East Coast guitarist Tim Woods talks about Honeyboy Edwards, John Lee Hooker, Ken Kesey and Macon scene

"I would like to see the blues continue to grow and expand. I see so many young people playing an old blues song and giving it their signature - creating variations."

Tim Woods: The Alchemist of Blues

Tim Woods has been singing and playing acoustic and electric guitar for over 25 years, and has long been a fixture on the southwestern Pennsylvania music scene. Growing up in a virtual “melting pot” of music - including having older brothers who exposed him to a wide array of styles, including jazz, blues, bluegrass and rock - Tim’s appreciation of all music took root at an early age. During his formative years, this appreciation grew into a deep love of the blues of Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Tim first began performing as a professional with improvisational rock ‘n’ roll bands – long before the “jamband” genre became as widespread and popular as it is today – playing psychedelic blues and, oftentimes, jamming with local players. When Tim turned 18, his family moved to Macon, Georgia. It was in Macon where his immersion in the legendary music scene had a profound and lasting impact on him. Throughout his career, Tim has shared the stage with many well-known musicians and has opened for music greats, such as Sonny Landreth and Donna Godcheaux (former member of the Grateful Dead). He also frequently performs alongside his very good friend Commander Cody and his band that even played at Tim’s wedding.

Photo by Haleakala Crater, Maui Hawaii

Tim was a founding member of The Mountain Jam Band that built a regional following playing blues-based jamband rock. Most recently, Tim was greatly influenced by his guitar instructor, Ernie Hawkins, an honored Pittsburgh blues musician. In June 2005, Tim had the opportunity to meet and spend an intimate musical evening with legendary delta blues artists David “Honey Boy” Edwards, Homesick James, Sam Lay and Pinetop Perkins. He was so inspired by their soul and sound that he devoted himself to recording a musical tribute to these legendary masters of the Delta blues. Tim Woods “The Blues Sessions” was recorded during a six-month studio tour of Clarksdale, Atlanta and Chicago, and features, as special guests: Allen Batts, “Honey Boy” Edwards, Michael Frank, Big Jack Johnson, Aaron Moore, John Primer, Bob Stroger, Lee Williams and “Big T” Williams. Tim’s dedication to the blues reaped great personal reward in 2012, when he was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, culminating with an all-star ceremony at the legendary Kenny’s Castaways in New York City. Finding such inspiration at every corner, Tim Woods has released his sophomore album, Human Race (2018). The album features 12 original tunes (11 by Tim and 1 by Perry Werner) and Tim’s unmistakable sound and style, but with a deeper message of love, peace and kindness to Mother Earth. 

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what does Blues offered?

I was exposed to many genres at an early age. Having older brothers and a father those played boogie woogie pianos were early influences. When I first heard Howlin Wolf, it was an experience I will never forget. That’s when the blues grabbed me. Then, I went to see Muddy Waters in concert. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had my head against the PA speaker and Muddy was looking at me laughing. I just wanted to feel the music from head to toe.

How do you describe Tim Woods sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I really try to search for the sound. I play improvisational music so a lot of times you won’t hear it played the same way twice. I love that when music in invented and reinvented.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why? 

There are too many to recall. I am blessed with a very interesting life. My days are spent interacting and playing with artists and musicians. My most interesting period however, is when I first started to play the guitar at age 15. I knew that upon picking that guitar up, I was destined to play it for the rest of my life.

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

So many of the old blues musicians have experienced much hardship and pain.  In a similar vein, it has been the same for me. For this reason, the blues are the foundation of my music and continue to carry my music into the future.

"The blues, once played only in the deep south is now heard and experienced globally. Politically, there will always be artists writing and singing about the times we live in.  politics are a part of that. Personally, in my life, I have witnessed more young people returning to the grass roots of music. I applaud and love that!"

How do you describe "Human Race" songbook and sound? Are there any memories from studio which you’d like to share?

In the early stages of developing “human race” album, there was a lot going through my mind.  Love, kindness to each other and my deep concern for the future of our planet and humans becoming good stewards of our earth. I had great memories in the studio with Bobby Lee Rodgers. He is a great producer, a multi-instrumentalist and engineer who is incredible to work with.

Why did you think that the legendary Macon music scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

Well, there were a lot of great bands that came out of Macon, Georgia that recorded on Capricorn records. When I lived there as a teenager, I worked in a nite club that showcased many of these great players. That style of music that comes out of the south seems to reawaken generations of new listeners.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER? 

Being a good listener. I always go to see live music which always inspires me. I like to study the origins and history of the blues. There is so much to discover.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Honey boy Edwards, Bobby Lee Rodgers, Aaron Moore, Michael Packer, Big Jack Johnson, to name a few. The best advice I have gotten was to play from your heart and be yourself.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss that deep, authentic raw sound that the early recordings captured. My hope is that the history of music can be preserved and easily accessible to future listeners. My fear is that the blues will become pushed away and lost.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to see all musicians get more opportunities to be heard.

Photo by Haleakala Crater, Maui Hawaii

What has made you laugh and touched (emotionally) from Homesick James, Sam Lay and Pinetop Perkins?

In 2005, in Chicago, I was excited to see Homesick James perform at 95 years of age!  While taking a photo, this guy standing next to me said “no grass growing under his feet” I laughed out loud.  Sam Lay, I am a big fan of and love his work with Siegal Schwall. Pinetop Perkins- another class act and a big influence.  One time when I saw Pinetop, there was a large woman who I did not know, appeared on stage, sat down next to him and nearly knocked him off of his piano bench.  You had to be there but it was funny.

What advice “Honeyboy” has given, what was your relationship with him & which memory from makes you smile? 

Honeyboy Edwards was a special person in my life. I was invited to Chicago by his manager/playing partner, Michael Frank for Honeyboy’s 90th birthday party. It was there I started to photograph some of these bluesmen such as: Homesick James, Pinetop Perkins; Robert jr. Lockwood, Sam Lay and Honeyboy. I discovered how special these musicians were and how important it is to preserve their stories and music. This led to me putting together my cd “the blues sessions”. I followed Honeyboy around the country photographing him while listening to his stories. I eventually had the privilege of recording with him which I am told was his last studio recording. Recording with Honeyboy was one of the most incredible experiences of my lifetime. One of memories that make me smile, is when our recording was completed, I had additional recordings to make in the studio. He sat directly in front of me while I recorded with others. What a feeling it was to have that great bluesmen giving me his full attention while I played my guitar and sang.

Are there any memories from Sonny Landreth and Donna Godcheaux, which you’d like to share with us? 

I opened for Sonny Landreth one time. I am a very big fan of his. He is a master. I opened for Donna Godcheaux a couple of times; she is a dear and a class act. I am a huge Grateful Dead fan spending many years traveling to their shows. I still continue to see all the members in whatever bands they are playing in.

Are there any memories from recording time tour of Clarksdale, Atlanta and Chicago, which you’d like to share with us?

I enjoyed traveling to the different studios. I had great engineers as well as musicians who understood what I wanted to accomplish with this recording. This made my job so much easier.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Best moment: recording “The Blues Sessions” cd and the worst is playing too many times in the rain and getting shocked!

Tim Woods,  Rum Boogie Cafe, Memphis TN 2010 / Photo by ArnieGoodman

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? 

Whew!!! There are too many to mention here. I love to reach that high point in a jam with other musicians and feed off the audience. I will say that the most recent gig I did in New York City was a highlight for me. I was an inductee at the Blues Hall of Fame Awards. This event was such a memorable experience for me playing with the Michael Packer Blues Band and Roger Earl of Foghat as well as others.

How did you first meet Commander Cody? What are some of the most memorable tales with "Commander" Frayne?

Commander Cody and his band are some of my closest friends. They played at my wedding. Commander Cody aka George Frayne, is also a great painter. I had the honor and the pleasure of playing with the commander several times. Each time, I still have to pinch myself on stage because I idolize this bands music. I have a multitude of respect for the commander’s music, intelligence and leadership skills.

Tell me about your beginning with The Mountain Jam Band. How and where did it start?

The mountain jam band was a band I was involved in for 7 years. We were an improvisational band that would reach great moments in our jams. The fan base was big part of the experience. I had much fun during those years but unfortunately we lost one of our band members and we disbanded. We have played together a few times since, and remain friends.

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most? What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

I admire so many. I am constantly inspired I guess because I love to listen. I met John Lee Hooker one time and asked him advice on playing the blues. He said “do it your way and make it come from the heart”. I still carry that advice with me today.   

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between the Psychedelic Blues & Blues?

It’s all the blues. I think psychedelic blues came out of experimenting with psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms, LSD, etc. while listening to blues greats that provided a portal to visit interesting places with your instrument.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

I would like to see the blues continue to grow and expand. I see so many young people playing an old blues song and giving it their signature - creating variations. I wish that individuals and organizations continue to promote and expose the blues to all.

Photo: David Honeyboy Edwards and Tim Woods

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I have been so absorbed and influenced by music my entire life. I continue to grow musically and spiritually as a result of the people I have met and the music I have heard.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

The blues, once played only in the deep south is now heard and experienced globally. Politically, there will always be artists writing and singing about the times we live in.  politics are a part of that. Personally, in my life, I have witnessed more young people returning to the grass roots of music. I applaud and love that!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I want to go back 2 days ago to find my car keys! I would like to go back to the mid to late sixties to the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms to see some of the bands in San Francisco at the time.  I know that had to been a real good time!!

How you would spend a day with Ken Kesey’s Bus? What would you say to Chess Cats? What would you like to ask Ernie Hawkins? 

Ken Kesey is someone I always paid close attention to. If I was on the bus for a day, I would be playing my guitar on the roof at full volume going down the road in a multicolored suit. I would say to the chess cats, “thanks you for recording great music”. To Ernie Hawkins, I would say: Could you please play me some Reverend Gary Davis? Because no one plays Rev Gary Davis better than you.

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead era?

I miss Duane Allman and Jerry Garcia but the music continues to thrive.

What is your “secret” music DREAM? Happiness is…

My dream is to keep creating and take my music around the world and to collaborate with musicians from many countries. Happiness is: good health, good love and peace on earth.

 

Tim Woods - Official website

 

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