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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Got A New Car For You - Mitch Woods


Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s have been the torchbearers of a great American blues musical heritage, not for two years but two decades. Taking
their inspiration from the great jump n' boogie outfits of the late 40s and early 50s, they breathe fresh life into the music that gave birth to rock n'
roll. Woods styled his group after the jumpin' n' jivin', shoutin' n' honkin', pumpin' n' poundin' bands of Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, Amos Milburn, and Roy Milton. Adding a healthy dose of New
Orleans rhythm and blues, piledrivin' piano, and some of his own contemporary playful lyrics, Woods and His Rocket 88s forge their own brand of music they call "rock-a-boogie."
Born in Brooklyn in 1951, Mitch Woods began playing classical piano at eleven, but his real initiation into blues and boogie piano had already been assured at age eight. "My mom would hire this superintendent of the
building, a black man, Mr. Brown, to take me to school, and we stopped off at his cousin's house, where somebody was playing boogie-woogie piano. It really hit me."
Woods was putting together bands in Greenwich Village by his mid-teens. By the time he entered the University of Buffalo, Woods was sitting in at local clubs and discovering records by boogie woogie pioneers Meade Lux Lewis,
Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson. It was during a class on Afro-American music taught by noted jazz sax player Archie Shepp in 1970 that Woods finally realized he was bound to be a pianoman. Perhaps it was Shepp, a known curmudgeon, who cemented his resolve in an offhand way, Woods remembers. "I was very interested in learning about this
music, but it turned out to be reverse racism, he was putting down white people a lot, and I was one of about three white kids there, but I had a
love for black music, I wanted to learn about it. Blues and jazz, I wanted to learn about that culture, where this music came out of, and he said,
'There's no white guy that can play the blues,' and I said 'Hey, I don't agree with you.'" "He said, 'Well go ahead and name me one white guy who can
play the blues,' and I named guys like Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, he says 'They're not so great,' and I said 'Well, I can play.'" As if to say "oh yeah?," Shepp challenged Woods to attend a local jam session. "I steeled my nerves, I went down to the session, and fortunately
for me there was no piano there, but at that point he respected the fact that I came down." That broke the ice - Shepp gruffly accepted Woods and they became close. "He started telling me about who to listen to, but he still kept his opinions."
Woods came to San Francisco in 1970, and for the next five years performed as Mitch Woods and His Red Hot Mama (with singer Gracie Glassman). One night Oakland guitarist Hi Tide Harris heard Woods opening for Charlie Musselwhite and was reminded of the sound and theatrics of early R&B
pioneer Louis Jordan. Indeed, Jordan has always been a primary influence on Woods. "I actually did see Louie Jordan in Oakland. He was the bridge
between swing and rock and roll. He would do a five or six piece band, get a lot of power out of that."
That kind of power was to become rallying cry for Mitch's next project, Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s, which started in 1980 and quickly rose to the top of the Northern California club circuit. Their first album, Steady Date (Blind Pig Records) got hot reviews in 1984 and led to appearances at
two San Francisco Blues Festivals, openings for the Fabulous Thunderbirds,
Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Blasters, The Neville Brothers, and James Brown. By
1987, Woods was doing a six-country Europe tour highlighted by a rousing
performance at the Belgium Rhythm and Blues Festival.
In 1988, the 88s released Mr. Boogie's Back In Town (Blind Pig Records) and music pundits started to acknowledge Woods' place in the ranks of American
music: "Woods lays down an authentic 50s-vintage rock piano groove, comparable in power and and rhythmic nuance to classic recordings by the young Jerry Lee Lewis," said Keyboard Magazine.
On 1991 album Solid Gold Cadillac, Woods and his band were joined by Ronnie
Earl, Charlie Musselwhite and the Roomful of Blues Horns. Woods himself was
starting to become a guest star, appearing on that year's new releases by
John Lee Hooker and John Hammond, and the boogie pianist headlined both the
Amsterdam Blues Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Woods was developing his passion for bandleading and discovering the power
of being a strong singer. "I'll always consider myself a piano player, but
my voice has developed over the last few years. It's an incredible release, when
you can sing, it's like blowing an axe, and it's great to entertain an
audience," he says. Another interest was taking hold, too - the funky
piano-driven music of New Orleans. Woods had long been infatuated with the
music of the Big Easy. "I'm a boogie woogie and blues piano player for the
most part, but I also incorporate other styles within that, like the New
Orleans influence. New Orleans R&B piano playing, like Dr. John, of course
Professor Longhair. "New Orleans has been a really great source of inspiration, it's a piano town. New Orleans reveres the piano player. People respect me and I
appreciate that. I've always been able to feel a real sense of music there;
if you're a good player, you get in. For the past 25 years it has become my second home, " Woods says. "I've gotten to play with all the great players who live there, and I just hire them, guys from Fats Domino's band, like Red Tyler, sax player,
Johnny Vidakovich, drummer with the Professor, and George Porter on bass.
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