The Steel Woods: Johnny Stanton (bass), Jay Tooke (drums), Wes Bayliss (lead vocals, guitar), and Jason “Rowdy” Cope (guitar).Photo by Mintypics/Courtesy of All Eyes Media
In terms of health, influence, and popular usage, in 2019 it’s pretty safe (but sad) to say that printed newspapers have had their best days in the rearview mirror. But Tennessee-based Southern rockers The Steel Woods are conjuring up at least the spirit of ink-smeared broadsheets to deliver their contemporary word on their sophomore record Old News. And in particular the title track.
After mentioning people who scream at their televisions, point fingers of blame, and worry about the state of Miss Liberty, singer/guitarist Wes Bayliss belts it out: “’Cause I’d hate to think that you think I hate you/And I hate the thought of you hatin’ me too/So let’s hash it all out ‘til we’re Red White and Blue/’Cause I’d hate to think that thinking is Old News.”
The words were actually penned by The Steel Woods guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope, who credits a little divine inspiration. “I feel like that song was given to me by God to give to the world as a Band-Aid for America right now,” he says, “I think we could really use that message.”
Bayliss, Bates, Johnny Stanton (bass), and Jay Tooke (drums) definitely run the gamut of song subjects on Old News, from powerful romantic yearnings – both successful and not so much, to faith and spirituality, bad deeds and aftermaths, dreams both dreamt and dashed, and mortality. There are also covers of Townes Van Zandt and Black Sabbath songs.
And if you buy the double vinyl release of Old News, you’ll see that side four is actually titled “Obituaries” and are all cover tunes. And there’s a reason.
“We made the record like a newspaper, and the last four songs are our obituary section. Merle Haggard [“Are the Good Times Really Over?], Greg Allman [“Whipping Post”], and Tom Petty [“Southern Accents”] all died when we were writing this record and were heroes of ours. And the other one is written by Wayne Mills [“One of These Days”], one of my dear, dear friends who was murdered.”
As for their sound, The Steel Woods are definitely in the wheelhouse of Rock Bands Who Can Sound Country [Drive-By Truckers, Blackberry Smoke, Gov’t Mule, Black Stone Cherry] and Country Bands Who Can Sound Rock [Jason Aldean, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Blake Shelton (thanks, Jill!)]. Never before have so many acts in either world have had such a strong claim to also putting a boot in the other.
“I’m from the south, so I think that’s naturally going to bleed in,” Cope offers. “I feel like we’re a classic rock and a southern rock band, but we’re just not old enough to be classic yet! Listen to the Eagles, they had all different kinds of stuff. I think that ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ is a country song. But they’re a rock band.”
Cope adds that the entire band is stoked about Old News, which was recorded in a much different way than their 2017 debut Straw in the Wind. In essence, that was mostly just Bayliss and Cope, buddies in both music and freshwater fishing.
“The first album it was me and Wes playing everything. We didn’t have a band at that point, so we just jumped in the studio. Wes comes from a gospel family, so he can play it all,” he says. “We picked up Jay along the way and finished the last five songs. But this one, we came fresh off the road with all four of us and recorded it 95% live.”
And while the band certainly gets their music out there in the way you have to in 2019, for Cope “social media” means not just having a presence on the internet, but also actually being social. Which is why you’ll find him handing out business cards and guitar picks around the cities they play, because gigging, gigging, and more gigging is what they excel at.
Asked if the band gets to explore any of the cities they play in, he says it depends on how good the gear is working that day, or how smooth load-in and soundcheck go. Though he’s learned to “fix everything on the fly” if needed. They do have a more specific agenda for dates in the Lone Star State.
“Man, we love playing in Texas. People down there love music and good food!” he laughs. “In Texas, we want to know where the good brisket is at. You’ve got that down pat!”
And might, say, that culinary meat adventure inspire a tune on the band’s next album?
“Yeah!” Cope says. “I’ll call it ‘The Missing Brisket Blues!’”
The Steel Woods play at 9 p.m., July 12 at Goode’s Armadillo Palace, 5015 Kirby. For information, call 713-526-9700 or visit TheArmadilloPalace.com. Austin Meade opens. $13-$15
For more on The Steel Woods, visit TheSteelWoods.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.