Charlie Wood
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Charlie Wood

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Great song lyrics have always been something of a rarity: the trouble started as soon as someone figured out that "moon" rhymes with "June". But it isn't just feebleminded nostalgia calling when one hankers for the scintillating days of Cole Porter and Larry Hart. Just as pop is increasingly confected to the standards set by processed cheese, so its words come to resemble the line-by-line symmetry of scripted jingles. I don't expect Dorothy Parker or William Wordsworth, but when rappers are constantly thumbing their thesaurus for new flourishes of the vernacular, why is it that nine-to-five songwriters settle for ever more mundane language?

What set off this chain of thought wasn't so much a blizzard of mediocrity, but a writer whose current unassuming offering is the only record so far this year that has made me laugh out loud at the sheer pleasure of it. Fittingly, Charlie Wood is from Memphis, Tennessee, the spiritual home of one of the wittiest writers in the style, Chuck Berry; Who I Am (Go Jazz) is Wood's second album. He sings in a lean, unblemished voice which has the high, lonesome timbre of a dedicated bluesman: in fact, he's an English major whose bashful erudition keeps peeking through lyrics that refuse to settle for the easy way to the end of the verse. Take, for example, these lines from track two, the devastating put-down song "Don't You Ever Stop Talking": "Did your daddy not have time to listen to you whine?/Did your best friend get the best part in the school play every year?/Were your lips taped shut by mama, or some other Freudian trauma?/Bet it couldn't beat the suffering that you're doling out here."

I could fill up the rest of the page with Wood's quotable quotations. But, in most cases, his titles tell enough of a story: "You Are Not Among Friends"; "Back When I Was Stupid"; "The Art of Leaving Well Enough Alone".

The man is never at a loss for words, and words fill up these songs. But the results aren't the tiresome, wise-guy fills that sometimes masquerade for urbanity. Wood measures his way through a song. He loves the sound of a good line, but he's shy about beating us over the head with it, preferring to let us notice it for ourselves. The penultimate track is an almost medicinal rejoinder to the rest of the record: in "Look at the Moon", the author muses on a natural wonder and suggests that we might benefit if we "Turn off the television, hang up the telephone/Log off the internet and look at the moon".

Wood draws heavily on Mose Allison, the Mississippi bluesman-poet par excellence; with a delivery that stretches from laconic to aggrieved, he has the Allison tinge down to a fine shade of accuracy. But there's something else that sets the record apart: the sound of it. Most contemporary records, of whatever style, are subject to so much studio doctoring that the musicians involved are in deep trouble if asked to reproduce them in a live context. Wood's band -- himself on the sturdy old Hammond B-3 organ, with guitar, drums and occasional horns and saxes for assistance--play the music in a sound mix that is thick, hot and necessarily heavy -- no glamorous reverb, nothing that makes you think the players aren't there, giving you their best just the other side of the speakers. Sometimes it's easy to be shocked by how full and immediate a live band can be, having spent many listening hours in front of neutered and cosmeticised records. Who I Am has the wallop of a live album, but with a degree of finesse that b etrays the care and thought that's gone into it.

At the close of it, Wood turns in a song called "20th Century", a double-edged farewell to that long-ago time. Or has it really gone? "Heavy on chronology, easy on theology/It's just Justinian, not solar, not lunar/Not really begun till two thousand and one." Book him for next New Year's Eve. - The New Statesman


Southbound was the album that made jazz great Ben Sidran take notice of the young Charlie Wood. Wood, who was already establishing himself as one of Memphis' most respected blues organists, self-produced the disc in 1995, two years before Sidran brought it to international release on Go Jazz. Even at a concise ten tracks, Southbound did more than just announce the presence of a master Hammond B-3 player; it revealed Wood as a versatile bandleader capable of tackling tricky New Orleans funk ("Man on the Money"), torchy jazz in the style of Charles Brown ("After All"), and even sweet Motown soul ("Lucky Charm") in addition to the standard bluesy shuffles usually purveyed by the instrument's followers. Evidence of Wood's irony-laden lyrical style pops up on occasion -- earthy tunes like "It All and Everything" and "River of Jive" are a precursor to the kind of material he would fill an entire album with on Who I Am -- but for the most part, it's the performances themselves that are the heart and soul of Southbound. Punchy horn fills from Jim Spake and Fred Ford keep things exciting, and Wood's understated vocals (which vaguely recall Donald Fagen circa mid-period Steely Dan) sound fresh throughout. ~ Kenneth Bays, All Music Guide - All Music Guide


For years, Charlie Wood has been one of the jewels of Beale Street, his ongoing residency at King's Palace Café providing one of the most consistent and perhaps the most distinctive live musical experiences to be had on the famous strip.
People think of the blues and of Beale as being guitar-driven, but Wood is a piano man - or organ man, to be more specific. His accomplished, witty playing is rooted in jazz and blues but with echoes of rock, pop, and even gospel. As a singer and lyricist, he has a light, cerebral touch. The result is regional roots music that traces its origins less to a Mississippi bluesman like Muddy Waters than to a more urbane showman such as Arkansas' Louis Jordan.
With drummer Renardo Ward and guitarist Gerard Harris completing his trio, Wood provides sharp, snappy good-time music that stimulates the body and the brain. You can see it live most nights at King's Palace, and you can also hear it on his new album, Somethin' Else, which opens with a dizzy burst of solo piano and unfolds into a series of stylistically varied takes on Woods' jazz/blues template. On "Memphis," an autobiographical ode to his Bluff City base, Wood opens with "I heard a gray-haired old musician say/That on the vaudeville circuit back in his day/They said the two worst nights you could ever play/Were Sunday night and Memphis" and goes on for five more minutes of funny-because-it's-true observations on his hometown and his place in it. "Memphis" is the highlight of Somethin' Else but only the beginning of its treats.
Wood celebrates the release of Somethin' Else Wednesday, August 31st, at King's Palace. Doors open at 6 p.m.; music starts at 7 p.m. - Chris Herrington - The Memphis Flyer


The sublimely talented Wood might be the aesthete's choice of the bunch. He's a brainy but entirely unpretentious songwriter and a player with jazz chops and soul feel. Wood is justly famous on the local scene as an organ and piano player, but on Lucky he does a Prince/Stevie Wonder impression, playing everything but horns and harmonica on an album he also produced, recorded, and mixed.
Wood is often thought of as a jazz player, but Lucky is a blues-themed record.The opening "Can't Teach That Stuff"jumpstarts the record with a blast of barrelhouse piano and a sharp tribute to hometown blues culture.
"When I was just a kid I used to go downtown / Hit this little blues joint that was down underground," Wood sings. "You bought a $3 set-up / Yopu didn't need no I.D / But that piano player down there / One night he put the blues on me."
When Wood sings, "He was tearin' it up / He was having big fun / He was 79 going on 21," it's easy to picture the late Mose Vinson, a Beale regular during Wood's earlier years on the scene.
Wood also shows off his songwriting chops on the stirring tribute "Can't Stop New Orleans." Over some strutting Crescent City R&B, Wood tosses out some prickly, pointed lines: "The people in the Quarter might have caught a little break / But the people in the 9th ward got more than they could take / They had to fight to survive," Wood snaps.
Musically, Wood offers a kaleidoscopic vision of the blues. In addition to these barrelhouse and N'awlins variants, there's some serious slow-burn blues on covers such as Percy Mayfield's "The River's Invitation" and the Doc Pomus-penned, Ray Charles-identified "Lonely Avenue." And on the Soulsville groove of "Ear Candy," Wood makes like a one-man Stax rhythm section, playing Skip Pitts (who provided the iconic guitar on Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft") and Booker T. Jones.
Wood ends the record by bringing the sound back to something like its source, teaming with Gibson on a playful reading of the W.C. Handy classic "Beale Street Blues."

-Chris Herrington - Memphis Magazine


Discography

2007: Charlie Wood and the New Memphis Underground - Charlie Wood (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Bass, Drums, Engineer, Producer, Songwriter)

2006: Lucky - Charlie Wood (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals, Engineer, Producer, Songwriter)

2006: Southern Living - the Billy Gibson Band (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Engineer, Songwriter)

2006: Bluestones - the Daddy Mac Blues Band (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes)

2006: The Touch - Robert A. Johnson (Hammond B-3)

2006: Kevin Sheahan - Kevin Sheahan (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Engineer)

2006: Continuator - the Gamble Brothers Band (Fender Rhodes, Pre-Production Assistance)

2005: Somethin' Else - Charlie Wood (Vocals, Hammond B-3, Piano, Clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Engineer, Producer, Songwriter, Horn Arrangements)

2005: Resting Place - Terry Robb (Piano)

2005: New Born - Calvin Newborn (Hammond B-3)

2005: Fried Glass Onions: Memphis Meets the Beatles - Various Artists
(Guitar, Drums, Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer, Pedal Bass, Vocals, Producer, Engineer)

2005: Billy Gibson Band - The Billy Gibson Band (Hammond B-3, Piano, Clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Backing Vocals, Engineer, Production Assistance)

2005: Art of the Motorcycle: Songs of the Open Road - Various Artists (Hammond B-3, Pedal Bass, Engineer)

2004: Azul - Azul (Hamond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet)

2004: Jamie Baker - Jamie Baker (Hammond B-3)

2004: In a Memphis Tone - Billy Gibson (Hammond B-3, Piano)

2003: Live from Cell Block D - Tracy Nelson (Hammond B-3, Piano)

2003: Neptune's Army - Ed Finney (Engineer)

2002: Pra Sempre - Chris Wells (Hammond B-3, Piano, Fender Rhodes)

2002: R&B-3 - Charlie Wood (Vocals, Hammond B-3, Pedal Bass, Drums, Producer, Engineer)

2001: Instrumental Memphis Music Sampler - Various Artists (Hammond B-3, Producer)

2001: Go Jazz Artists: the Anniversary Edition - Various Artists (Performer)

2000: Who I Am - Charlie Wood (Vocals, Hammond B-3, Piano, Producer, Songwriter)

2000: Third Verse - Smalltown Poets (Hammond B-3, Accordion)

2000: Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today - Slobberbone (Accordion, Hammond B-3, Toy Piano)

1999: You Can't Win - Mason Ruffner (Piano)

1998: These Modern Nights - Kitchens & Bathrooms (Hammond B-3)

1996: Southbound - Charlie Wood (Vocals, Hammond B-3, Piano, Producer, Songwriter, Horn Arrangements)

1996: Never Never Land - Joseph Patrick Moore (Hammond B-3)

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Bio

Charlie Wood is a talented and versatile singer, songwriter and keyboardist whose eclectic musical style ranges from blues to jazz to r&b and all points in between. Born in Memphis, TN in 1967, Charlie studied classical piano from an early age and jazz piano in high school and college. He spent 1990 on the road as keyboardist for legendary blues guitarist Albert King, with whom he toured the U.S. and Europe. He has also performed and recorded with numerous other regional and national acts, has worked as composer and musical director for local theatre groups and independent filmmakers, and has played and sung on countless jingles and album projects.

For over fifteen years the Charlie Wood Trio - consisting of Charlie on piano, Hammond B-3, pedal bass and vocals, Renardo Ward on drums, and Gerard Harris (formerly of Kool and the Gang) on guitar - performed nightly at the King's Palace Café on Beale Street. During their tenure at the Palace such musical luminaries as B.B. King, George Coleman, Joey DeFrancesco, Alvin Batiste, Tony Reedus, Rufus Thomas, Georgie Fame and many others stopped by to sit in and play with the band. On a recent tour in England, Robert Plant joined Charlie onstage to sing five or six of his favorite Memphis r&b classics.

It was during his long residency on Beale St. that Charlie developed and perfected his own unique, jaw-dropping approach to the Hammond organ. Although he makes it all look effortless and sounds perfectly relaxed and comfortable in performance, the technical prowess his style demands prompted one reviewer to describe him as "the Art Tatum of the B-3." The virtuosity and dexterity required make it unlikely that Charlie's style of playing could even be imitated by other players, much less rivaled. Imagine one performer simultaneously doing all of the following: singing, playing great solos with his right hand, providing perfect rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment with his left hand, and walking a solid, hard-swinging bass line on the bass pedals. Throw in a healthy dose of piano and electric piano and an occasional bass solo (with his FEET, no less) and you have an idea of what a Charlie Wood solo performance is like. Just add other musicians to taste and serve hot!

Charlie's work has earned him numerous musical accolades, including the N.A.R.A.S. "Premier Player Award" for Keyboards and the Beale St. Merchants' Association "Entertainer of the Year" award. He has toured extensively in Europe and the U.K. to promote his original music and has performed on television and radio programs across the continent. Wood is also an accomplished songwriter with five original CDs under his belt: Southbound, Who I Am, Somethin' Else, Lucky, and his latest CD release on the Memphis-based Daddy-O Records label, Charlie Wood and the New Memphis Underground.

Since the beginning of his musical career in his late teens, Charlie's studio and stage performances have been earning him rave reviews. Local, regional, national and international publications as diverse as "Blues Review," "Downbeat," and "The New Statesman" have attested to Charlie's gifts as an artist and writer as well as his astounding musicianship. Perhaps Bill Ellis, a talented musician in his own right and the former music reviewer for the local Memphis daily, The Commercial Appeal, put it best when he began his October '96 review of Southbound by saying simply that the Hammond B-3 "...has a name in Memphis, and it's Charlie Wood."