The Outformation | Sam Holt Channels Michael Houser

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Basically, like most teenagers I just wanted a guitar. I saw people on TV like Jimi Page when I was 14
and remember thinking, "Holy crap!"

As a hardcore fan of Widespread Panic for more than 15 years, I was delighted when a press release landed in my inbox touting the new album from The Outformation, a fledgling band led by former Panic guitar tech and tour guitarist Sam Holt. I’ll admit I had not yet heard of them – but with members of Panic guest appearing on the album, I figured, "if it’s good enough for the boys – it’s good enough for me," and I was right. When the CD arrived in the mail from their publicist, I popped it in my car CD player, and it literally stayed there for five days, on continuous repeat. They had me at hello. With the same sublime Southern rock style as Widespread Panic, but a sound all its own, The Outformation is poised to be the next big thing on the jam band scene.

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Fortunately, as I have caught them at the cusp of their breakthrough on the scene, I had the opportunity to interview Sam Holt from the road on their tour to promote their new album, Traveler’s Rest. The tour makes a stop in St. Louis on Oct. 3 at the Lucas School House. We talked about his lucky break with Widespread Panic, the new album and tour, and his inspiring friendship with Michael Houser, founding member and lead guitarist of Widespread Panic until his untimely death in 2002 from pancreatic cancer.

 

When did you start playing music?

Basically, like most teenagers I just wanted a guitar. I saw people on TV like Jimi Page when I was 14 and remember thinking, "Holy crap!" I got a guitar when I was 16 and took one lesson, but I didn’t really like that part of it. I just used to sit around and figure out songs and stuff, but never really got serious about it. Then in college, I would try to pick up in a band – I played with Grady [Upchurch], our bass player, when we were younger. I never really pictured myself being a musician; and then I got this gig with Widespread Panic and everything just fell into place. I was around guitars all the time, I was working on them, playing them, tweaking them out, and there was a guitar in my hand all day every day. I think that really helped me improve; and just being around those guys seeing how they interacted. I was a big Panic fan before I worked for the band.

 

How did you get connected with Widespread Panic?

It was just right place right time. My roommate in college had worked for them before, and their production manager was leaving, so they called my roommate and asked him to be their production manager. He went out on the road and I was all bummed out because he’s out touring with one of my favorite bands; and like two weeks later, he called and said "The guitar tech is done, he wants to go home, can you come do this?" and the next day I was on a plane to Kansas City

 

I’d imagine this was a dream come true for you?

Yeah. I was a huge fan of the band in the early 90s when I first discovered "other music" like the Dead and bands that were out there. Then got the gig and saw ‘em every night for seven years.

 

On your web site, you mention that Michael Houser’s death was a catalyst for you – tell me more about the inspiration he was.

I always looked up to him because he blew my mind so many times when I was a young, impressionable twenty something trying to figure stuff out about life and music. Then I got to know him and become good friends with him, and he’d hear me playing his rig and he’d be like, "You’re too good to be doing this – you should do your own thing." I’d never really take him seriously. We’d laugh about it because I’d be like, "Mike you can’t trust anyone else to do this job, who’s going to take care of you like that?" He would laugh. Then he passed away very quickly and it was like, wow, life is short. One thing he told me is that we get to do things most people don’t get to do, travel the country playing music and stuff, and that just resonated. I stuck with the band for a few more years because it was just the right thing to do, then we started Outformation. We had been playing together and stuff, but after Mike passed away we were like, "we really need to pursue this."

 

Were the other members of the band supportive?

Yeah, they were – it took awhile. We were playing shows when they weren’t, or opening for them and playing late night shows after them, which was cool. But after last year, it was apparent to everyone that this was our time, and if we didn’t jump in with both feet now, we may not ever get that chance.

 

Was there ever any talk of you replacing Houser as Panic’s guitarist?

They never came up to me and said, "We want you to be our next guitarist," but I know it was discussed. Last summer I played with them a whole bunch. It just was a relief to them to have someone in there who knew the music – and a lot of it had internalized for me, so it was just natural.

 

On the new album, you can hear Houser in your playing, the tone – how did he influence your style?

There were certain songs I’d always try to figure out, and I’d walk up to him and say "what’s the bridge in this song?" and he’d do it, and that taught me a lick or technique he’d use; and just being around him so much, the way he improvised. His timing was unbelievable – he was always kind of behind the beat, where you can create tension, and that he was really good at. Just hearing him all those years became a part of me in a way I cannot explain, it’s just sort of there.Then he gave me his rig, his amp and cabinet and asked me if I’d use it, and I said "yes," and that is what I use onstage, so you definitely hear some of that tone when I play.

How would you describe Outformation’s music?

Heavy, country, psychedelic, improv with emphasis on songwriting.

 

What other artists or bands that you admire have you had the opportunity to play with, and who’s on your wish list?

I’ve sat in with Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, Stockholm Syndrome, Widspread Panic, a bunch of great bands. I’d love to get together with Willie Nelson and see what would happen. The older I get, the more I like classic country/outlaw country like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. I’d also love to play with Derek Trucks because he’s just so damn good.

 

Widespread Panic is also currently on tour (stopping in St. Louis on Sept. 16). Will your paths cross at all?

Yeah, we’re opening for them in Charleston and doing a late night show after them in Memphis and Birmingham on the fall tour.

 

Most jam bands build their fan base through constant touring. Are you on the road all the time?

Yes, last year we did about 80 shows, and this year we’re doing about 130. It’s a lot, but in our scene that’s how you do it. Our motto is "Just keep doing it, keep writing, keep recording, just keep on." | Amy Burger

 

Check out The Outformation at: www.foryouroutformation.com

Tour Dates:

10/3     Lucas School House, St. Louis, MO

10/4     Liberty Hall, Lawrence, KS

10/5     Granada Theatre, Dallas, TX

10/6     Stubb’s, Austin, TX

10/17   Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA

10/19   Jupiter Bar, Tuscaloosa, AL
10/25   War Eagle Supper Club, Auburn, AL

10/26   Magnolia Festival, Live Oak, FL

10/27   Magnolia Festival, Live Oak, FL

11/2     North Charleston Coliseum, North Charleston, SC

11/9     Workplay Theatre, Birmingham, AL

11/23   Midtown Music Hall, Chattanooga, TN

12/1     Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC

12/8     Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA

12/30   Gothic Theater, Denver, CO

12/31   Gothic Theater, Denver, CO

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