Woody Pines Delivers a Red Hot Barn Dance to Carbondale
Woody Pines has played on the streets of quite a few of the world’s great cities, but you can’t really call him urban. He’s country all the way down into his bones. An accomplished songwriter, Woody gets Nightlife’s toes tapping with a deceptively polished picking style and a sly lyrical wit. Something of a musical historian, he keeps alive the lively tradition of the very early recording artists.
But for Woody, that tradition is not an academic curiosity or a relic to be gravely preserved—it’s a license to have fun. With due reverence for musical ancestors like the Carter Family or Jean Ritchie, Woody’s music primarily aims for the nearly forgotten, but equally important, rollicking, barn-burning fun of Bashful Brother Oswald or Cliff Carlisle or Uncle Jimmy Thompson. If Jimmie Rodgers were alive today, he’d be Woody Pines. Find out more at <http://www.WoodyPines.com>.
Friday, December 2, Woody and a couple of friends will burn down the barn at the Hangar 9. Recently, Nightlife scored a seventy-eight revolutions-per-minute interview with Woody.
Is this your first visit to Carbondale?
We’ve played at Hangar 9 a couple of times. Also, Tres Hombres. We love Carbondale. There are a lot of great musicians there.
Where are you from?
I was born in New Hampshire.
Isn’t that, um, Yankee territory?
Ha! Well, if you think about it, the root of country music is not so much a north/south divide as it is about one long, connected Appalachian Mountain culture. New Hampshire is on the northern end of that range, but it was settled by a lot of the same English and Celtic pioneers as Virginia and the Carolinas. A lot of freed slaves from the South moved north along the Appalachians, because that was the culture and landscape they were used to.
Do you come from a musical family?
My parents weren’t professional musicians, but they played and sang a lot of folk songs. Not only the popular folkies like Pete Seeger and the Mamas and the Papas, but also the traditional local folk music, like the Child Ballads.
And you sort of followed in their footsteps?
Ha! Not exactly. Growing up, I thought their favorite music was kind of cheesy. The one artist they listened to who I really liked was Bob Dylan. He was this amazing songwriter, but he had one of those old-timey, scratchy voices like those old seventy-eights I love to listen to. I thought to myself, if Dylan can do it, I can do it. So, I started getting into the people Dylan said inspired him, like Hank Williams, the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, people like that.
How about the Beatles? There seems to be something of theirs in your song “Long John.”
I have to confess, I’m one of the few people on earth who don’t know much about them or their music. However, I had a really interesting experience a few years ago. We were booked as the opening act for one of the top Beatles tribute bands— Liverpool Legends, maybe— and we were introduced to the audience as the kind of old-time American roots-music band that had inspired the Beatles when they were young. That’s when I learned that the Beatles had been big fans of people like Muddy Waters and Buck Owens and of course, Lonnie Donegan.
Exactly. Skiffle is like the British version of what we sometimes call hillbilly music. In fact, when we play in the U.K., musicians there tell us they can hear their traditional music in a lot of what we play.
You’ve toured most of Europe. How does your music get across to European audience?
They seem to like us a lot, but of course, it’s different over there, especially in places like Norway or the U.K. Audiences listen very politely and quietly, and only applaud when the song is over. When we play at an art house you can hear a pin drop. Even in pubs, if someone starts to talk or make noise during a song, they’ll be shushed by the crowd. Here at home, audiences get into the fun of the music more.
Your music does capture the fun and wit of early bluegrass recording artists like Bashful Brother Oswald. Where does that come from?
Oh, I was the class clown. As far back as I can remember, I was acting and singing in musicals like Oklahoma. I was in a couple of bands in high school. But I also went to clown school, and studied other circus arts.
So you take funny rather seriously.
Well, I definitely try to put as much fun into my music as possible. To me, playing music for a live audience is the most fun anyone could ever have. I think of it as sort of a participation sport, not homework.
You’ve spent a few years busking on the streets. What’s hardest part of that?
Being heard. It’s loud out there— people, cars, refrigerated trucks, planes flying overhead. But that was great training for getting an audience’s attention. For one thing, it really drove me to become a good harmony singer. Two or three voices are easier to hear than one, so I had to learn how to sing with just about anyone. On stage, you’ve got that monitor speaker right in your face.
Most of your heroes were medicine-show minstrels, streetcorner performers, tent-revival singers. You’ve hopped the freight trains like Woody Guthrie.
I love how the circumstance shapes the music. A lot of that old-time music had never really been performed without dancers or cloggers. Even chain gangs. That’s one thing you hear in the Library of Congress recordings that you don’t always hear in the early commercial recordings. But that audience participation is really satisfying to us. The ear is the hardest sense to trick. You can hear the truth more strongly in music than maybe any other form of art. Or, at least, you’ll notice the mistakes!
A lot of your tracks sound like you’ve tried to recreate the organic sound of those old seventy-eights.
Oh, I love that sound— the string slapping, the hum, the buzz, the scratchy voices. In the beginning, I wished I was old, because I wanted to sound old. But I learned that the most important sound is real feeling about the music, about the audience. When we’re having fun, the audience is having fun, and when the audience is having fun, we’re having fun.
We’re very proud of our new album, released by Muddy Roots in Nashville. It’s on vinyl, and I’m so glad vinyl has made such a strong comeback. Maybe someday, some kids will hear this scratchy old record and think, “I’d like to do that.”
who: Woody Pines
where: Hangar 9
when: Friday, December 2