Today, luscious-locked Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools turns 55 years old. Schools’ sound and approach to the bass guitar defy the conventional role of his instrument in rock bands. With Panic, Schools plays a six-string Modulus Quantum bass that affords him a wide range of notes that are even further enhanced by an envelope filter and octave pedal. Schools’ playing goes beyond the established rhythm role of the bass and embodies a more melodic, improvisational style that has been referred to on many occasions as “lead bass.”
Schools’ unique style was influenced by his experience cutting his teeth playing music not on the bass, but on the drums and piano. As he explained in an interview with Swampland,
“I was an only child and I really loved listening to records. I got a better stereo and I listened to a lot of those. I loved the drums. How could I not? [The Who‘s] ‘Pinball Wizard’ was my favorite song and the Sly Stone stuff. So I guess the first instrument they bought me was a little paper drum kit that had “The Who” on the bass drum. Even though I probably didn’t know it at the time that Keith Moon was known for destroying his drum kit—I pulled a Keith Moon on my drum kit because I couldn’t play! Then piano lessons started about two or three years later…We had a stand up piano. It was a middle-class family from the 40s and everybody had a piano to sit around and play. It’s what my mom liked to do. We had a piano bench full of sheet music from the 40s, 50s and 60s.
After two years, I got really tired of [the piano]. It was a little too academic. I remember my mom loved to tell this story so on her behalf—the piano teacher told my mom I had no musical talent. So then I wanted to go back to the drums, but we lived in an apartment complex so that was out of the question. I picked the next best thing, which was the bass. It was very rhythmic—it was kind of cool. A lot of my friends at the time—I guess I was about 13—and everybody wanted to play drums and guitar. Nobody wanted to play bass and I thought maybe I could get in a band. So, I took bass lessons. The funny thing is, going back to what the piano teacher told my mom, the bass teacher I had kept saying, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the piano?’ So, I guess I was just unorthodox and was not acclimated to academics, so I just started playing along to the records I was listening to at the time, which ran the gamut from Black Sabbath and [Led] Zeppelin to Blue Oyster Cult.”
Since then, Schools has performed tirelessly, honing his craft with Panic, countless other projects like Hard Working Americans, Gov’t Mule, Mickey Hart Band, and special collaborations like his Steal Your Bass set at 2016’s LOCKN Festival with Phish bassist Mike Gordon and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. In honor of Dave Schools’ birthday, watch full videos of couple of his many fantastic performances.
First, check out a prime early-2000’s Panic show from Morrison, CO’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre on June 28th, 2002, one of the last shows before the death of founding guitarist Michael Houser:
Widespread Panic – 6/28/02 – Full Video
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 6/28/02
Set One: Let’s Get Down To Business, Pleas, Barstools and Dreamers, Little Lilly, C. Brown, Tie Your Shoes, The Waker, Contentment Blues, Imitation Leather Shoes
Set Two: Weight Of The World, Pusherman, Coconut, Doreatha*, Bayou Lena* , It Ain’t No Use**, Jam**, Drums***, Rebirtha, Low Rider , Proving Ground
Encore: Casa Del Grillo, Mr. Soul
* with George McConnell on guitar/vocals, Randall Bramblett on saxophone
** with Randall Bramblett on saxophone
*** with Cecil Daniels on drums
[‘Boris the Spider’ tease before ‘Weight Of The World’; ‘Dirty Laundry’ tease by JoJo before ‘Drums’; ‘Sparks’ and ‘5:15‘ teases by Dave after ‘Drums’; Last ‘Doreatha’ – 05/13/95, 729 shows]
Now that you’ve gotten your fix of at-home Panic Schools, take a listen to one of his many fantastic collaborations. On January 23, 2013, Schools joined Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir on his Weir Here podcast for a special duet performance. The episode also features a conversation with Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, and portions were used in Netflix’s 2014 Bob Weir documentary The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir. You can watch the full episode below (performance starts at 56:00):
Bob Weir with Dave Schools – 1/23/13
[Video: scott engstrom]
Setlist: Bob Weir w/ Dave Schools | TRI Studios | 1/23/13
Monkey And The Engineer (Bob Weir solo), K.C. Moan > Me And My Uncle, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, West L.A. Fadeaway, Most Of The Time, Dark Star > The Other One
Happy Birthday, Schools! Here’s to another grand year, and many more to come!
[Originally published 12/11/18]