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Besides, Wood thought his run as a musician was over. The antibiotics that finally stamped out his infection also destroyed his inner ear. Though his hearing was intact, Wood lost his sense of balance, and he had to spend much of the rest of the year relearning to walk. To this day, he can't jump into water or walk into a dark room without tumbling into vertigo.
"At that point I just quit," he says. "I thought I was never gonna be on stage again." Wood worked at home in laptop publishing, until Charlie Sanders (Jesse Dayton's bass player) coaxed him out of retirement. "The next thing I know I'm in a studio and Jesse Dayton's producing my new record. That was it. I was back in the game."
Wood genuinely enjoyed working with Dayton on Ash Wednesday, even though it entailed a certain loss of creative control. He says that with Horseshoe, the goal had been to capture the "neighborly" feel of the sloppy-tonk on the Rolling Stones classics Let It Bleed and Beggar's Banquet. "There was a short period of time there where the Stones captured a lifestyle," Wood says. "You hear those records and you thought, 'Wow. I am part of the Stones world. I may not be a junkie or banging black models, but the point is I sure feel that through their records.' Admittedly, on this new album, I didn't try to do that as much."
Dayton and the crack band on the album (which includes Dayton, Daniels, Sanders, bassist Ben Collis, keyboardist Pete Gordon, drummer Chris King, guitarist Rob Mahan and string whiz Brian Thomas) smoothed out Wood's rougher edges. "Jesse did a great job on the record," Wood says. "All of his ideas were good. There's not a song on there recorded the way I would have recorded them, and I'm still happy with it."
After wrangling over packaging, sequencing and editing for six months, the CD is now pressed and tentatively set for release in September locally and October nationally. Wood is working on getting together a road band, but he confesses that he doesn't like to gig. "Performance is my least favorite part of music," he says. "That surprises some people, who think I'm a natural performer. I'm uneasy; I'm not comfortable. I want to stand up there and tell people how I feel and not even dress it as music, so I probably should have been a comic. But I wasn't very good at that. I found that I was better putting stuff to melody first."
Wood's between-songs banter is often as entertaining as his music. While the days when he would read Rimbaud and Bukowski between songs are long past, his Bill Hicksian rants on the headlines of the day remain. They can be so funny, and at times powerful, that they throw music fans for a loop. "When people come expecting music and I give 'em comedy, they're shocked," Wood says. "People want to be in this pasteurized world, and when I give them my take on the daily news, they get upset. Personally, I think if people could learn to expect that from me, then they could learn to accept it. It's hard for me as an obscure artist to get away with that. It would be one thing if I was Michael Stipe -- he can talk about Greenpeace all he wants. It's another to be this totally out-of-the-loop character talking about R. Kelly and all his travails."
In a day when what was recently mainstream country is now deemed "alt," where does a stone gonzo character like Wood fit in? "I guess I'm the next step," he says, his words building into an evangelical frenzy. "I think people are looking these days for musical forms they're comfortable with. But they're looking for lyrics that speak to them, unlike the stuff that's coming out of Nashville now. It doesn't speak to anybody. It speaks to a mythical demographic. They make up these groups of people like the sad, lonely women who want to hear a brokenhearted country song. They don't want to hear that! Or maybe they do. The point is they're like any other group of people. They're diverse. They want to hear Billy Ray Cyrus, or they want to hear John Lennon. They want to hear a different approach to the same feelings. Somebody's gotta give it to them. Somebody's gotta say, 'Okay, here's something that sounds like country, but listen to the words. I'm gonna take you someplace you haven't been with country.' And hey, country can take you a lot of places."
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