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This article was published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, August 12, 2002.
Cancer claims life of rocker
Michael Houser -- 1962-2002
By Kevin Conner
The lead guitarist and pioneer of one of Athens premier bands, Widespread Panic, died this weekend after a bout with a pancreatic cancer, according to a statement released by the band Sunday.
Michael ''Mikey'' Houser, 40, died at his Athens home Saturday.
In a prepared statement released Sunday by Paula Donner, Houser's spokeswoman, Houser's family is encouraging people to make contributions to the Michael Houser Music Fund, a program with the private school Athens Academy.
''Mike, his wife Barbette, and his son Waker have all been deeply involved with Athens Academy and through this fund, the school will be able to provide children with the opportunities to discover the richness and wonder of music that so enriched Michael's own life,'' the statement read, encouraging people to contribute to the fund at P.O. Box 6548, Athens Ga. 30604.
The band's Web site blacked out its normal content on Sunday and replaced it with a picture of Houser and Donner's official band statement. It concludes with: "Our hearts are with you as we know that your thoughts and prayers are with us."
Houser's death has hit hard with the band's fans, who are known as being among the most avid in the music industry. Thousands follow the band from city to city during their tours. As the news of Houser's death began circulating on the Internet Saturday, many of those fans offered their thoughts.
Among them was Matthew Buchanan of Birmingham, Ala., from the Spreadnet Listserv: "How do you put into words the grief you feel for someone lost whom you never met, but whose inspiration and music meant so much to thousands of other kind souls across the country? For me, you don't really try, so I'll just say 'Thanks for the memories, Michael Houser, and may God give rest to your soul.' I'll just suggest something I feel you would want us to do ... find healing through each other and our music."
Houser began playing in 1982 with the band's current vocalist, John Bell, and the band was later formed in the mid-1980s after bassist Dave Schools, percussionist Domingo Ortiz and keyboardist John ''JoJo'' Hermann joined.
Houser released a statement last month on the band's Web site, explaining his illness to fans and that he would not be able to finish its summer tour. The statement read in part, ''...I am at my home in Athens, Ga., surrounded by my family, and being well taken care of. In the words of Lou Gehrig, 'Though some of you may have thought I have caught a bad break, I feel like the luckiest man in the world.'''
Houser started this summer's tour with the band, but returned home before their July 3 performance in Milwaukee due to his illness. The band continued touring with fill-in musicians George McConnell and Randall Bramblett.
When Houser confirmed his illness, many Athenians offered their words of sorrow (full story). Among them was Kyle Pilgrim, owner of the Georgia Theatre, who worked at the Uptown Lounge in the 1980s, a club the band frequently played in their early years.
"(Houser's) just an incredible human being, a wonderful person ... and when you hear something like this ... my heart breaks, for him, for his family, the band, everyone. I love the guy and hope the best for him. We're behind him 100 percent,'' Pilgrim said upon learning of his illness.
Widespread Panic has developed an international fan base known as ''Spreadheads,'' a takeoff of the ''Deadhead'' term used to describe fans of the Grateful Dead. Widespread Panic is known for its jam-rock style, a blues-based style of music with improvisational guitar and progressive percussions that the band meshes with Bell's gritty vocals.
The band's first album, ''Space Wrangler,'' was released in 1988 and was followed by others like ''Widespread Panic'' and ''Ain't Life Grand'' up until its most recent album, ''Don't tell the Band,'' was released in 2001.
This article appeared in the August 13, 2002 issue of the New York Times, in the Arts section.
Michael Houser, 40, Guitarist And Singer of Widespread Panic
Published: August 13, 2002
Michael Houser, a guitarist and singer for the rock group Widespread Panic, died on Saturday at his home in Athens, Ga. He was 40. The cause was pancreatic cancer, said the group's publicist, Paula Donner.
Mr. Houser announced his illness in a statement last month after missing a number of concert dates. He played at the beginning of the group's summer tour, in June, but starting early last month the group replaced him onstage.
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, 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. Last year the group earned $14 million from 83 concerts, according to Billboard.
Begun by Mr. Houser and friends in Athens in the early 1980's while attending the University of Georgia, Widespread Panic (named after Mr. Houser's nickname, Panic) brought a bluesy, Southern-rock sound to its improvisations, drawing frequent comparisons to the Allman Brothers, who were also from Georgia.
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.
Mr. Houser is survived by his wife, Babbette, and his son, Waker, both of Athens.
Correction: August 14, 2002, Wednesday A picture from The Associated Press yesterday with an obituary of Michael Houser, a guitarist and singer with the rock group Widespread Panic, was mislabeled by the news agency and published in error. It showed another group member, John Bell. The obituary also misstated the given name of Mr. Houser's wife and omitted a surviving daughter. His wife is Barbette, not Babbette, and the daughter is Eva.
This article was published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, August 16, 2002.
Athens, GA. Michael Nathan Houser, 40, died Saturday August 10, 2002 at his home in Athens, GA. He was born Jan 6, 1962 in Boone, NC.
He is survived by his wife, Barbette, his son, Waker and his daughter, Eva. Also surviving are his parents Nathan and Melba Houser of Afton, Virginia, sister Missy Jaroneski of Richmond, Virginia and grandmother Pauline Houser of Vale, North Carolina.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in chemistry in 1985, Michael began his career as a rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He was a founding member of the popular band Widespread Panic. His reputation for panic attacks as a student formed the basis for the band's name. Widespread Panic has built a large, loyal following of fans and is among the most successful touring bands in the country playing mostly their own creative bluesy-rock songs. They have recorded 10 CDs and two live DVDs, and in 1998 an estimated 100,000 fans filled downtown Athens for an album release concert. Michael was also a member of the band Brute. Affectionately called ''Mikey'' by friends and fans, he was known for his improvisational guitar leads and soul-searching ballads.
A memorial service for close friends and family was led by Terre Balof, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, on Monday, August 12.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to: The Michael Houser Music Fund, Athens Academy; P.O. Box 6548; Athens, GA 30604.
The article below about the Michael Houser Shrine was written by David Wood for the Snowmass Sun newspaper.
Widespread Panic's Michael Houser honored with shrine
Michael Houser, lead guitarist of Widespread Panic,
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002,
and he died later that year at age 40.
A shrine on Aspen Mountain honors his life.
Michael Houser (Jan. 6, 1962, to Aug. 10, 2002) was the lead guitarist of the band Widespread Panic and was one of its founding members in 1982 while attending the University of Georgia. Houser was considered the silent genius of Widespread Panic and wrote many of the band's most popular songs, such as “Porch Song,” “Airplane,” “Ain't Life Grand” and “Vacation.”
He played with many influential guitarists, including Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, Robby Krieger, J.J. Cale and Taj Mahal. Starting around the time of the legendary “Sit and Ski” tour in 1996, he started performing seated in a chair. He was recognized during his lifetime as a rare musical talent, and his popularity has continued to soar posthumously. Although Widespread Panic now has Jimmy Herring playing lead guitar, Houser's unique sound laid the foundation for the focus of the band's music, and that continues to this day — and probably will forever.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002, he died later that year at age 40. A solo album of his instrumentals, titled “Door Harp,” was released after his death and was followed by “Sandbox” in 2006.
Widespread Panic has always had a connection with Colorado in general and with Aspen and Snowmass in particular. It holds the record for the most sellouts at Red Rocks near Denver. It has played in the Aspen and Snowmass area numerous times, including the above-mentioned “Sit and Ski” tour, when it played at the Wheeler Opera House. It also played at the Snowmass Conference Center in the early days and headlined two days of the Harmony festival at Buttermilk. It is the only band in the history of Jazz Aspen Snowmass to headline multiple nights, when it played multiple sets in 2005 and then again in 2008. Last year, Snowmass Village adopted the Widespread Panic song “Big Wooly Mammoth” as the official town song. The band will be performing at the Belly Up in Aspen in February.
The Michael Houser shrine is on Aspen Mountain near some cliffs and contains a sign that says “Houser”; another sign that says “Thanks Mikey”; photos of Michael Houser; a blue-and-white Michael Houser flag; Tibetan prayer flags; a miniature guitar; a bench to sit on while taking in the view; a “WP” patch; photos of John Bell and some of the other members of the band; a Colorado license plate that says “Widespread Panic”; a copy of a patron ticket from the Aug. 28, 2008, Panic performance at Snowmass (Jazz Aspen Snowmass); some artificial red roses; a sign that says “The Best of North Carolina”; a photo pass for a Panic concert; and many other items.
Significant visitors to the shrine have included Michael Houser's parents (Nate and Melba Houser) in February 2009 and also Tammy Nance (wife of drummer Todd Nance) in March 2009. Last year, Houser's parents donated some items for the shrine.
David Wood ([email protected]) is a huge Widespread Panic fan, having attended 14 concerts last year alone. The Michael Houser Shrine is his favorite shrine. He is also the author of a best-selling book about the Aspen shrines, “Sanctuaries in the Snow — The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.” He donates all of his profits from book sales to The Roaring Fork Valley Scholarship Fund. The book can be purchased in Snowmass Village at Snowmass Sports, the Stew Pot, Sundance Liquor and Gifts, and the Village Market, as well as at various locations in Aspen.
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