A Tip of the Hat To Fats
Blind Pig Records
Brooklyn born Mitch Woods fell in love with boogie-woogie when he was eight years old. His stepfather purchased him a piano and he began classical training at eleven. In his mid-teens Woods was already moonlighting in Greenwich Village night clubs. He attended the State University in Buffalo to pursue his classical training and there older musicians turned him on to the recordings of pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. Woods relocated to San Francisco where he attended a performance by Louis Jordan. That performance kindled his appetite for the humorous songwriting that would become his calling. He began opening for established headliners including Charlie Musselwhite, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Pianist/vocalist Woods formed his band “Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88’s” on the west coast when he released 1984’s “Steady Date” on the Blind Pig Records label. His follow up recording “Mr. Boogie’s Back In Town” also on Blind Pig featured band members who would go on to further extend the genre; drummer Lance Dickerson with Commander Cody, saxophonist John Firmin with the Johnny Nocturne Band, and guitarist Danny Caron musical director for Charles Brown. “Solid Gold Cadillac” released in 1992 included the Roomful of Blues horns with Rich Lataille, Doug “Mr. Low” James and Greg Piccolo. In 1996 Woods recorded “Keeper of the Flame” with blues great John Lee Hooker, harp master James Cotton, Chuck Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson and New Orleans’ icons saxophonist Lee Allen and guitarist Earl King. The point is our “Keeper of the Flame” Woods has played with them all.
Woods never disparaged being a tribute artist and actually embraces the idea. He spent the greater part of five years working on 2006’s “Big Easy Boogie”. For this he wrote eleven songs in the style popularized by Fats Domino and enlisted co-producer Dave Bartholomew, Domino’s producer and co-author of most of Domino’s hits. Along for this tribute were Fats Domino Band members: guitarist Jimmy Moliere, tenor saxophonist Herb Hardesty, bassist Erving Charles, Jr. and drummer Earl Palmer. Also featured were the five piece “Blue Monday” horns. Most importantly Woods included a DVD on the making of the “Big Easy Boogie” with rare footage of J & M Studios and founder Cosimo Matassa, the 2002 New Orleans Jazz Festival, and bios and interviews with Matassa, Hardesty and Palmer. If you don’t own this you best purchase a copy before they are no longer available.
In 2010 Woods did it again. He followed up with “Mitch Woods’ Gumbo Blues” another tribute, this time to Bartholomew, and to “Smiley” Lewis who preceded Domino. This sequel includes the “The Rocket 88’s” with New Orleans’ guitarist John Fohl, and tenor saxophonists Amadee Castenell and Brian “Breeze” Cayolle.
Woods last recording, his twelfth, was 2017’s “Friends Along the Way” with special guests Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Maria Muldaur and others. As a direct result Woods received 2018 Blues Music Award nominations for both “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of The Year” and “Acoustic Album of The Year”.
Woods modestly states “I’m an entertainer, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than at a festival playing and singing the music I love and making people happy…onstage is where I flourish. The music I love and the songs I write in the spirit of that music; do make people dance and laugh. It all comes from the era of the late 1940’s through the early 50’s…a soundtrack of jump swing, blues, New Orleans music and early rock n’ roll, and I love to go right to the roots of it”.
And so it was on April 29th, 2018 at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival when “Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88’s” took the stage with a band including Woods, piano and vocals; Allen Toussaint sidemen tenor saxophonists Castenell and Cayolle; baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; guitarist Fohl who played with Dr. John; Jon Cleary bassist Cornell Williams; and Tab Benoit drummer Terrence Higgins. The historic set includes Domino hits “Blue Monday”, “Jambalaya”, “Walking to New Orleans” and six other songs in the same style including two written by Woods. In between the songs is knowledgeable commentary from our bandleader.
Now the only question is who had more fun? Those in the audience or Mitch Woods “The Keeper of The Flame”; you have to decide for yourself.