Their differences as brothers are the secret sauce that makes Oliver and Chris Wood’s music unique enough that they cannot be categorized as just blues, jazz or the more generic moniker Americana.
“It was really more than 10 years before we started the Wood Brothers,” says Oliver Wood, “and I think the reason we did it deep down was to reconnect as brothers because we really grew apart in those 10 years, and we had completely different friends and different music circuits and even different kinds of music. He was more on the jazz end of things. I was more of the roots kinda blues, and then eventually songwriting kinds of things, and he was into instrumental music, but I think we still had music in common, and we got really excited to reconnect because we both were doing the same kind of thing for a living.”
The Wood Brothers are currently on tour following the release of their latest album, Heart Is The Hero. It was recorded on 16-track analog tape rather than the more contemporary digital recording technique. “In an age of digital technology, you have an incredible amount of power over manipulating the music, and you can do almost anything. You can tune it. You can edit it. You can change its key. You have a lot of options, and it’s an amazing tool. However, what we found is that the less options we have, the more innovative we get, the less we spend completing and manipulating the music and the more we spend making it work.
“The medium you use is going to have its own effect, and you get what you get, and you might have captured some magic. A lot of people still use analog because they like the sound better, and that sound is wonderful. But we did it entirely to make the process more fun, innovative and exciting. And so that when we played a song, we were very present because we knew we weren’t going to fix it afterward, and there is something about when you have the power of digital recording there’s a good chance when you’re performing the song in the studio you’re not as present as you could be because in the back of your mind you know you could play it a million times.”
It’s not hard to understand why the two brothers started off in different directions when you look at their upbringing. “My father when he was alive was a great folk singer and guitar player with a huge repertoire of songs that he always played around the house that we got to hear him perform, and our mother was a great poet. We certainly didn’t appreciate that as kids. The poetry went a little abstract for us as kids.
“Now when I look back, my mother’s passion for words and my mother’s compassion and empathy in her work made her very influential. I think my brother and I didn’t take that different a path. We both left the house with music in our mind. Now, within music we chose differently. My brother moved to the northeast and eventually ended up in New York City playing jazz and then the southeast and I ended up in Atlanta playing blues and R&B and southern music by mentors as a younger player who were older southern musicians.”
Tinsley Ellis was one of Oliver’s mentors. “He took me on tour. He gave me my first road gigs, a fantastic mentor who showed me the ropes as far as touring and the life. He also encouraged me by singing which I didn’t do early on. I was a guitar nerd.”
At Ellis’s behest, Oliver began to sing and then founded King Johnson, a hard-touring group that released six albums of blues-inflected R&B, funk and country over the next 12 years. “Chris Long was the bass player. He was older than me, and he was a great inspiration. He was the one who inspired me to start my own music band. We wrote songs together in the band King Johnson. People said, ‘Hey, you can do this,’ and they let me be a terrible singer for a few years. That was how long it took me to know what I was doing.”
On the title cut of Heart Is The Hero Oliver sings, “The heart is the hero of every song.” I thought that was a particularly apropos thing for somebody in their position to say. Oliver obviously believes that universally.
“Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a matter of honesty and trust, like trusting your heart and your instinct and what you’re feeling and is valid and really it is cliché to say all your best songs you can feel are from the heart or not, and people are being honest, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and it’s another way to say that. A lot of these songs are about us getting older and having new understandings of how to live and how to make music or art, and how similar and conjoined things are. It’s all really one process. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned about making music that we apply to our everyday lives and vice versa.”
“We’re always trying to stay out of the box, and we think we started right off that way by trying to fuse some things together that maybe other people hadn’t tried yet or that was the least new to us and that’s ultimately good.”
Oliver Wood quotes Thelonious Monk who once said, “The genius is the one who is most like himself.” Oliver and Chris Wood who are as different in their musical interests as were Stevie Ray Vaughan and brother Jimmy or Johnny and Edgar Winter. It wasn’t until Johnny died that Edgar paid homage to him by recording an album with the help of many guests who reprised many of Johnny’s greatest songs. Luckily for us, Oliver and Chris Wood after pursuing separate careers came together in 2006 to create music that captures their unique genius in a combination built around brotherly love.
THE WOOD BROTHERS Complete 2023 Tour Schedule:
9/15 – St. Louis, MO – Enterprise Center +++
9/17 – Templeton, CA – Whale Rock Music Festival
10/4-7 – Eureka Springs, AR – Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival
10/8 – Monterey, CA – Rebels & Renegades Music Festival
10/18 – Marietta, OH – The Peoples Bank Theatre
10/19 – Louisville, KY – Old Forester’s Paristown Hall
10/20 – Asheville, NC – Salvage Station
10/22 – Jim Thorpe, PA – Penn’s Peak
10/26 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
10/27 – Burlington, VT – Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
10/28 – Albany, NY – Palace Theatre
10/29 – Beverly, MA – Cabot Theater
11/30 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room
12/1 – Lake Wales, FL – Orange Blossom Revue
12/2 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL – Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
12/3 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall
12/5 – New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s
12/6 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City
12/7 – Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre
12/8 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Music Hall
+ w/ ZZ Ward
* w/ Ida Mae
^^ w/ The Lil’ Smokies
** The Infamous Stringdusters
++ w/ Greensky Bluegrass
+++ w/ Turnpike Troubadours
^ w/ Maya De Vitry
Check out our photo gallery/review of The Wood Brothers’ May performance at Chicago’s Salt Shed here.