Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Houston Hipster: Smokey Wood
"Smokey was shouting blues vocals, pumping kick-ass swing piano, and puffing all the weed that the Lone Star State could supply. He lived the life he sang about - lived it in dingy beer joints and one-lung radio stations far from the networks and international promoters. While a later breed of urban cowboy would make it big in the media, Wood, under a cloud of friendly, fragrant smoke, just faded away into obscurity".
Western swing pianist Smokey Wood was born John Bryce Wood in September 1918 in Harrison, Arkansas, where his father was a railroad engineer and his mother a piano player.
He spent the majority of his childhood in Oklahoma before moving to Houston in 1935 at the age of 17.
Wood set out from Muskogee, OK, bringing his band the Oklahoma Playboys with him. Proudly wearing their jazz influences in a country guise, Wood and his early musical cohorts found it hard to break into Houston's music scene; with influences like Fats Waller (also a favorite of Bob Wills), Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Stephen Foster, Houston's musical powers didn't quite know what to do with the group and generally ignored them.
Times were tough due to the depression and they started to make music in the beer joints out of Houston, earning one dollar a night with some tips extra.
Aside from music, Smokey Wood's greatest love was for the "wacky tobacky", or as it's better known: marijuana.
According to some accounts, Wood was high most of the time and would even smoke on the bandstand when the notion grabbed him.
To further put things in perspective, Wood's love was so big, he usually kept at least a pound or two around for safe keeping and would spare his lean budget by growing some plants of his own.
Smokey was also known as "The Houston Hipster" and his reputation was that of "a pot-smoking, whiskey-drinking, womanizing, fun-loving Western swing guy."
Wood played in a series of bands near the end of the Thirties– most notably the Modern Mountaineers with fellow pothead and ace fiddler J.R. Chatwell.
Smokey Wood would also work part time in a Houston gas station, where the job consisted of filling tanks, wiping windshields, and selling pot in quantity.
He continued performing, but he and Chatwell were booted out of a Bob Wills side project for living the nightlife instead of playing it.
Wood played and recorded sporadically until the end of his life. He moved around a lot, played the carnival circuit, ran a flea market, and mostly raised fighting cocks and grew marijuana until his death in 1975.
Smokey Wood & His Woodchips (1937):
Carry Me Back To Virginny; I'm Sorry; Keep On Truckin'; Lonely Heart Of Mine; Moonlight In Oklahoma; Riding To Glory; Woodchip Blues; Wood's Traveling Blues