It has been a month or so of great loss in the music industry with the deaths of ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill, songwriting legend Tom T. Hall, Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Don Everly of the Every Brothers, percussion great Kenny Malone, singer songwriter Nanci Griffith and more.
Americana/southern rock/hard country band The Steel Woods, performing at The Loud this weekend, also began 2021 with a loss in the death of their founding guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope in January.
A noted session musician, Cope spent 10 years playing guitar with Jamey Johnson’s band before starting The Steel Woods three albums ago. Right before he left this world unexpectedly at 42 years of age, Cope along with guitarist and vocalist Wes Bayliss, bassist Johnny Stanton and drummer Isaac Sentry recorded the tracks for the new Steel Woods recording called “All Of Your Stones.” All of the scheduled studio sessions for the album were complete when the news broke that Cope died in his sleep.
“All Of Your Stones” is an excellent representative of what The Steel Woods is all about, making gritty and good hard country music that defies category, with down-to-earth jams that pay tribute to the southern rock genre while simultaneously creating their own sound. And, for special treat, on one of only two cover songs found on the recording amidst the original cuts, country star Ashley Monroe steps up to sing on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cut “I Need You.”
The Steel Woods perform at The Loud (formerly the V Club) at 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12. The show is 18-and-older and tickets are $15.
Band mate Wes Bayliss says his last conversations with Cope were normal, with no indication of what was to come. It was the hardest blow that the members of The Steel Woods could imagine and the decision to keep moving forward as a band was a tough one.
“This isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy,” said Bayliss. “After the fact of Rowdy’s death, there are some things that you look at it and go, ‘Man, it just happened that way for a reason.’ But still, it came out of nowhere. I mean, we had just finished the record and the last time I saw him was over at TW’s Place where we were mixing the album. We had a handful of notes and we went in and mixed a couple of things that we heard and when we left that night, we shook hands and kind of said, ‘That’ll do,’ and that was the last time I saw him. It was crazy. We had shared a couple of texts a few days after that, but the phone call was the next thing. I sure am glad I didn’t have to finish the record without him. That was a blessing in disguise.”
As for describing the sound of The Steel Wheels, Bayliss is fine with the band’s original music being described in whatever way people want to tag it.
“‘Southern rock’ is kind of how everybody else has described it, although everybody wants to put themselves or you in a category, and I guess it makes sense if you got to explain it to somebody else,” said Bayliss. “I’ve always said, ‘I don’t care what you call it. If it’s country or rock or funk, it doesn’t matter to me. Whatever you think it is, that’s exactly what it is if you like it.’”
Every song on “All Of Your Stones” is good, yet one amazing cut on the album has stood out since the death of Cope and that is “Old Pal.” A now-classic song about the trials and tribulations and special aspects of small town life, which folks in the Tri-State can surely relate to, “Old Pal” has a new meaning now.
“I was talking with Rowdy at the studio when we were cutting these songs, talking about how everything fit together so well and it all made sense, with the exception of maybe one or two new songs,” said Bayliss. “He said, ‘Just because they don’t fit right in line with the story, we got to do them. Those songs are special to somebody for different reasons.’ I had no idea how much they would make sense, like ‘Old Pal.’ I wrote that two or three years ago, so that wasn’t a brand new song, and that was the song I was talking about not fitting in with the narrative of the album’s story line. But, he says, ‘Yeah, but we got to do it.’ And then, he is gone and the record comes out and now maybe that song makes more sense than any of them. I didn’t write it about him, yet it is easy to think that I did, but I wrote it for a reason and we put it on the album for a reason; we just didn’t know what that reason was until now.”
Before Bayliss moved to Nashville and met Cope and the rest of The Steel Woods, he paid his dues in the Alabama music scene before doing the same in Tennessee.
“I like touring,” said Bayliss. “I mean, it’s better than digging a ditch. But our traveling has come a long way since back in the day. We’ve been on about everything with wheels, and we’ve worked on everything with wheels. We used to change a trailer tire a week and broke down the bus every other week and vans as well. It’s just a part of the job. Luckily we have a pretty good bus situation now with a driver. I used to be the driver when we had an Eagle bus. I’d drive all night, then sleep all day and let them do the sound check, then wake up and play the show and then get back behind the wheel. So, yes, I’m glad not to have to do that anymore.”
The Steel Woods are happy to be playing in the Mountain State.
“Man, I love West Virginia,” said Bayliss. “We just played at the State Fair there a couple of weeks ago. There are a lot of good folks there. We are excited about it, the shows are going good and folks are showing up and having a good time, and that is what we want to see. We do it for the fans. It isn’t up to us, it’s up to them as they are the ones that make it a good night.”