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True To My Nature: Daniel Hutchens Talks About Songwriting with Widespread Panic

True To My Nature: Daniel Hutchens Talks About Songwriting with Widespread Panic
By James Calemine

Widespread Panic always promoted the music of Daniel Hutchens and Bloodkin. Over the years they’ve rendered nearly a dozen Bloodkin songs in the studio and live shows. Hutchens co-wrote a new song called “True To My Nature” on Panic’s upcoming album due out on May 25, called Dirty Side Down. Panic covers Hutchens/Bloodkin music as much as any other artist in their vast catalogue of tunes.
 

Since Panic’s new record comes out on a few days, I thought I’d get my old amigo Danny Hutchens to elaborate on his long songwriting history with the mighty Widespread Panic. A few days ago, we spoke about his songwriting history with his old friends in this Swampland interview.

James Calemine: When did you first meet any of the members of Widespread Panic?

Daniel Hutchens: Eric and I moved to Athens in 1986. I think it was 1987 when we started hanging out with some people who were mutual friends with Panic. We would go see them sometimes when they were playing at the old Uptown Lounge when there were like 20 people coming to see them. When it really kind of clicked in and developed as a friendship was in 1987 when Eric and I moved into the place on North Avenue here in Athens. You remember Kerry Fulford—I was going out with her at the time. She lived in that house previously. It was a party house. They were always throwing band parties there. When we moved in we kept throwing parties. On time, there was this all day party with bands who played. I remember their manager Sam Lanier was pissed because it was at the time they were beginning to take off and make some money and get professional. This was like a house party they were playing for free in the backyard.

JC: I’m sure that was the last time that happened…

DH: As far as I know that was the last time they played something like that for free or fun at somebody’s house because Sam raised hell about it. But that night they played early in the evening. I remember I was in my room later that night and Mikey (Houser) and Todd came in my room and started digging through my notebooks. They asked me to play some of my songs for them. I always remember thinking, ‘These guys are crazy as Eric and I are. They’re pretty cool.’ We cemented the friendship that night, and that was probably the first time they heard a lot of our songs or vice versa. I remember watching them play in the backyard on the back steps right beside Todd and just tuning in on his drumming and realizing how good those guys were. That’s when it started…

JC: Talk about how things progressed…then Panic recorded “Makes Sense to Me” on Mom’s Kitchen, their first record on Capricorn in 1991.

DH: Panic initiated that—they were already in the studio working on that record and for whatever reason they liked that song. They called me and asked if it was cool if they recorded the song, and I said hell yes it’s cool. That was their idea.

JC: That introduced your music to the folks at Capricorn.

DH: Oh yeah, Phil Walden and Johnny Sandlin never heard of Bloodkin until that song. It was Panic’s idea to do that song—I don’t know why they picked that song, but it was cool.

JC: Elaborate on Phil Walden’s idea for you to write songs with Jerry Joseph…

DH: At that time—once again, The Panic guys were the one’s who were being our champions—they were fans of Bloodkin and Jerry Joseph. Panic recorded “Makes Sense to Me” on that first Capricorn record of ours and Jerry Joseph and Phil came up with the idea to have Jerry and I to write some songs together to see what would happen. Phil kicked around several ideas at the time—one of which was when I went to the Capricorn offices when they were in Nashville to have meetings. One time Phil proposed to me: ‘How would you like to go out on the road with Widespread Panic to hang out with them and write songs with them?’ It was a vague proposal. I remember saying to him, ‘Have you proposed this to Panic?’ He was like, ‘No, I haven’t talked to them about it.’ It kind of felt weird—he would just come up with ideas, but what did happen was Phil flew me to Portland, Oregon, where Jerry Joseph lives and I went out there for a couple of weeks. It was the first time I met Jerry. We wrote several songs together. Nothing ever came of that with Capricorn specifically, but it was a cool thing for me because I got to meet Jerry and we wrote some songs that I still like. It was just an idea that Phil Walden came up with and he bought the plane ticket so I had nothing to lose.

JC: On Panic’s next Capricorn record—Everyday—they recorded another song of yours “Henry Parsons Died”. I remember you and Eric going to Alabama to record…

DH: Once again, that was Panic’s pick. Honestly, I don’t remember if I ever knew how they picked these particular songs meaning if they’d seen us play the songs live, or they had some kind of bootleg or something. They were recording Everyday in Muscle Shoals and we spent a couple of days there. Then a little later we recorded our first album at Johnny Sandlin’s studio in Decatur, Alabama.

JC: Then on Panic’s next album Ain’t Life Grand they recorded “Can’t Get High”. I remember Todd showing us--at the old Panic offices--the video Panic shot for that song. Elucidate on how that tune almost made it in the MTV rotation…
 
DH: Well, at the time MTV was still the big thing. There was some kind of arrangement with the record company and MTV to have this meeting about playing the video “Can’t Get High”. Turns out the guy from the record company never showed up to give MTV the video. It’s one of those weird music business things we’ve become accustomed to after all these years. But that song went to #27 on the AOR charts without the video. I don’t know about now, but that was Panic’s highest radio charting song at that point.

JC: Now, not only did Panic cover those songs of yours on albums, but they also play “End of the Show”, “Quarter Tank of Gasoline”, “Rotgut”, “Success Yourself”, “Wet Trombone Blues” and “Who Do You Belong To?” in the live repertory…

DH: Yeah, some they play more than others…

JC: So, after these last New Year’s shows they met back in John Keane’s studio to cut Dirty Side Down. Talk about how a song you co-wrote—“True To My Nature”--ended up on Dirty Side Down.

DH: How it started was basically with The Romper Stompers project, which is Todd Nance, Williams Tonks, Jon Mills and I. So, we started this project to make a children’s album, which we’re writing songs together and coming up with stuff. Then during that Panic was preparing to go back in the studio for this new record. Todd just kind of ran it by me—‘Let’s write something together and I’ll take it to the guys and they can add their parts to it’. That’s what happened. The funny story about that whole thing, like the one liner—one day Todd called me and he’s like ‘Danny I got this song I want you to help me finish. The thing is, it doesn’t have any lyrics or music (laughs).

He had the title, which was “True to My Nature” and an idea. It came from this conversation he and I were having a couple of weeks before that about how both of our wives love skiing and going to Colorado. When Todd and I go out there it’s very pretty, everybody’s happy and having a good time skiing—eventually he and I get bored. We want to play some rock and roll or something. He had the approach to the song and I came up with some stuff, put it on disc and he gave it to the band and they added some stuff to it. We co-wrote the song. It’s listed as Daniel Hutchens/Widespread Panic. That’s how it came about—it originated with The Romper Stompers. I love it. I think this record sounds great.

JC: It retains that John Keane, old Athens sound…

DH: It does. I think it’s cool how they’ve come full circle with John Keane. The new record definitely has a vibe to it…

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