know, do the bit. We were inspired by Lollapalooza,
which was inspired by... all the way out... inspired by *Shakespeare*. It
seemed to culminate to this moment anyway. Everybody refers to Woodstock
just seeing an elevator full of people.. So our deal was to get some...
special interest groups cooking in booths and things like that, and do it
so it was an overwhelming value to the kids.
R&R: Did you guys all travel in the same busses?
JB: Yeah, we had six, seven busses. We were out there, and we got to meet
all these people, basically all the bands that were like us and were out
there working, half the year at least. And the crews were all happy to see
other people who knew what was what and how to do stuff. They probably had
the best time by meeting some of their own and not just getting kicked
around by band members.
R&R: So how come Widespread skipped HORDE '94?
JB: Because... the situation was... The evolution of it was that the next
year ['93] there were six or seven bands, you know, with Big Head Todd and
the Samples, and twenty-six shows. Which was really hip, it was working
out really well. [But] there was a bunch of crap about who headlines where,
who does this... The politics and the money got involved, and in the
meantime, the name HORDE had been copywritten and all the bands were asked
to pay a membership to be a part of the HORDE.
And we were part of this name-guessing process, and in good faith, what
we thought was a good name for what was going down, we went with John
Popper's "HORDE". That was a great idea. Next thing we knew, that was
copywritten three ways by David Frey, David Graham, and John. And they
wanted us to pay ten thousand dollars just to be part of something we
thought we began.
But as it turned out, there were ways to make the thing work, even if it
wasn't gonna be idealistic. The initial suggestion was everybody gets
equal time, equal cash... Split everything up equally. Which *was* our
agreement after the meeting. And then the managers got hold of it and
[they said things like] "Recycling containers cost too much!" You know,
all these ideals, pffff, shoot out the window. And we said, "Okay, well if
you want to do it practically, do the headlining status and the money
status on percentages and systematically base it on the numbers that you do
in those areas at your shows.
So that's how we worked out the lineup, instead of reverting... we
wanted to revert to something to keep personalities out of it. Here you
had the management saying, "Oh, this is terrible for you guys. It's bad
for your image to be on equal basis with these guys." You know, that kind
R&R: Was there any sense of agreement in Widespread Panic with that idea?
Or was it just that everything was overcoming the fun of it?
JB: Well, we just battled for fun in the second year, and we won. It
wasn't just us, it was everybody. Newcomers had no idea that there was any
wierdness like that. And when you ask the sources of what you thought the
wierdness was -- which was totally management -- I don't see any of the
band members being involved with that. You know, [managers will] tell you
one thing and tell somebody else another. There were no checks and
R&R: So what's the outlook for HORDE '95?
JB: Well... As long as I'm telling you the truth. [Laughs] This is just
the truth as I see it. There are a billion stories and mine's just one of
them, and it's two years old. I keep it as clear in my mind and as fair as
I don't feel wrong or anything like that. We were always involved to
the point that we thought that it was gonna be good for the folks playing,
that it was gonna be fun for everybody else... So what hurt us,
financially.... We were trying to make sure that we were supporting our
album, which is our part of the bargain with the record company. So we
said, "Ahh, you know, we can't pay you ten thousand dollars, that would be
wrong. So we won't do it. If those are the rules, you know, we're out."
And then they wanted to do it without Colonel Bruce and we said, "Noooo, we
won't do it if Colonel Bruce and those guys don't." Cause they really
*were* the essence of the HORDE.
R&R: Why did they want to do it without them?
JB: When it comes down to numbers, they didn't cut it. Basically they
looked at it and said, "Well these guys don't draw numbers, they don't have
any power to request a guarantee that'll help them stay on the road."
And here, you're just dealing with accountants. I'm not saying it was
evil, I'm saying our idea -- and it was an idea that we all really grooved
on -- it just wasn't tough enough to hang out with the powers that be that
were controlling the money, which is an institution that we rely on to make
it every week. It's an expensive operation to keep a band afloat. So
there it's like, you don't want to be so intense about something that
you're losing all the good that could come of it. So we thought, "We'll do
this horde, we like all these guys." We did it for twenty-six shows.
So, here we come to HORDE '94. I think it was important to the HORDE
image to have somebody in there that would draw a lot of fans no matter
what, and draw maybe different kinds of fans. So the Allman Brothers were
there. And the Allman Brothers played from 8:30 to 10:30, or 8:30 to
11:30. They were an ace in the hole, to make sure people came. And we
knew that the next thing is, you're gonna be starting sometime before 8:00,
with a minimal set, and many other bands to consider.
So we figured we probably wouldn't be able to play as much music for the
folks as we'd like to, and we didn't even consider it because we didn't
think it was going to be possible no matter what we were told or what we
negotiated. And so we just didn't enter into the hassle of it.
We had to make the call for ourselves and what was in our best interest.
And it was sad because we had friendships going... well, we still got 'em,
it was just really neat to be able to see these guys play in an atmosphere
where it was gonna sound good, we were gonna get an ample amount of time to
play without the hassle of mechanical glitches, and get to see each other.
We don't get to see each other 'cause we're all constantly on the road or
in the studio.
That's pretty much my biggest regret, that something *cool* was
happening there. But there again, you know, we didn't want to do any
weight-swinging-- we don't even know if we could. It wouldn't be our game
anyway. We wanted to play three hours a night somewhere so we just did a
tour on our own....
[These] are some pretty opinionated subjects right here, and I can only
give you what my perception of things was. I'm pretty sure I was straight
on the line here, but there was no animosity, in my eyes. It did turn into
something that became more a business thing than the free-love thing that I
grew up with. But I wasn't attached to that ideal so much that it made me
bitter about anything. We basically didn't play the HORDE last year
because we didn't see that there was a place for us....
R&R: Would you still tour with Blues Traveler?
JB: Yeah! Oh yeah, definitely! We just did three or four shows with them
up in Colorado and Wisconsin.
R&R: Well, they're sticking it out with HORDE as their major vehicle, right?
JB: I don't know what their thing is. I was surprised that they wanted
the Allman Brothers to do this gig. Maybe it was, you know, to help with
the fans. I never talked to them personally about it. I got the word
through our manager that these were things that had already been decided.
And it seemed like it would be crazy to try to feel that we'd be included
in that. And basically we said, "Well, it doesn't feel like they're even
*making* a place for us."
R&R: Had it gotten to a point where the suits had said to you in '94,
"We're having the Allman Brothers Band, and we'd like you to perform in a
specific slot before them..."? Had they said, "...And here's how we
envision Widespread's part in this..."?
JB: No, it never even came to that. We knew that the Allman Brothers were
gonna be there, and we knew that they were gonna start at 8:30 every night.
So basically... You know, Mike doesn't wake up 'till 4:00 anyway, so it
was a moot point. We weren't even gonna be able to make the gig.
And if we weren't... With that kind of time allotted to them, we'd be
scratching to be able to play an hour... And we knew we could go around,
play gigs, hit the towns. And they were gonna do fine. John had been out
healing in a wheelchair for over a year, so we knew people were ready to go
see those guys. The Allman Brothers Band has a built-in crowd.
R&R: Has the band been pleased with the growth in your audience since
taking part in HORDE? Has there been a significant increase?
JB: Well, shoot. Going back to summer of '92... I think it all kinda
corresponds with when we signed with Capricorn. We had the momentum there.
So it'd be hard to tell the different factors.
I think the HORDE was great in the sense that we got to come together
and play a gig... all the bands got... there was enough money to sustain
all those acts who in other cases would be vying for some of those same
areas, gig-wise. But anyway, I'd say it helped. Any time we play... The
crowds have been growing consistently. Shoot, we haven't done anything as
fast as Phish does, but they are impeccable in their communication skills,
letting people know how to go, where to go. They have gigs locked in
months in advance. Incredible visual show. And, to come back to the
HORDE, I think [Phish] pretty much saw that-- the things that might be
involved-- and they were like, "We'd like to play... We'd like to give the
folks us... for the evening. We like sharing time on stage, but it's not
really what we do. We come to play." And I thought that was really hip.
They've showed a lot of maturity.
R&R: It's interesting that you characterize Phish that way, because it
opens up a whole other realm I wanted to ask you about. Does Widespread
Panic as an entity want to be as big as Phish? Bigger than Phish? How far
do you want to go?
JB: Well it depends. For us the goal is to keep playing together as long
as the creative community there is fruitful. When we're playing things
that are getting us off, that are blowing our minds... we're compelled to
go share those ideas on records and live and on the radio. Our hope is
that everybody who might want to get to hear what's happening out of our
coming together, who would want to hear those songs, would get a chance to.
Which basically means... If you've got a good line there and your record
is getting played, because the Program Director likes it, and people call
in 'cause they like it, and they're coming to shows 'cause they know it's
gonna be different, it's a live thing. And they're buying the record,
'cause it is available. And they're reminded 'cause the distributor did
put a well-placed sign there, sparked their memory to see what [Widespread
Panic] is about a little more. If we get those channels cleared, then
everything else is just a by-product of the process.
You can judge success by the record sales, the ticket sales... If there
was a way to go in there and judge success by the number of people who
bought that record and the number of people who cherish that, and it helps
them in their lives in some way, [and] it is a plus to their lives. Now
that to me is a success ratio. And the corollary to that is try to make it
as available as possible, if that truly is beneficial to the musical
community. If not, screw it, we don't need to be here. There we can only
look back to what we're doing, and if we're kicking each other in the ass
and really feeling excited about what we're doing, and the new songs seem
to still be following a growth pattern, then we're okay. There we have our
And now it's time to share that, because not many people get the chance
to be thirty years old, hanging out for... we've been together for eight
years, don't know how much longer. Not many people get to play music in
clubs at loud volumes, together with the same group of people this long, or
late in life. So that's where our compulsion to share it comes from.
R&R: Well you must have a favorable attitude then toward people who like
to tape your shows .
JB: *I* do, yeah. I think there's a lot of confusion out there, which
stems from the fact that some clubs have their own policy. I can tell you
the *official* policy [of Widespread Panic], which is a combination of
three policies. A lot of the problem, too, comes from the fact that none
of us in the band really ever get a chance to say it in a
mass-communication form. So by the time it's distorted and re-communicated
by people talking between themselves... And they share different
experiences of what happened when they tried to tape.
From Wabels@aol.com Fri Dec 20 18:08:58 1996
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 02:55:59 -0500 (EST)
From: "by way of Daniel_Gold@Brown.edu (Daniel Gold)"
To: Ben Tanen
Subject: John Bell Interview
[The following text is in the "iso-8859-1" character set]
[Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set]
[Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]
Where we stand right now is, the band is happy if you tape. We want you
to have your own power source and your own microphones, and not get in the
soundman's way, or impede on anyone else's enjoyment. That's how we know
you're... being polite.
And it sounds better. A lot of people take it personally you can't get
in on the board. But you got one fella, our guy Wes. He's the guy that
people look at, and what's coming off that board is only half of what
sonically is going down. That's trying to bring it all to a front level
for the listener. Sometimes it's great hearing it really clear, but the
mix is uneven through the board. It seems hard to ask him, number one, to
take the time to accomodate anybody that would want to run off the board.
And if you do one, I think you should do everybody. So it's easier to say
None and let Wes concentrate on what he's been doing all day. He's been
setting up that stuff since 10:00 that day, broke it down 'till two and a
half hours after our gig the night before. [He's] working his ass of just
to let this representation of the show out that really isn't reflective of
what is going on, you know?
...That's our only reason for not letting folks do the soundboard live.
It really doesn't help-- it distracts Wes and it's not representative of
all the hard work he's gotta put in.
R&R: Do you think that a live tape of a Widespread show, whether it's a
board or an audience tape, is less representative of Widespread Panic at
it's best than, say, a Grateful Dead boot is representative of them at
JB: No, I think live... To me, that's where I find the most excitement.
I think it's a bigger challenge to make an exciting record in the studio
than it is to get something cooking onstage. The live tapes are extremely
beneficial to people getting to know what we're like as a band. I think
it's more representative of us live, and the way we are, just picking up
our instruments and going. The records are obviously reflective of what we
do in the studio and how we try to use some of the same elements but with
different tools in our hands. It's a different medium.
R&R: Well, maybe when people read this you're gonna go from a handful of
tapers to a hundred at every show. You're gonna have to institute a
JB: Well, it's pretty important. A lot of the tapers out there, they're
their own community, that's their gig. They not only buy a ticket and come
in, but this is something they do with just as much passion as [we have
when] we're playing. I can't imagine anybody wanting to bring in all that
stuff and make a go of it, and risk all that expensive equipment unless
they really had a passion for it.
R&R: ...Above and beyond a passion for your music.
JB: I guess. And there I just take it as a compliment, you know? It's a
great, great compliment.
The other things I was thinking of... Once in a while you get a record
company, and their official/non-official [attitude is] "We're a record
company. The only way we keep our juices flowing is if we sell records.
In our industry (and most of us are a lot older anyway,) we can't imagine
that the availability of Widespread Panic in other recorded forms isn't
limiting our sales." At the same time, there goes the argument, "Hey, if
we hadn't been doing this in the first place, nobody'd give a darn and you
wouldn't have signed us anyway." I'm there with all those arguments. I
used to tape bands all over the place too. I loved it. And I know that
there's no harm intended, and personally, I don't see there being harm. I
think most of your record sales, if you start hitting platinum, a lot of
that's just rollover on name. If it's a good record, then you're gonna
have a good reord next time too. If it's not, then you just rolled over
because of name recognition.
The third entity there is sometimes the clubs are union-oriented, and if
we haven't done the proper paperwork, or made arrangements like that, get
caught by surprise, don't know what the policy is... *they* might shut
things down. Sign out front says "No camera by order of the band." They
might even have their own Xeroxed thing they put up at 8:30 that day that
we didn't see. You know, stuff happens.
R&R: ...Saying "By order of the band"?
JB: They'll say whatever they want to to make it happen. Some places are
nice; they say, "By order of the club". There again, you get some folks
that say, "Hey, it's no good to me unless I get to tape it." And they
think we should have done something anyway to make it happen.
R&R: But you're not always in a position to do that? If you're playing a
club where they have qualms about taping, how realistic is it for you to
say, "Look, there are a lot of die-hard fans here tonight who really want
to tape. Can't you let it slide?" Do you do that, or do you just stay out
JB: If you're dealing with one person in a state where you're not that
popular, and you can do it without creating a ripple, then it's cool. But
if you do one you gotta let everybody. It's tough, 'cause... It's the
same thing as folks coming into town and wanting a ticket. Or wanting you
to sneak them in because they didn't bring their ID. Christ, you want to
do it with everybody, but you gotta know your own limitations before you
start letting yourself be taken advantage of and actually hurting the
But in answer to your question, let's go back to Phish, because they do
think ahead and they score that stuff early. They make arrangements.
R&R: They have a very impressive office staff, and a well fleshed-out
JB: Yeah, but they started with just Trey and Fish, you know, with Trey
drawing a logo for the band and... Dreams grow. It's incredible. I *love*
their example. And it's all based on clear, proper communication, and the
folks caring about what's going on, and them caring about the folks, and
access to an abundance of intelligence. They broke a lot of ground with
their methods... The Internet, Phish.net. Right there, they are pioneers
of that for this generation of musicians. And to me... I never knew about
the computer thing until they came up with it.
So basically what I'm saying is, a lot of these questions are curiosity.
People want to know, "This is the way it's been at shows. How come it's
like that? What are your thoughts about it?" Our initial thoughts were
"Shoot, man, we're a rock and roll band."
I was just playing guitar and all this other stuff started to happen.
And I was aware of maybe a tenth of it. And as soon as it comes to light,
I am concerned, and I'd love to be able to do something. And now we gotta
get those gears in motion, too. First of all, you've gotta be cognizant of
it. And if somebody tells you about it, then you've gotta think does it
jibe with the way you're seeing things? I think it's really important for
us to make sure that folks know far enough in advance [that] here's when
we're playing, make plans, know how to get there.
R&R: Well, those are the types of details that our rock forum is going to
be concerning itself with. I got a list of your upcoming dates from
Capricorn, that we'll upload so people can get that information at a
glance. And we're going to have a section on venues, with directions and
JB: That's great. That kind of thing, what you're doing... Shoot, I get
caught up just making sure that I'm being as honest as I can be on the
stage, and just playing the songs with all my heart. So when there are
other, organizational things that come up like this, I think this is
something to tend to and really cooperate with 'cause basically....
Let's say everybody in the whole world's searching for something, no
matter what it is. And what if one day somebody gets the secret-- boom!--
it's all in one little packet of explanation or words, or universal symbol
or medium. Lets everybody know what that truth is. It's going to be a
communication system like this huge instantaneous network that can provide
the same information without distorting it... without that game of
telephone... and do it as quickly and as universally, cover as much of the
"auditorium" as possible.... That's why it's so important to apply
ourselves. Like I said, I'm pretty ignorant as to what's going on, but
from what I can assume about those charcteristics of clarity... that's why
it's so important to get behind it.
...People give a bad rap to TV and radio, but those methods of
communication... they're not at fault. They're just things, there's no
intention behind them. It's the way we use them that's gonna make that
thing cook. If somebody said, "Oh, hem, you're not gonna catch *me* using
a computer..." Well, I might as well not give you my phone number, because
how you gonna get through?
R&R: Sure I understand. Or you might as well not go to the grocery store,
because how are you gonna check out your items?
JB: Yeah. These things are powerful tools. And like you said, it's
working more in the realms-- It's not destructive-- it's working more in
the realms of a collective consciousness. It's *heavy*, man! That's what
we're trying to get back to anyway.
R&R: In a few years we'll be able to broadcast a live Widespread Panic
concert through the computer, and people all over the country can instantly
record both the video and audio.
JB: That would be hip.
R&R: Yeah. No more need for studio albums, though.
JB: Who knows. I mean, there'll always be... People still throw pots on
the wheel, too. There's something in there that's really zen-like. And
with our particular album situation, to watch [our producer] John Keane,
the way he produces... The way he engineers... His thought process has
the sound in mind. He can translate it through his fingers, through the
equipment. He can interpret what you're trying to tell him, and translate
R&R: And you never get that in concert?
JB: No, no... The bit is there's something so enjoyable about that
relationship, and watching him at work, and then getting to work with him.
There's something in there that, no matter what happens to technology...
Just the enjoyment of being there was... you can't label that as being
dependent on technology or what's going on right now. And it's probably
the same way that folks still like to listen to their vinyl, or somebody's
still throwing pots...
R&R: Pearl Jam just put out VITALOGY on vinyl.
JB: Yeah! That's cool. Who else-- did somebody else just do that?
R.E.M. always puts out vinyl. All you gotta do is go to an antique store
and pick up one of them record pressers, and start a little warehouse for
people who would prefer to hear the new stuff on vinyl. I know it's not
the huge biz, but... It'd be neat if you could license all the original
artwork so you have clarity. Something special maybe to help that record
sell. Didn't Pearl Jam put out their vinyl like two weeks before it was
available [as a CD]?
R&R: Yeah, I think so.
JB: That's pretty hip. It's something to just pump the public.
R&R: The radio DJ's were saying that it was so people would buy the album
twice. Do you think people do that?
JB: I don't know, probably some people. If I had the cash and I really
loved the band... But I think I'd just wait.
R&R: A few more questions to wrap it up. A couple people asked me to ask
why you aren't playing "Coconut Song" anymore.
JB: It's kinda like the same reason we chose to stop playing the Grateful
Dead songs. It was the first song we wrote... kinda silly, kinda cool.
The song was never at fault, nobody hates the song or anything like that.
R&R: It was the first song you wrote as a band?
JB: Yeah. But because of its catchiness, it seemed like while we were
writing other tunes, which we thought were taking "Coconut" and going a
step beyond, we'd go places where the attention was focused on this song.
And we could actually watch people only click on for that song, and that's
what they came to expect for the evening.
R&R: It sort of became like your "She Loves You"...
JB: Yeah. It wasn't doing justice to the rest of the songs that we knew
were coming, and had to grow. And for us it affected the way we played it,
the way we thought about it.
[Laughs] And we'd sit there and we'd play the song, and some of these
boneheads would still be asking for it. You'd say, "I just played it!" and
they'd go, ""Ohhh..." [Shows a blank expression.] They were that much
clouded about it.
So the song was never at fault, you know. There seemed to be an
overwhelming attention paid to it at one point that was making it... We
thought that it'd be easy [to say], "Hey, we don't have to play it! If we
just decide not to play it, we don't have to decide whether we're gonna
play it or not, and we just get to move on with these songs." Shoot, if
everybody quits coming, maybe we'll start to play that song again! I don't
Now we play it every Halloween. We throw it in there with the rest of
the... you know, we play a lot of covers on Halloween, 'cause it's a kind
of costume thing. We play a lot more covers than we usually do, as opposed
to one, two or three a night. Half the show'll be covers [on Halloween].
A few songs have become traditional, like "Sweet Leaf" and "Coconuts". We
played that the last three years.
R&R: So if someone out there is just dying to hear "Coconuts" they'll have
to wait until next October 31st.
JB: Yeah, to be pretty sure about it.
R&R: Or get a tape of it...
JB: Or get a tape of it. And you know, Christ, you know what a song
sounds like when you haven't played it in three years? HA! Nobody
remembered *nothing*! It was great! But we rolled through it.
R&R: A true improvisational jam...
JB: Oh, it was just a train wreck. [Laughs] We weren't proud. People
were going, "Yaaah, that was awful!" But we love the song...
R&R: Can you comment on the influences of "Southern" music, like country
and western tunes, in your music?
JB: Well.... I know that I, personally, was very impressed and influenced
by Willie Nelson, Hank Sr., Bobby Bare, Patsy Cline... So however they
translate themselves through... It might not be visible or audible to some
folks' ears. I know Country and Western, that was the first thing I
listened to-- before partying-- that told me, you know, that gave me...
They were jumping all over the place. There was a story in those lyrics.
It was so simple, and a lot of times it was just some cliché, or a twist on
a cliché, that became the chorus and then they'd work the song all around
that thing. But usually Country music was always dedicated to the same
things in a little different way.
And in my experience... I was born in '62, so during the 70's and a lot
of the 80's, all I was getting were regurgitated clichés... and hair
styles. We didn't have a lot to hang on to. Then all the sudden there was
Country, and that was cool. [Affects a big-time drawl] "Country boys, you
know, they drank liquor and wore hats, played pool, and listened to some
really tear-jerking-ass music." I loved it! I had more real experiences
doing that than I did listening to Foreigner.
R&R: This is when you were still in Cleveland?
JB: Yeah. It started right in my senior year. I just started pulling
Kris Kristofferson records of my brother's shelf. And there was a whole
world there of sincerity that I wasn't used to. And not a damn
synthesizer in the bunch. They were using more natural instruments.
You know, it has its limitations. I mean, there's Pop Country and then
there's Soul Country, and a lot of what people get now is Pop Country.
R&R: Tell me some more about Colonel Bruce...
JB: He is the only man in his family to drop out of West Point. But his
nickname in his family has been The Colonel ever since he was born. They
called him The Colonel, because they were all officers.
I gotta tell you, I'm not sure I know the truth of all of these stories,
because the Colonel will mix fact and fiction, and he'll go on a yarn very
easily. And it's beautiful because he always means well. There's no real
deception involved because... he goes where the conversation takes him.
I think there's something very calming and spiritual in his presence.
He's very reflective. I know I always have to look at myself when I'm in
his presence. That gets me, I love it. There's no bull. He is who he is,
and he sees you and loves you for what you are. So you're just [left with]
having to deal with that, whether you love yourself or not. You know, so
much time is spent trying to get other people to think that you're okay.
That's digressing a little bit.
I know he was a wrestling coach for big-time wrestling. He was Colonel
Bucky Starr, and he got kicked out. You know that little weasel guy with
the toupée that's always doing the announcing? Well, [The Colonel] beat
him up about fifteen years ago for real. You know, in a fake fight but he
wasn't supposed to do it. It was in a mock-interview thing, and the guy
didn't like it at all.
R&R: So he quit wrestling and became a legend of psychedelic music?
JB: Yeah. He has the worst-selling record in the CBS catalogue in existence.
R&R: Him alone or is it an ARU record?
JB: No, just him. Because ARU's just a spot in time. He started playing
music with a number of different musicians. He had a gig where Bette
Midler and Barry Manilow opened for him...
R&R: When was that?!
JB: Shoot... '70? Maybe earlier.
R&R: So he's been on the scene for a long time.
JB: Yeah, as Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Hampton Grease Band. That was
the worst-selling record. Stores heard it and were like, "Aggh! What did
we do?! What did we order?!" Again, it's all hearsay coming through me,
but I know some of the stories that I've heard repetitively from different
directions, that seem to hold weight.
He opened up for Three Dog Night and [his] first song was "Jeremiah Was
A Bullfrog", and they kept playing it and playing it. And the fans went
crazy. They went *crazy*. I mean, crazy mad, because he was butchering
it. The free-form jazz style, and [bellows] "JEREMIAH WAS A BULLFROG!!!"
Crash! Crash! He said they were throwing *everything* at him. They would
have thrown the seats if they weren't bolted down.
And he opened for the Allman brothers, and he [was the one who] booked
the show, and he booked his band as the first five acts on the roster.
During HORDE '92, [Colonel Bruce and ARU] were the only band to
consistently capture the attention of every band member and every crew
member of all the bands. They were the band that folks came out to see.
There was nothing in the show that would follow the lead of expectation.
There was always phenomenal musicianship... and just never a trace of ego.
And that was the bit. He was the essence of what the whole thing was and
was supposed to be.
R&R: Is ARU still viable as a band?
JB: They're incredible! Yeah, now they're this Rhythm and Blues thing,
and [the] musicians are nuts!
...The first time we [saw them perform]... He opened for us in
Birmingham. And [after they performed] the way we played it was like we'd
never even seen our instruments before. I mean, we sucked. We were
terrible! We couldn't even get it together. It wasn't like we were
thinking about it, we were just dismantled after watching their
performance. They were playing stuff with egg-beaters on their guitars
that made *sense*. And they were really freaky and theatrical at that
And we were like, "Gosh, all we do is play these instruments." We'd
just seen what can happen. It's like, well Madonna, she takes a whole
different stage approach: Here's a stage, that's what you can do with it.
And the Colonel basically, he's a channel for ego-free wackiness, and jazz
that's got some comedy to it. People today seem to need some comedy.
Bruce... had to split that scene because they were traveling and he
couldn't keep up with them physically.
R&R: How old is he?
JB: It's hard to tell. He's between forty and-- woah!! [At this point
Bell's hand cramps up and distracts him from completing the sentence.
Somehow, the mystery of Colonel Bruce perpetuated itself. I never got his
...These musicians just started joining him one by one. It's kinda like
they were in orbit around him, great musicians. And it blows the bar owner
away, they have them come back whether they were good or not; whether they
sold tickets or not. The next time they sell some tickets, too. And it
...And it's happening right now, too [with Colonel Bruce's new band, the
R&R: And all he does is sing, right? He doesn't play an instrument, does he?
JB: Yeah! Well, now he's playing guitar. He was playing guitar and...
Basically, it's a mandolin.
...He's been so good to us. The Phish guys love him, the Blues Traveler
boys love him. He's really... He's made the whole thing seem like a
brotherhood. Knowing how to love all these bands no matter what's going
R&R: John, thanks a lot. This has been a terrific interview!
JB: Thank you. I enjoyed it!