Oliver Wood witnessed his first major rock show as a teenager in the foothills of Morrison. The 54-year-old singer, guitar player and resident of Nashville, now a member of the Wood Brothers, brings his continued passion for music and the state of Colorado full circle as his acclaimed roots-based trio headlines Red Rocks Amphitheatre this Thursday.
"Red Rocks is the reward at the end of the tour," enthuses Wood, who is currently in the middle of a two-week ramble through the West. "Our first show was in Wyoming. We flew to Denver, got on the bus and then drove to Jackson Hole, Big Sky and a couple other spots. Now we're in the Bay Area before heading up to Washington and Oregon and then back through Utah and then Red Rocks. We play a lot of festivals and outdoor shows in the summer, though during the week we like to fill in with some indoor spots. Tonight we're playing at Terrapin Crossroads, which is owned by Phil Lesh. It's a cool smaller venue."
Wood fondly recalls his days living on the Front Range, where his father was a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and his mother was a writer.
"We grew up in Boulder," he remembers. "As a teenager, I saw my first concerts at Red Rocks. I saw some really great ones, including the Talking Heads on their Stop Making Sense tour; Tom Petty; Stevie Ray Vaughan with Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal. It made a big impression.
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"[My brother Chris] and I were born in Southern California, and when I was about ten or so, my dad got a job at the University of Colorado," Wood continues. "He was a molecular-biology professor. We moved there around 1976. So my dad was a scientist and my mom was a poet. She published several books of her poetry. My mom passed away, but my dad still lives in Boulder. He's a really good folk musician and has written a lot of songs. Back in the day, he worked as a musician. He played gigs and had a huge repertoire. He used to play with Joan Baez and was part of the Northeastern folk scenes in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He's still playing music and getting into it. Those were things that I took for granted as a kid, but we had a rich upbringing in terms of words and music."
Wood's parents' artistic influence took hold. He and his bass-playing bandmate and brother, Chris, 49, who is also a founding member of the funk/jazz improv band Medeski, Martin and Wood, create very pleasing original material, some of which is showcased on their new live release, Live at the Fillmore, which was recorded earlier this year in San Francisco and drops the day after the group's show in Morrison. In 2018 the Wood Brothers received a Grammy nomination in the Best Americana Album category for their studio recording "One Drop Of Truth." The group, which started in 2004, is also working on a new studio effort, which is slated for release early next year.
"Our sound has elements of blues and rock and Americana," shares Wood. "It's hard for me to talk about genre or fitting into a genre; I just don't care for the labels. I love the idea of Americana, but there's more blues and even jazz in what people call Americana and gospel. These are all American musics, but when you say jazz, are you talking about Kenny G or Miles Davis? We're fans of a lot of traditional music, from field recording to old blues, old jazz, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson — stuff that has a purity to it. I guess I like music that is kind of timeless, or music that will last. It's a matter of taste and opinion, but we're trying to create music that has something classic about it. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we just get close."
Growing up in the university town of Boulder, Oliver and Chris were exposed to a wide variety of music. Chris has also established himself as a bass virtuoso in the instrumentally explorational Medeski, Martin and Wood. While the Wood Brothers play mostly original music, they indulge in the occasional cover.
"I'm a big fan of Mississippi John Hurt and Jimmy Reed and a bunch of blues artists," Wood relates. "Every now and then, I like to take a Tom Petty song or a Beatles or Allman Brothers song and just do it our own way. That's always fun."
In term of songwriting, he says, all three of bandmembers are involved in the creative process.
"In the early days, Chris had been in an instrumental group forever, so I was the primary songwriter, and I still am the primary singer, but over the years we've enjoyed being more collaborative, and Chris has gotten much more into lyric writing. And all three of us, including Jano [Rix], our drummer and keyboard player, have evolved as a group and as writers. We like to collaborate quite a bit."
The group enjoys pushing the boundaries of roots music in every way, including instrumentally.
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"In addition to drums and keys, Jano plays a percussion instrument called a shuitar," Wood explains. "It's basically a shitty guitar that allows for us to play acoustically and to have what he's doing sound like a mini drum kit. He can play it with brushes, but he usually plays it with his hands. Check out shuitar.com. You kind of have to see it to understand what's going on. There are strings on it and various jangles and percussion things that when hit produce a variety of sounds. He can play beats that sound like a drum set. We like to think of it as an American percussion instrument."
Both Wood brothers have their own families with children and have settled into their lives in Tennessee when they aren't out touring. The group records in its own space in Music City.
"We love living in Nashville," says Oliver. "I've been there for eight years now. There's a lot of inspiration to be found and it's not just country music. There is talent from all genres, great studios and great players to collaborate with. And just knowing that artists like John Prine, Jack White and Emmylou Harris are around is very inspiring. Sometimes you actually run into them. We played a fun show at the Ryman Auditorium this past year. Otherwise we spend our time there writing and recording. We recently put together our own studio."