Monday, May 02, 2011

Honest Man Blues

Howdy, folks.  Here we go with another installment focusing on the artists performing at The Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Celebration we have the honor of being a part of, this Saturday at the Abbey Pub, in beautiful Chicago!  The show features Me And The Devil, Illinois John Fever and The Black Oil Brothers with the mighty Bethany Saint Smith. 

In addition to those killer bands, we're pleased to present another feller on the bill, Woodrow Hart, who travels the roads of Americana with a singular vision, and an alternately haunting and stomping style. 

Here's what he's got to say for himself.  It's a fascinating read.  Almost as fascinating as the tunes he plays...

The BRCM Interview with Woodrow (Woody) Hart

BRCM: Tell us about yourself.  What is it that you do?

Woody Hart: Well, my name is Woodrow Hart from Chicago.  I’ve been writing songs and playing them for anyone that would listen since I was a kid.  These days, I play them on my guitar or my banjo and I sometimes have friends play along.

BRCM: Who are your influences?

       WH: I am influenced directly or in spirit by lots of folks.  As a writer especially, the influences are from all over the place.  The great American songwriters like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Rodgers that seem to have a song or two for any and every moment in your life you might need a song; and also seem to balance between being a product of their time as well as being timeless.  I think that is important.  I like the writers that are too clever for their own good like John Prine or John K. Sampson.  And I relate a lot to restless writers with multiple personalities like Tom Waits, Dylan & Neil Young.  Beyond that, I look to folks that dig deep into the weird and low down side that some of us have; like Tom Waits, but also bands like the Mississippi Sheiks, The Rolling Stones, the jug bands like Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, Jimmie Rodgers, Common, Howlin’ Wolf and the whole Chess Records movement, Bo Carter, Jay Farrar, Tommy McClennan, Merle Haggard, etc. I like some of the singer/songwriter types floating around these days too, like Cory Branan, The Felice Brothers & Charlie Parr.   I like a lot of the punk rock that has come out of Florida and the Midwest in the last 15 years; a few of the hip hop and indie rock movements of the last 30 years.  I could go on, but really, I’m influenced by most anyone that I can personally relate to that has craft and soul.

BRCM: Are you a banjo player or a guitar player?  And what's up with the trumpet?
WH: I’m a guitar player.  That’s my language.  But, I am working on becoming multilingual with the five-string open back banjo as well as playing around on my mandolin and few other things.   As a player, I tend to bang on the thing like Neil Young or Robert Petway or like how Hank Williams would with some of his smaller bands.  For what picking ability I have, I tend to look to the great state of North Carolina; Doc Watson, Blind Boy Fuller and Bascom Lamar Lunsford.
As for the trumpet.  That’s my pal Graham.  He sorts out the chaos.

BRCM: Your first name has an interesting pedigree.  Care to discuss?

WH: My folks give me different explanations for the name.  My mother tells me Woodrow, or “Woody”, is after Woody Guthrie.  My mom played a lot of folk records when I was growing up.  So, folk music, especially great mythical figures like Guthrie, Seeger and Leadbelly were an influence in my life long before I could play anything.  And she says that at the time, she just liked the ring of “Woodrow Hart.”  My Father tells me it’s a good baseball player’s name.  I like both explanations.

BRCM: What is your drink of choice?  

WH:  Old Grand Dad Bourbon & any coffee my lovely wife brings home.  She’s got good tastes.

BRCM: Are you more comfortable as a solo artist, or with a band?  

WH: I was in bands for years and years, which is a fun way to play and travel.  These days, my friends and I are all more comfortable keeping things open ended.  I love to have friends accompany me on stage and on recordings, but I’m just as comfortable on my own.  I’ve got songs for both occasions.

BRCM: You've spent some time away from Chicago.  How does the rest of the world compare to the "Chicago" experience?  Where do you find the most receptive audience?
WH: Small towns make for the best audiences.  There are less distractions and more personal interactions in all aspects of life in a small town, so of course that translates to performing.  Chicago is a great town too.  It’s filled to the brim and overflowing with stories and characters.  Some good musicians too.

BRCM: You have a strong Country/Folk element to yr music.  Where does this come from, and do you find that these elements combine well with the Blues as part of the fabric of American music?

WH: Absolutely.  It all comes from the same place.  As I’ve traveled around the country and come to know the American songwriting and performance traditions, I find it harder and harder to separate anything without using instrumentation, time period or race as reasoning.  Bob Wills does a great version of the Sheiks’ “Sittin’ on top of the World,” Louis Armstrong played on a Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9”, Hank Williams first learned guitar as a kid from a local bluesman, Ray Charles recorded more than a few Country albums, the Delta blues players followed their audience to the Midwest during the war and invented Rock n Roll and then the young country boys all became rebellious rockers.   I could go on and on, but to answer the question, I feel America is big enough and fortunate enough, even today, to call a lot of different styles of music uniquely American or “Folk Music,” and it’s no trouble to change an instrument, a time signature or song structure when it all comes from a similar place.  I like picking it all apart and putting it back together as a listener, but as a writer and performer, it’s all the same.

BRCM: It's 2:00 AM.  Yr on a back road in the country, travelling miles.  What are you listening to?   

WH: In my scenario, I’m on Doggett Road, turning onto 150 in Guilford County, North Carolina.  It’s 2AM, and I’m looking for a foot stomper.  Probably the great string band with North Carolina roots, Old Crow Medicine Show… “…if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free…”

BRCM: God or Satan?  

WH: Both.  I love a good rivalry.  

BRCM: You're playing the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Bash at the Abbey here in Chicago next weekend.  What does Robert Johnson mean to you? 

WH: Robert Johnson is the great instigator.  From what I’ve heard and read, he was just as fickle and moody and mythical to his peers as he is to historians.   His legend, his recordings, and his 1961 reissue, instigated a lot of the great music that came after.  But I think all that overshadows just how clever of a performer and songwriter he was. My favorite thing about Johnson is that due to circumstance (or perhaps to perpetuate his own myth) he only gave us a handful of songs from his catalogue, but he gave us 2 versions of most of them.  As a songwriter, I can relate to his decision making and/or his lack there of.  Like I said, he was moody.  Also, I think the remarkable thing about his legacy is that it’s only been 100 years since his birth.  That’s nothing. We are all a lot closer to this music than we realize.

BRCM: What's next for you?  You've been doing some recording.  When can we expect a proper record from you?

WH: Well, I’ve gone into the studio three times in the last two years.  Two sessions in Chicago and one session in Alamance County, North Carolina.  Through all of that, I have what I’d call a proper album ready, which should be available sometime this summer.  From those sessions, I also will have an EP, or perhaps a few EPs, that will be available at some point as well.  These are interesting times for recorded music.  More people are hearing more music than ever, and yet it’s all but lost it’s retail value.  So, whatever the medium, it will be available at my shows as well as the internet shortly.  That and shows and traveling; that’s what’s next.  That’s what is always next.  Music is a great excuse to travel and meet people.

You can check out Woodrow (Woody) Hart here and here.   You can also check him out live at The Abbey Pub, this Saturday, when he plays the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Blowout! 

Woody Hart: Honest Man Blues #3 (mp3) 

As ever, please support yr local, independent guitar slingers and hard luck troubadours.

1 comment:

the westbury kid said...

cool interview
can you review?