“You got yourself a gooood Daddy, son!” declared Bill Monroe (the man who invented bluegrass music and gave it a name) when he met 7-year-old Aaron “Woody” Wood in August of 1980.
Woody’s father, A.L. Wood, is an award-winning banjo player who frequently traveled throughout the Southeast as an opening act for the late Monroe.
“I’ll never forget that day, because I finally got to meet Bill Monroe. He was my hero. All I ever heard growing up was Bill Monroe, Bill Monroe, Bill Monroe,” says the local guitarist. The man behind that mantra inspired a lifelong passion when he let young Woody accompany him on a pint-sized banjo in front of the packed-house audience.
“I just climbed on up there and stood right between Bill Monroe and my Daddy,” he recalls. “I wasn’t really playing; I really didn’t know how to play yet, so I was just pretending to play. But it was in front of all these people, and they clapped and cheered and everything. It was awesome. I thought, ‘Yeah, this is cool!’ And I got done and all these people were coming up and saying, ‘That sure was good!’ and laying on all the accolades … I was just a -year-old kid, so they were really laying it on thick.
“That’s all I needed to get started,” he concludes.
But in fact, the local musician’s lifelong relationship with music began long before his seventh year.
“I grew up in a musical family,” he explains. “My older brothers played music and my dad had a music shop, and he’d have a jam session every Thursday and he’d put a speaker outside, so people driving down the road could hear it. Bill Monroe would come by sometimes and play.”
But Woody — who was eventually interviewed by Acoustic Guitar magazine in 1998 because the editors were so impressed with his style — left home as a teenager to go electric.
“The first time I heard Hendrix, it changed my life. Then one day I was riding in a car and I had this epiphany that life was passing me by and I had to do something. I ended up in this biker band, playing rock ‘n’ roll and blues in biker bars and at motorcycle rallies.” Woody refers to that phase as a rebellion against his bluegrass background.
“I’ve read lots of things about Jimi Hendrix. He was into all sorts of music. He used to listen to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Most people wouldn’t believe that, but it’s true. And most people don’t understand about bluegrass music, either. They don’t know that Bill Monroe used to hang out with black blues fiddle-players. That’s where he came up with so much of his stuff when he created bluegrass — he learned it from black musicians. He brought these two things together that belonged together but had been kept apart, and he made something new.
“Musically, it’s sometimes like two cousins who have so much in common, but their parents try to keep them apart for whatever reason — racism, classism, sexism, whatever it is. But they are meant to be together, to share what they have in common instead of being separated by their differences,” he continues. “Every once in a great while, someone like Hank Williams or Bill Monroe will come along and reclaim music[al styles] that [are] meant to be together but [have] been kept apart because of petty reasons, and they will create something new that will be remembered long after the critics are dead and gone and forgotten.”
The guitarist believes that people are meant to celebrate their common ground in a melodious way. “People are basically musical notes,” he ventures. “We have the experience of meeting someone and thinking, ‘I don’t like this person.’ But where we make a mistake is not taking the time to figure out the connecting notes, to make it into a harmony, or a full chord, instead of a dissonant sound. All life should be harmonious.”
And though Woody no longer feels the need to rebel against bluegrass to establish his own identity, his passion is still rock ‘n’ roll. His debut solo CD is in the works (past projects have included a recording with local mandolinist Jason Krekel as the Sufi Brothers, and several albums with the Blue Rags). At an upcoming show at the Grey Eagle, he’ll be joined by his newest band, Hollywood Red, a collaboration of some of the region’s most well-rounded and versatile musicians, including Tyler Ramsey (guitar, piano, vocals) and bassist Bill Reynolds.
“Bill’s out of town right now, but I was able to get Paul Leach for this show. He’s an awesome bass player who plays for the band County Farm. And Mike Rhodes agreed to play too. He’s a world-class drummer, one of the best in existence. We played together for years in the Blue Rags. It’s gonna be a killer show, and a whole lot of fun. … The original stuff I’ll be playing is basically rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “But anyone who’s ever heard me play knows that I don’t stick to just one kind of music; I play a variety of different songs at every show.”
Woody’s songwriting, composition, lead vocals and guitar style reflect a lifetime of natural, authentic development and exposure to extraordinary musicianship. Elements of bluegrass, Piedmont blues, Delta blues and old-time mountain music are all apparent in his guitar picking. But he can suddenly come head-on with a chord progression from Southern rock or improvise a streetwise solo reminiscent of inner-city Chicago blues.
“I play music with my heart more than my hands,” he reveals.