Look no further than The Wood Brothers

Look no further than The Wood Brothers
October 21, 2010

he bonds that exist within families are strong. When united in music, that bond can be even more apparent. For a clear example, one need look no further than The Wood Brothers.

Oliver, of Atlanta-based blues band King Johnson, and Chris, of jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, have been playing music together their entire lives, a fact that is evident when you hear the brothers combine to perform their bluesy/roots/rock ’n’ roll music.

The brothers, who grew up in Boulder but spent most of their careers performing apart, released their first joint E.P., “Live at Tonic,” in 2005 and have since released three studio albums, with another one slated for release in early 2011. They kick off a five-night Colorado run tonight, arriving in Fort Collins on Saturday.

The Coloradoan recently spoke with the brothers to find out more about their stripped-down sound and the influences behind it:

Coloradoan: What is it about your respective childhoods that drove you both to music?

Oliver: There was plenty of musical influence when we were younger, with our dad especially, and his record collection. My earliest memories of music are listening to our dad’s records, which included everything from folk music, like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, to The Beatles and a bunch of blues.

Chris: Our dad was kind of like a traditional folkie in the sense that he was like playing music in the Cambridge-Harvard folk scene of the 1950s. The stuff he sang was a lot like the stuff Dylan sang on his first record. When my brother and I got more into music, we were listening to The Beatles, Elton John, Led Zeppelin … but then we got back into the blues with Muddy Waters and the Delta blues and the Texas blues.

Coloradoan: As I understand it, Oliver got an electric bass one Christmas but after a while abandoned it for the electric guitar, and then Chris later decided to take up bass. What motivated you both to pick your respective instruments?

O: I don't know, I just ended up gravitating towards guitar. I think I got into the bass for the wrong reasons. Chris is a more focused individual. I just lost interest in the bass and picked up a guitar, much like a kid would lose interest in skateboarding and switch to bicycling.

C: It’s electric bass; it looked cool. (Laughs) (Oliver) had it lying around and showed me how to play the blues so we could play together. I got into it pretty quickly. I played in a band, played in the school jazz band. I was super lucky to have a great teacher from early on — this super talented young man who played both electric and upright bass. When I got to high school, again I was lucky because the high school jazz director played bass and taught me some of what he knew. Sometimes I subbed for his band.

Coloradoan: Did either of you ever expect your respective music to reach the prominence it has?

O: Honestly, not really. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and so has my brother. I just got beyond the thought about if I’m ever going to make it and just got more passionate about the writing and the music. So it was kind of a surprise when I got a record deal and moved forward a bit. I played with King Johnson for a time, and we’ve put out five albums but never really made such a living out of it, but I still love doing it. I’m beyond doing it for the fame and the fortune. I don’t want to do anything else; it’s for the passion.

C: I had no idea. I never was good at looking at the future or having any kind of plan. The one vision I had was that I would end up in New York City and end up being a side man for some famous jazz musician. By the time I got to NYC, I realized that was the last thing I wanted to do. I was just a sponge soaking up everything. I had no idea what I wanted to do. With MMW, it was a band with no leader. We didn’t really know where we were going. With The Wood Brothers, it’s different; we are writing music with lyrics. So it’s different in terms of what you want to create. In the other sense, it’s the same, even if you are playing the same song every night.

Coloradoan: What is it like playing together as brothers?

O: It’s great. It’s cool because my brother and I live a long ways away (from each other) and we don’t see each other unless we’re playing a show or on the road or it’s a holiday or something. It’s great because I get to hang with my brother, catch up, socialize and bond, and do something we both love doing the most. It’s a great way to connect.

C: It’s amazing. When we finally played together again — I don’t know, it’s been five years or something — it felt just as natural and effortless as it was playing with John and Billy in MMW. It was immediately apparent that there was some blood-genetic something that we both had because watching him play is like looking in a mirror. We somehow… we do have a lot of the same musical influences, but I think it’s because of that blood relation that we have similar instincts.
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