The sounds of jangly guitars coupled with introspective, sometimes sad yet clever lyrics are attracting people who are more than happy to sing along of England’s most beloved and sometimes loathed crooners.
Panic, Dallas’s Smiths and Morrissey tribute band, has given fans what they want time and time again for the last two years. Josh Venable, former Dallas KDGE 102.1 DJ and long-time host of the Edge’s former Adventure Club show, channels Morrissey both in voice and stage presence. The 40-year-old dons a wig that depicts the best of Morrissey’s upswept hair and keeps flowers in his back jean pocket like his hero. He is backed by Glen Reynolds of Chomsky and Starr Blazerz on guitar; James Henderson of Baboon and Sunday Actors, also on guitar, and keyboards; Matt Kellum of Chomsky on drums; and Daniel Reid of Long Sword Spectacular on bass.
Venable started the band in the summer of 2012 with Reynolds, Reid, Kellum, and Baboon guitarist Mike Rudnicki. “We wanted to start this because The Smiths are one of my favorite bands. They’re one of Daniel’s favorite bands, and they are the greatest band of all time,” Venable said. “We wanted to do something that is important to us and that is important to other people. The Smiths are never going to get back together. Morrissey, if he doesn’t cancel, might play Dallas or might not, but the Smiths are never going to reform.”
He and Reid started Panic after playing together in the Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band cover band Nightmare on E-Street in 2007-2010. The band featured Venable as The Boss, Reid on drums, and musicians from an array of Dallas bands. That band played less frequently than Panic now does as Venable lived in Los Angeles at the time.
After Venable moved back to Big D, he was able to devote more time to starting a tribute band featuring his favorite lifelong music idol, Morrissey. “No one wants to see a Dave Matthews’s tribute band. That band has never saved anyone’s life. Who wants to go see a Wang Chung or a Linkin Park tribute band? No one really cares,” Venable explained. “The Smiths, The Cure- these bands have saved peoples’ lives. Whether it’s us five up there singing them, or five other people, it makes no difference because it’s important to people. They are the most important band, maybe of all time, because they save lives,” Venable said.
The Smiths music helped make being a shy teenager and dealing with life’s woes a little more bearable for Venable. “They saved my life when I was in high school. I think I lived a very John Hughes sort of life growing up as a kid. I was depressed, just like a lot of other people are who love The Smiths. Those records and those songs are some of the most important things in my life, and have been since I was 14. I can’t imagine my life without these songs,” Venable said.
One of the pivotal albums by The Smiths which left a lasting impression on Venable was “Strangeways, Here We Come.” “It absolutely changed my life. It opened my eyes to something that I had not been privy to up until this point because I had been listening to Warrant and Bon Jovi up until that point. Then you listen to The Smiths, and you go, ‘OK. I understand why life is important,” Venable said.
Putting the pieces together for the perfect fit
Rudnicki eventually left the band due to of lack of time as he was played in two other bands. “We recruited Mike Rudnicki. He came to us one day and said that Baboon was getting back into the swing of things, and he said that we weren’t going to be available anymore.”
Henderson stepped in to fill his shoes in December, 2013, and the current line-up has remained the same. Reynolds joined after he learned via Facebook that Venable started a Smiths tribute band, and he contacted Venable to join the band. “I asked him how could he do this band without me and he said, ‘Ah, that’s a good question’,” Reynolds said.
Reid said that he’s always surprised at how many people show up to the Panic shows. “Me, coming from a metal band, we’re lucky if our friends show up to the shows. It’s always nice to have a built-in audience.”
“It’s like the Springsteen thing was such a drunken mess. It was fun, but with getting James, Glen, and Matt on board, we finally realized that we could be good,” Reid added. “The thing is that everybody knows how to do their homework. When we get to practice and if we have a new song, and maybe after two runs though, we got it because everybody knew their part.”
Venable, Kellum, Reid, and Reynolds unanimously decided that they really wanted Henderson to be in Panic. Luckily, the very talented guitarist was more than happy to oblige. “James was at one of our shows at the Double Wide, and I think that he was having a really bad day or something. He came up to Glen and said, ‘How do I get out of this mood?’ Glen said, ‘You should join our band’, and that was that,” Venable said.
James, who works as a professional musician full-time, masters the task of mimicking Johnny Marr’s incredible handy work, which is not an easy feat for most guitarists. “James has been amazing to play with. I can’t say enough good things about the four people that I play with because all four of them are good, and they make me look infinitely better by being as good as they are,” Venable said.
“Matt is like a machine. It’s amazing to watch him play.” They brought in a second guitarist to help with the guitar parts.
“Daniel is fantastic as a bass player. Matt is a fantastic as a drummer. Glen and James are perfect. Like Daniel said, we actually can do things and go, ‘Hey we should do this song’ and no one says, ‘Oh, that’s impossible to do because it’s too hard. There are too many parts.’ We can do these songs because of the people that we’ve assembled, and I can’t say enough good things about that.”
Panic chooses 20 songs to perform at each show, which they play every three to four months, with the majority of them being Smiths songs. Those include “How Soon Is Now?” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. They’re always throwing in a new song. One of those that Reid hopes that Panic will perform is The Smiths song “Barbarism Begins at Home” and the Morrissey song “Let The Right One Slip In,” as the song is “fucking rad”, Reid said. He enjoys playing “Shoplifters of the World” and “Girlfriend In A Coma” on stage, which is one of his favorite Smiths songs, and was the first Smiths song that he ever heard.
Venable would also like to see Panic perform “Let The Right One Slip In” and Mozzer’s “Angel, Angel As We Go Down Together”. One of his favorite Morrissey songs is “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, which Panic performs at every show. His two favorite Smiths songs are “I Know It’s Over”, and to perform is “I Want The One I That I Can’t Have” . He would like to see Panic perform the musically difficult “A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours.”
Venable, who is now the program director and an on air personality at Z104.5 FM The Edge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, drives more than four hours to Dallas to perform with Panic and even to its practices. Panic has placed twice with the Dallas Cure tribute band, Le Cure at the Granada. Panic also played with the Dallas band ISHI, who performed as a Depeche Mode tribute band, and the Gorehounds, The Cramps tribute band, for Halloween, 2013 at the Dallas House of Blues. Panic also opened up for Blue October at Stubb’s in Austin to a sold out crowd of 2,200 people, which Venable is very grateful that he and his band mates were asked to attend.
Carrying the torch across state lines
On October 24 Panic will prove that the light never goes out for The Smiths and Morrissey fans as the group will perform at The Vanguard in Tulsa on October 24. Panic will perform along with The Danner Party, a Velvet Underground tribute band, and an Oklahoma based Cure tribute band. This will be the second time that Panic has played in Tulsa. Unlike Morrissey, Panic actually plans to attend the Oct. 24th show rather than canceling it at last minute.
To learn about upcoming Panic shows, visit the group’s Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/#!/panicindallas . Venable said that they’ve received requests to play weddings, and the band would love to play a civil union. Check our their version of “The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I5xoQxIR5A .
To book a show, contact Venable at email@example.com
He doesn’t mind driving four hours to dress up as Morrissey and sing his favorite songs for people in the least, he said. “I get to play the songs that changed my life, and that is the most important thing in the world to me,” Venable said.
Playing the music that has left a lasting impact on him, and then sharing that with fellow fans is also why he got so much joy out of hosting and planning the Adventure Club for 18 years at The Edge in Dallas.
“That’s why I did the Adventure Club, as it wasn’t about me ever. It was always about making other people happy. You know, having people write to me saying that they found a box of cassettes labeled the Adventure Club from 1994-2000, that stirs something in me that I cannot begin to put into words,” Venable took over for Alex Luke, who started the show in the early 1990s. “It’s so important to me. I loved doing that show, and listening to Alex Luke made me happy. I love doing this. It makes people happy, and that’s all I care about. That’s my whole goal in life and has been for years.”
He and his band mates are succeeding in that regard per proof of the bouncing heads, swaying bodies, and smiling faces of people who continue to drive from near and far to sing their life, per se, and help celebrate one of the most influential and time honored bands of the 1980s, and its song-writer, Morrissey.