Sunday, January 24, 2010

Smokey Wood on Tu Bill 500

"Smokey" Wood with Joe Sanchez and his Orchestra - Lucille / Joe Sanchez and his Orchestra - Spirit of '65 (Tu Bill 500)


Pianist John "Smokey" Wood (1918-1975) is best remembered for his two 1937 sessions as lead vocalist for the Modern Mountaineers and Ross' Rhythm Rascals (disguised as "The Wood Chips") for Bluebird. His post-1930s career is far less known or documented, mainly because he drifted from band to band and gig to gig for the next 20 years or so, rarely (if ever) actually leading a band or singing. Dickie McBride, Adolph Hofner, Cotton Thompson, Cliff Bruner, Benny Leaders, and Spade Cooley were among the many bands he briefly worked with in the 1940s and early '50s. Well-respected for his piano skills, he was less respected for his endless cons (like "borrowing" band members' instruments which he'd turn around and pawn) and it was generally recognized that Wood's eccentric behavior was the result of his staying high all the time.

Smokey Wood in San Antonio, c. 1946.

After his father died, Wood inherited some farm property in Meridian, Texas (near Waco), and this was where he settled for the last 20 years of his life. For awhile, he ran a flea market, and got into cockfighting, but for many years he also had a regular gig with a Dixieland jazz band in Waco, the Joe Sanchez Orchestra. With Sanchez he recorded "Lucille" (seemingly oblivious to the recent Little Richard hit of the same title) in Fort Worth for Tu Bill, an early Major Bill Smith production/label. The date is hard to pin down here, but perhaps the "5900" matrix number translates to 1959. (It is definitely not from 1965 -- the flipside, a version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," refers to 1865.) Sock Underwood said of Smokey that "there wasn't a hillbilly bone in his body," so while "Lucille" is hardly a great record, at least Smokey was playing the kind of music he wanted to. This is Wood's final known studio recording.

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