Part of what makes this world so tragically beautiful is the simple fact that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And when we realize this to be true and embrace it as inspiration, all of the limits we have set on ourselves begin to slip away. After the 2002 passing of forty-year-old Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser, Sam Holt, Houser’s guitar tech, experienced this moment of clarity as he realized the critical need to make the most of his time. “There were many times he [Houser] told me, ‘I want you to go do your own thing. You need to quit teching and go play music,’ says Holt.
“And [after he died] that really hit home for me.” It was Houser’s death that served as the catalyst for Sam Holt to dedicate himself to Outformation.
Although it’s clear his more-than-seven-year tenure with Widespread Panic has been instrumental in Holt forming and pursing Outformation, the story really begins with Holt’s old friend, bass player and singer Grady Upchurch. “Grady and I go way back and we share a lot of history,” explains Holt, “and to be able to make music with someone and connect like that and then also have that shared background is pretty special.”
Holt and Upchurch grew up playing in various bands around their hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which eventually led them to New Orleans drummer/vocalist Lee Schwartz.
With shared influences ranging from Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings and Drive-By Truckers all the way to Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, the trio began to build a reputation for quality songs and powerful performances. After gaining considerable recognition in the South, Outformation began to get offers outside their region and set out across the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 2004. The journey to Colorado not only marked the point Holt considers the true birth of the band, it would also lead them to keyboardist CR Gruver (originally of Colorado-based rock band Polytoxic), percussionist Jeff “Birddog” Lane, and eventually second guitarist Clarke Keown.
Just one year after gathering all the necessary pieces to the Outformation puzzle, 2005 would find the band breaking into the public eye. In May 2005, they released their remarkable debut record, Tennessee Before Daylight, and in June, tucked between four national tours, Outformation would play two days at arguably the most important festival in America – Bonnaroo.
In response to Outformation’s auspicious entrance to the music world, the rising stars were named “Best New Band” of 2005 in Honest Tune Magazine’s reader’s poll, and Tennessee Before Daylight was nominated for “Best Album” by the editorial staff of the same publication. But it’s not just readers and writers of Honest Tune who have taken notice, with club dates selling out across the country it appears that fans of blue-collar, hard-nosed rock & roll are taking notice everywhere. When talking to producer/keyboardist Jojo Hermann, about Outformation’s rapid success he is quick to reference the dynamic six-string skills of Sam Holt. “Sam’s got that hypnotic thing,” says Hermann. “He kinda gets into that trance when he plays, and all my favorite guitar players have that ability to somewhat become hypnotized themselves. Mikey [Houser] and Junior Kimbrough – there was a hypnotic thing, and I think Sam has that. It’s a big part of what drew me to him.”
Regardless of whether Holt developed his confident, “hypnotic” style by touring with Outformation, learning at the foot of Michael Houser, sitting in numerous times with Widespread Panic, or by simply tapping into the music in his head, it’s a driving factor to the Outformation sound. Having already played for packed stadiums with tens of thousands of screaming fans, Holt is ready to lead Outformation to the masses.
Armed with an arsenal of story-based, workingman songs, ever-increasing moments of magic on stage, and growing pockets of fans across the country, Outformation is clearly on the move. “We’re to the point where we’re ready,” says Holt. “I’m looking forward to getting in front of bigger audiences and pushing it… just give it to ’em, just go crazy. I’m looking forward to the ride, and I hope it’s a ride we can stay on for a while.”
Listening to Holt speak of the future, you can hear the excitement in his voice. “I definitely feel it… I see something; I’m on my tiptoes looking at something, can’t quite make it out, but something’s out there.” Although Holt may not quite be able to see it, what he’s looking at is the sound of Outformation making it. With Holt, Upchurch, Keown, Schwartz and Lane all dedicated to the cause, Outformation is a band on the brink of something big.
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