Widespread Panic Premieres 'Street Dogs for Breakfast': Exclusive Listen

Widespread Panic 2015
Courtesy of Vanguard Records

Widespread Panic

When the members of Widespread Panic convened to make their first album in five years -- Street Dogs, due out Sept. 25 and previewed below with the track "Street Dogs For Breakfast" -- they decided to bring some of their vaunted stage act with them.

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The 10-track set, produced by regular cohort John Keane at Echo Mountain studios in Asheville, N.C., marks the first time Widespread has recorded live in the studio, with all six musicians working together rather than tracking separate parts. "We've done it this way to some degree before," singer-guitarist John Bell tells Billboard, "but this time we were making as much of an effort as possible to retain all the parts as they were recording live in the studio. That takes a little tinkering and some reality checks. We were letting some things bleed through, and I think that gives it more of a relaxed vibe. We'd play a song two or three times, the tweak the arrangements a little to where everybody is comfortable with it but it still has a freshness and newness to it. It was a good way to work. It felt very natural."

Street Dogs combines Widespread's originals with three covers: Willie Dixon's "Taildragger," Alan Price's "Sell Sell" and Murray McLauchlan's "Honky Red." Certain songs -- including "Steven's Cat" and "Angels Don't Sing the Blues" -- were written by the band in the studio. The jaunty boogie of "Street Dogs For Breakfast," meanwhile, started with an idea from John "JoJo" Hermann that's grounded in his particular sense of humor and whimsy.

"The street dog vendor is a kind of theme that ties a New York experience together with a New Orleans experience, because those are two consistent landmarks of each of those two places," Bell explains. "And JoJo was classically trained up in New York, where he grew up, and he transplanted himself down to New Orleans, so the combination there makes sense. Obviously it's very much a partying type of atmosphere. Me interpreting it -- and JoJo might say I'm full of it -- I feel it's looking back at some of our days where we were hard-charging a little more than we are now." 

Those looking for some chuckles can also check out "Steven's Cat." According to Bell, it's an homage of sorts to one of the band's surprising musical heroes. "If you dive into the lyrics you can see there's many nods to Cat Stevens songs," Bell says. "It's pretty obvious. Y'know, when you're together for 30 years as a band, you should be able to just not take yourselves very seriously. It was a lot of fun, very satisfying with that particular song. Everything thought it was just all in good fun."

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After taking a break during the second half of the summer, Widespread returns to the road Sept. 4 for the North Coast Music Festival in Chicago and will also play at the Lockn' Festival in Virginia as well as multi-night stands in Milwaukee, Asheville and Atlanta. The group still features Duane Trucks -- the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks and Widespread bassist Dave Schools' bandmate from Hard Working Americans -- on drums filling in for Todd Nance, who's on personal leave. But Bell says that situation will be changing soon, too. "Todd was just taking care of some personal stuff, and Duane's definitely part of the family because he's Jimmy (Herring)'s son-in-law. It's been fun playing with him. But Todd's on his way back: he's planning to be back the beginning of next year."