A TALK WITH J.B.

"You Can Sleep, When You´re Dead"Ralphs Widespread Panic Euro 99 Tour Tagebuch

A talk with Widespread Panic´s guitar player John Bell


This talk is from Aug. 17th 1999
It took place in the beergarden of the Hirsch in Nuremberg before the show.

Enjoy!

Ralph

JB: Prust!

R: Prust! Oh no, prost, with an "o"...

JB: Prost!

R: Let´s start. You are back in Europe now, making 14 shows within 19 days. It
is not stressing you? Do you make the same in the States, such an intensive tour?

JB: No, not as much. When we were younger and we played in these sizes
clubs at home, we played these many shows in many places. We played this often.

R: You are playing four days in a row and only one day off between these four days.

JB: It´s a hard work, but it is cool! It is Europe!

R: So, you have no time for sightseeing?

JB: No, But I did laundry today.

R: Laundry? You did it by yourself???

JB: Yeah, you go to the main machine and push the number of your machine. They
are engage in the motherboard.

R: But you don´t know the degree here. It is here in Celsius and not in Fahrenheit
like in the States.

JB: That is true. I looked at the other machines and most of them were at 60, so did I.

R: Seems to me that you are spending more time on the road than with your family.
Are your wifes an the band members satisfied with this situation or do they
complaining about it?

JB: (laughing) We have a yard, man. We miss each other, but we understand.
It´s not forever and it is all for the greater good.

R: When you got in contact with your wife, was it before you were in the band?

JB: No, I met her in New Orleans about ten years ago after a show. A late night!

R: When did you start playing music, learning music, playing in the first band?

JB: I started playing guitar, when I was nine and this is my first band. I met Mike
in 82 and in 80 I started playing guitar.

R: You started as a student band?

JB: Well, we were students, but we were playing in clubs. That´s was like a real gig.

R: I have heard that in the clubs in the States, when your are unknown, you must pay
for playing there? This sounds rather crazy for us Europeans.

JB: No, in L.A., not in the rest of our country. It is not the way it should be. We
never have paid to play. Sometimes our bar tab, actually at our very first shows,
our bar tab was bigger than the money we have made.

R: How does the name of the band come from?

JB: It is Mike´s nickname. His nickname was Panic, we called him Panic. The joke
was, he came back and said: "I don´t want to be called Panic any more, I want to be
called Widespread Panic". And then we needed a name for the band and this was it.

R: Here in Europe, Widespread Panic is still unknown (I hope that there will be a
change soon). We are knowing that in the States you are often playing in front of
10.000 people and more. How it is here in Europe for you to play for 300 people?

JB: It is like 8, 9 years ago, some like that. It´s good. You remember, what it was like.
You take less for granted, you are in contact with the audience more.

R: In the States you have more security?

JB: -it is like TV.

R: I have heard that even in the backstage you need sometimes a bodyguard?

JB: It is very secure. I mean, it is mostly not dangerous, just overwhelming. Nice
people, but too much. This has not to do with the music or who we really are.

R: This is a pity, you must live with your popularity.

JB: Yeah, it´s cool. I mean, this part of being doing what we do. You can go
around freely, but if you are in a city, where people might expect to see, than
you can´t really roam as free as possible without folks coming around. You
can´t do your laundry.

R: You are still living in Athens, GA?

JB: I live outside of Athens. Stone Mountains, right near Atlanta and between Athens and Atlanta.

R: But you can make shopping as normal or do you need to send someone?

JB: Oh no, I still do that. And it´s cool, people still respect this.

R: There are a lot of superstars, who cannot make shopping, it is impossible for them. Everybody
comes:" Hey, give me a sign" and so on...

JB: You know, I don´t play into that too much. They are special people on their own.
So, that´s something, they should know. I mean, after you have met one of us, you
realise that we are just regular folks.

R: That´s for we Germans like you too, not only the music, you are so normal as we are, not
acting like superstars.

JB: All right!

R: It seems to me that the band consists of different musicans with different influences. How
you working out the setlists before the shows?

JB: We just talk about it. We look, what we have played the last couples of nights
and try not to play those songs. Because people like you come around to many
shows. We should be able to go three or four shows without sing a song repeated.

R: I have heard that your repertoire is about 300 songs?

JB: Oh no, it is about 150. Could be a little more. That´s enough for my little brain.

R: The lyrics: who is writing the lyrics?

JB: We all contribute. Mostly stuff comes from my imagination.

R: And first the music and thereafter the lyrics?

JB: Sometimes, but anyway comes up. Sometimes they could come from many angle
and it could comes anybodies musical contribution or visualied, mental visualied.
Todd like Blue Indian on the new album. Todd came up with that idea and I went to
work on the words for it and he dug it. A lot of freedom there and trust.

R: The Americans Spreadheads have told me:" Oh, you have changed one or two words
in the lyrics for this special venue".

JB: Oh, sometimes. It becomes to mind. If the image is different, we´ll change it.
Bob Dylan and Van Morrison do it.

R: Are you changing the setlist sometimes on stage or never? Maybe another song...

JB: Sometimes. Yeah. If we have played too fast or too slow.

R: It´s this possible?

JB: We try to play about an hour for the first set. And if all sudden we see that
we were almost finished and it will be 15 minutes gone by, than we might look
each other and have another song, very quick. And sometimes, usually like at
the end of the tour, the jams will extend naturally, so it is running too long, and
an hour set turns into an hour and twenty minutes or something like that...

R: (laughing): What´s wrong with this?

JB: Nothing. But like in the United States our time is limited, because of all the people
who were working. Union and money and curfews and the law, bla bla bla... They just
turn the switch, power goes off, good night! Cold blooded, man!

R: Do you know, how long your longest show was? Sometimes in the earlier times you had
the chance to play longer?

JB: Oh yeah, we used to play till morning, till sun up. We were the only left standing.

R: Therefore we like you too. With this working out on the setlists, the lyrics and so,
the band is rather in harmony, it is a democratic thing?

JB: Oh yeah, definitely!

R: I have heard, you have no leader. Some people think you are the frontman-

JB: Only because I sing. That is a traditional roll, but within our band, you know,
I am not the leader, we´re all, we´re all even level. It´s better for the music and it´s
better for the long run. We ´ve thought about it earlier on, that should be our intention,
when we´ve started. It makes sense. If you take on the position of leader, other things
come with this: extra responsibility, eager, position of authority, all the things, you know,
they have nothing to do with the music. And also the musical ideas might just come out
of one person instead of everybody. And so the music will suffer. And it is really easier,
it´s easier to look at your buddies and knowing that you can count on everybody
.

R: And if you have differences, your discuss it and will find a solution?

JB: Yeah, sometimes it is compromise, sometimes it is a majority outweights minority.

R: Let´s go to your musical influences: which kind of music, which musicans. which bands
are your listening and have you listen?

JB: When I was younger, it was like Motown, Rhythm ´n´ Blues and early Rock ´n´ Roll,
like my brother and sister had.

R: Early Rock ´n´ Roll, what does it mean? Chuck Berry?

JB: No, no, more Rock, not Rock ´n´ Roll, like Traffic, Grateful Dead. My sister, she
had the sweeter things like Elton John, Cat Stevens, Todd Rundgren, my brother liked
Big Brother & The Holding Company.

R: I have a beautiful tape with a show from you with Col. Bruce Hampton. Tell me a little
bit about your relationship with him.

JB: Jokenly he is my adopted father, but in reality we are very good friends. We are
on the same label, when we were on an independent label and shared some friends,
that helped us get inclined and we just very in are of the way he approaches music.
Very eagerfree and nuts.Sometimes it´s like theatre: he is playing music and the next
thing he just reading the menue from the dinner.

R: Any plans for new CDs?

JB: Oh yeah. We got any kind of idea, we can come up with. We did new songs,
we have recorded all our shows on multitrack and so we can put out a live-album
anytime we want to do. We just did a tour with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and so
we have that on tape. We are building a studio in Athens of our own, where we just
go in or out, one, two, three hours, thus that the time does not matter. We´ll keep
touring and we´ll keep putting out a record about every year, year and a half.

R: Why not an extra live-CD series like the Grateful Dead did it with the Dick´s Picks series?
John´s Picks (just kidding) Live-shows, no overdubs or something like this. It brings it closer.

JB: And to make it real. Actually, what´s on the CD is actually what was played.
Because you can go in the studios, you can cheat, redo vocals redo anything.
We don´t go for that at all. It is good to have it on seperate tracks so you can put
it in the right place to make it sound good, but not change it. That´s the way I grew
up, believing that even the songs I´ve heard on the radio, I´ve thought that the band
is got up and play and that was it. I did even know about multitrack recording.

R: Radio, do you still have the time for listening to the radio? What´s up, what is modern?

JB: I am listening a little, But the American radio is very business-oriented. Political,
not political like goverment-political but internal business- politics. So, most of good
music you hear that´s new, brandnew is in the clubs, where kids it making it now.

Much you hear on the radio it is a teeny-tiny sound, and sometimes some of it good,
sometimes they have payed a lot of money to get it on the radio
.

R: Same here in Europe with the exeption of Rockpalast TV. 20 Years ago it was better.
So, plans for coming back to Europe?

JB: We will do this every year. Keep going, taken it up. It´s just the way we did it in
the United States. And we will work on our German.

R: Yeah: Dankeschon, vielen Dank. Yesterday Dave has counted the encore: eins, zwei,
drei, vier. (one, two, three, four) We Germans love this, some words in German!

JB: Ja! I get a little embarrassed, if I am in a restaurant: "ein Bier bitte! Ein Brandy!"

R: Here is a little gift for you for the long rides on the tourbus. A CD from Schluff Jull,
you have met some of them in Cologne before the show. Hope you will enjoy these CDs!

JB: Oh yeah, thank you very much!

R: I will see you at the Warfield! Thank you a lot !