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Southern Exposure: Conversations With Bo Bice and Widespread Panic's John Bell

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May traditionally is a busy month for brick-and-mortar and digital music retailers. Among this month's future album releases are Bo Bice's 3 that's coming out May 18th, and Widespread Panic's Dirty Side Down that drops on May 25th. The following are interviews with Bice and Panic's John Bell during which they talk about their new projects, parenthood, the late Vic Chesnutt, a little social consciousness, and The Little Prince's author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

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A Conversation With Bo Bice

Mike Ragogna: What's Bo Bice up to lately?

Bo Bice: Well, we're about to have our press tour, and I'm going to be gone for a couple of weeks. I'll be in New York, L.A., doing all the TV runs for a while, doing some press for the new album. Right now, I'm at home and in the studio for the day, got a little bit of packing to do to get ready for the trip. I had a photo shoot last night, so I was up until about 2:00 am doing it. We're just running the candle on both ends, but we'll make sure that what's in the middle, what's left, are the important parts.

MR: Let's get into your new album, 3. "Keep On Rolling" is a strong southern rock anthem about everybody just trying to get by. Overall, do you feel that's sort of our state, everybody just trying to get by?

BB: The song really is about--your correct in a sense--all of us, you know what I mean? "Don't know how the bills will get paid...nobody I know got it made in the shade." I mean it's pretty much everybody's touched by this economy and the things that are going on. I think it's important to have anthems out there to let people know, "Hey, it's still cool, man. We've got to keep on rolling down this road and keep our head up." So, this makes our country beautiful. It's full of people that just want to make it through whatever we're going through.

MR: Your album also is filled with good souls, like those in "Good Hearted Woman."

BB: I tell you what, man. That one's written about my mom in the first verse, my grandmother in the second, and my wife in the third. It really is. I love the wife, I do man. That was one of the songs I wrote by myself, and it was very much one of the autobiographical songs, especially the words. It has a very special place in my heart.

MR: Obviously, you're a real family man. You've got three kids, and your most recent child, Ean Jacob, was born this year.

BB: Ean Jacob, that's right.

MR: What's it like having a house full o' Bices?

BB: Well I always joke my wife has four kids 'cause when I'm home, I'm the other kid. I respect their mother so much, she's awesome. She's the foundation of this family, man, and we've watched these little guys growing up so good. They're such good-spirited little boys. My favorite part of it is getting to live out my dream and what I do in life, and writing music and performing. I'm blessed to have fans. I get to be a family guy, and that's taking the place of so many things in my life that were impeding me from living at my best potential.

MR: Many performers find it hard to balance parenthood with their careers.

BB: You truly have to become selfless as a parent. I think that's probably the first thing that you have to do be a good parent, total submission to selflessness. Just raising them up...they're more important than any kind of things to hang on the wall or accolades or trophies. You know how it makes us feel good when we get a pat on the back? I tell you, the biggest pat on the back is I get to see these little boys growing, smiling, living with respect. I love it.

MR: In "Different Shades Of Blue," your line about mistaking a neon bar sign as a light of hope is quite touching. This song seems to be about someone coming from a place of challenge.

BB: You hit the nail on the head. You can see the video in your head, that's really cool that you caught on to that. I wrote "Different Shades Of Blue" with a friend of mine named Greg Barnhill. I think as writers we delve into...well, it's almost like therapy. It truly is. You're kind of your own therapist, and you're delving into the things that really scarred you. You know, I've used this phrase a few times especially after what we're going through this year with the flooding in our beautiful city of Nashville: Taking tragedy and creating triumph. That's really what you're doing. You're trying to write a song that is about experience, that's what makes it genuine, yet that is identifiable by everyone. They go, "I felt that. They wrote that song about me, and that one relationship with this person." That's where, I think, the craft of songwriting comes in. I truly do, man.

MR: On 3, you cover a lot of genres including country, southern rock, and blues rock. You've also got potential country hits. The mix doesn't seem strategic, more like just "Bo Bice."

BB: There's never one day that we sat down and we said, "Okay, let's try and write something. We're going to get it on rock radio or country radio." For me, I think, it's just where the music's going. When you have all these different pieces of what Bo Bice is, I think it makes it a lot more intense for the listener. It's like giving them a concept album without their being a concept. Or maybe the concept is just letting the artist be what they love to be. I'm really happy with it man. I'm excited. And we were able to hook-up songs like "Long Road Back" with iTunes for flood relief. We're going to donate proceeds to Second Harvest, The Red Cross, and The Salvation Army. It's really cool, man. We're able to do some good with this album, enjoy it, and also get to play the music we love.

MR: "Wild Roses" is a ballad reminiscent of The Band. Were you influenced by them?

BB: Oh man, you better believe it! Every bit of the music I play is a tribute to the people that came before me. I'm not like embarrassed to talk about my influences or anything like that. The Band, Leon Russell? I'm a big fan. I think you also get the Charlie Daniels influence in what I do...The Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, The Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, Faces, James Gang, all the stuff I've listened to. I've listened to all kinds of music, from country to rock to classical music. I love classical music. So, I just I'm a lover of the craft. I think it shines through in a lot of this music. Just trying to accentuate my music with the influences I've had.

MR: What do you think is the major way that you've have changed since the days of American Idol?

BB: I think I have a different perspective, you know? My kids came into the picture, I became a husband. I take being a husband and a dad seriously. You're never going to find Bo Bice cheating on his wife, that's not the stuff that happens. I'm in a pact with my wife to raise these boys up right and to teach them how to respect people. That's a part of being a man, honoring your morals. It doesn't mean I'm perfect. I fall. But I try to be a great example for folks, and live by that example. You know, I stub my toe, I cuss too. I have bad days. But I live for providing for my family, and I try to do that in a way that shines a light, to where people support us, and support our music because of what we stand for.

MR: What is your advice to kids who want to record and perform?

BB: Well, I always tell them just practice hard. That's one of my dreams, to someday try and open up like a school of rock, to help these kids out because music is a beautiful, beautiful art form with so many different outlets like dancing, writing, painting, and so many other things. I think they need encouragement to get involved with all of those things...do all of those things in school, work hard in school, and know that you're working towards something. Work real hard, and if you ever get the opportunity to go on American Idol and you do well, the very next day after you leave that show begins a lot of hard work. So, just stay on top of your game and always treat people well. That's the best piece of advice I can give anybody. Treat people like you want to be treated. Don't ever expect it back. See you out on the road!

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A Conversation With Widespread Panic's John Bell

Mike Ragogna: Next year is going to be your twenty-fifth anniversary, right?

John Bell: Yeah, that's pretty startling.

MR: What's the secret of longevity?

JB: We exercise every day and eat right and think pure thoughts.

MR: Does your music do the same?

JB: You know, I think the music really covers any and all territory that pops up in our little imaginations.

MR: Especially blues-rock and southern rock with jazz influences. But there's a lot more going on with your new album, Dirty Side Down, and one of my favorite is "Saint Ex" that you must explain because the topic is pretty different.

JB: It's got a couple of elements in there, but it's about the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who was the author of The Little Prince. There's really heavy stuff too, like a collection of his letters from World War II where he was almost prophetic with his thinking about humanity in general.

What triggered the song was my dad read a New York Times article. His death had been somewhat of a mystery, he was an aviator who was on a reconnaissance mission in 1944, I think, and they never found his plane until like 2003, something like that. They even found some of his identification and stuff. This 91-year old, ex-Luftwaffe pilot recognized the story, put the times and dates together, and said he'd been on a reconnaissance mission in the same air space. He just kind of happened upon Saint Ex and shot him down totally by surprise. And it wasn't a combat mission for either of them. But here was the kicker. Saint Ex was a lot older--he was in his forties when he was in the air force, and this guy was of regular young combat age. Turns out that Saint Ex was one of his favorite authors. He had said that if he'd known that he was flying in a French aircraft, he would have let it be and not shot him down.

MR: Oh my God, that's like the most horrible story I've ever heard.

JB: Yeah, really twisted. This author shaped a lot of our childhood ideas, fantasies, philosophies, and "The Little Prince"--even though it's a kid's book--it's got some really heavy undertones in there of basic life philosophies and more.

MR: What a nice tribute.

JB: Yeah, so that was that. That kind of triggered it. My wife had also, when we first met? That was one of our mutually favorite books. And she casually mentioned that she always thought "The Little Prince" would be a cool subject matter for a song. So, twenty years later, when my dad hits me with this article, I started doing a little research and a lot of reading to kind of just get a feel of where how I interpreted Saint Ex's head was at. Then I tried to put it in a song form.

MR: And your take on that story relates it to current events.

JB: Here we are, it's war time too, you know? You read back on some of that stuff and the issues don't really change, just the names and the places and some of the core issues that remain are different. Some of the heaviness of war that comes into your life and your families lives, those things haven't changed too much over the years.

MR: What is your view about our current wars? Do you feel like anything's moving forward?

JB: To me, I don't really apply my thoughts or impressions based on a political viewpoint. I would classify myself as a kind of gentle pacifist guy. I'd love to find some other ways to solve our world problems other than getting down and knocking souls off. The issues are more complicated than that. I mean, wars have been happening since the beginning of time. You almost want to take the idea of good and bad out of it, and just try to get back into remembering that the relationship that you have on a human level might even extend to a social once you get to really know your "enemy" and hopefully work around things. You know, we tried, there are peace talks and things like this. There was the Geneva Convention which always blew me away when I was a kid, that people could sit down and make up rules for a war when the bottom line was you're killing each other. It blew me away too, that all of a sudden, well, there's no shooting today because it's Christmas! If we could do that, why can't we kind of take it to the next step?

MR: You were friends with Vic Chesnutt, and you recorded his "This Cruel Thing" for your album. I had the privilege of interviewing him for HuffPost a few weeks before he died. In it he said, "Yeah I tried suicide. I'm just not very good at it." I loved his interview, and I'll always kick myself for not taking him up on carrying on a friendship past the interview. Anyway, at the time, he had such strength regarding his health issues that his eventual suicide really was a shock. Now, you guys were very tight. What are your thoughts about Vic and what happened?

JB: We were all pretty...you're always shocked when you lose someone way before the usual human expiration date. But then again, we've known about Vic's antics for three years. It was like, well, it wasn't a total surprise. That being said, you just start thinking about Vic, the way he was, and how he conducted himself in life. He was really funny, really cynical, very opinionated. If something didn't feel right to him, he was the first one to call it BS. He did it in conversation, and he did it in his music of which he was extremely prolific. We were going in the studio about a week after Christmas when Vic passed away, so naturally, we started kicking around the idea of doing a Vic song because it kind of completes the set with our other songwriting friends. Also because it's another way to kind of go through the process of digesting what had just occurred with losing a friend.

MR: It's horrible you had to go through that as well.

JB: You know we had to do it when Mikey (Houser) passed away too. Actually it was pretty rough. We've lost a bunch of folks. So, this was a way to stay in the task at hand which was putting an album together and still get to process Vic's passing. Invariably, we were processing other friends who had recently passed too. So what happened at that point was John, our producer, who was part of the conversation, had a couple of songs that Vic had done demos on that had not gone on any of his previous albums. So, he shared those with us. That's when this cool thing popped in which was very Vic and very spooky; it talks about death and also uses, again, war as a metaphor for you know, internal struggles as well.

MR: The song title "Shut Up and Dance," especially how you use it as a song lyric, is a great line, something we sometimes all want to say. The track's melodic breakdown is totally unexpected, it's like taking pit stop during the road trip. In general, are your arrangements spontaneous, group efforts?

JB: Yeah, it's done spontaneously but thoughtfully. But everybody's at the gate ready to experience their own personal inspiration and to share it. Then there's all that action, reaction kind of thing that goes on among the rest of the members of the band.

MR: That's probably how you stayed together for twenty-five years.

JR: Yeah, you know the process itself is fun. It's always new because you're not just relying on your head. You're getting constantly surprised by other ideas that come across which, in turn, start triggering other ideas and notions in your head that are a surprise to you. It's like, "Hi head, no idea my subconscious was holding that one around for something like that."

MR: Maybe that's also the result of your playing live together for so long.

JB: Yeah, we do a lot of thinking on our feet, a lot of playing on our feet. There's a huge improvisational aspect to our stage performance. That freedom of going on a little adventure still takes place when you're putting a studio album together, mostly in the sense that you'll follow an inspiration. By the time you're putting it down on the record, you've collectively decided what the blueprint of that song is going to be, and basically, how you're going to approach it. But that feeling of adventure is still there. Something crazy like that or eastern sounding (makes sound)...that sound in the middle of that song was like..."Where the hell did that come from?" Then it starts lending itself to other imagery, more like a desert scene or something like that.

MR: What is your advice for new bands?

JB: Well, there are a few aspects to being a band. One of them is kind of the social, friendship aspect which, if you're involved in a collaborative environment, it's good to work in that realm of forgiveness and trusting the other guy's inspirations and to be willing to do a lot of give and take. That helps build a song way beyond where you might take it all on your own. When the social part comes in, it's like keep checking yourself for your own amount of BS that you're adding to the mix. It's like I remember an English course I had where the professor had us keep a daily journal, which we were supposed to turn in at the end of the term. So you go back to the thing and you start reading what you're writing, and you could see, "Hey, I was really writing spontaneously and I was off in a creative receptive mode." And then other times you'd say, "Oh look, this is pretty much full. I'm not just trying to write to impress someone who's going to be reading it, namely the teacher." So that's what I have to say about songwriting.

PRESS RELEASES:

TRUTH & SALVAGE COMPANY SINGER ARRESTED AND JAILED FOR TRESPASSING...IN HIS OWN HOTEL ROOM?

SINGER RECIEVES MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR INJURIES SUFFERED DURING ARREST

SINGER FILES A CLAIM WITH CITY OF VISALIA

Tim Jones, one of the four singers/songwriters of the musical group Truth & Salvage Company, was shaken awake and ripped out of bed at the Marriott Hotel by Visalia Police while asleep in his hotel room. Jones was subsequently handcuffed, taken to jail and cited for trespassing and resisting arrest in his own hotel room.

Truth & Salvage Co. toured with The Black Crowes throughout 2009 and is currently on tour in support of their debut album scheduled for release May 25, 2010. While on a recent road trip to Visalia, California, the band finished their show at the Cellar Door and returned to the Marriott Hotel in Visalia at approximately 1 AM. Two Visalia Police officers and a Marriott security guard entered Jones' room about an hour later and arrested Jones. According to sources close to the band, the Visalia Police officers unsuccessfully attempted to awake and arrest Walker Young, another Truth and Salvage singer who was sharing the room with Jones.

Instead of spending the night in his hotel room, Tim Jones spent the night in a Visalia jail cell. He was finally released at noon the following day.

Jones was set to be arraigned in the Tulare County Superior Court on March 9, 2010. Legal representatives of the band arrived at the courthouse to answer for Jones, only to find that the District Attorney's office had not filed any charges against Jones at the time of the arraignment. To date, the Visalia Police have refused to release the police incident report to the Jordan Law Group; the Truth and Salvage legal team.

A source close to the band said, "It's an abuse of authority for police and hotel security to enter a person's hotel room without a warrant, wake them out of a sound sleep, cite them for trespassing and then haul them off to spend the night in jail."

Jones did not have any outstanding warrants; he wasn't suspected of, nor accused of, any crime prior to being violated by the Visalia Police and Marriott Security. He subsequently received medical treatment for injuries suffered during the arrest. Jones and his fellow band members, intend to aggressively pursue their legal rights.

Jones recently filed a claim for damages with the City of Visalia.