Friends Along The Way
Mitch Woods was born in Brooklyn, NY and classically trained at the State University in Buffalo. Woods fell in love with boogie-woogie piano and began his recording career on the west coast when he released 1984’s “Steady Date with Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88’s” on the Blind Pig record label.
For the last forty three years Woods has been making music often paying tribute to his influences. In 2006 he released the “Big Easy Boogie” which not only paid tribute to Fats Domino but also featured original Domino band members Dave Bartholomew, Herb Hardesty, and Earl Palmer. The independently produced album included a DVD featuring rare footage and interviews. As a result Woods received a 2007 Blues Music Award nomination for Piano Player of The Year. Woods followed up his New Orleans connection in 2010 with “Gumbo Blues” a tribute to both Bartholomew and Smiley Lewis.
This new album highlights friends Woods met along his musical journey. These are duos or trio performances with Woods on piano. This concept album is also a sequel to torchbearer Woods’ 1996 “Keeper of The Flame” album. In fact two of the oldest songs first appeared there and they are again included; John Lee Hooker’s “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” and Woods’ original instrumental “Chicago Express” featuring James Cotton on harmonica. Hooker passed in 2001 while the late Cotton just died in March of this year. In the photo array, included with the liner notes, a young Woods is pictured with Hooker and with Cotton.
Three of the sixteen tracks include Woods in a trio with Van Morrison and Taj Mahal. The opening song, Leadbelly’s “Take This Hammer”, features a vocal from Morrison, Taj on guitar, and Woods on the eighty-eights. On Ma Rainey’s “C.C. Rider” Morrison and Taj share the vocal. “Midnight Hour Blues” from Leroy Carr features Morrison’s vocal and harp. These three tracks were recorded at The Esplanade Studios in New Orleans during a recent Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“The Blues” a.k.a. “The Blues is Here to Stay” was included on Cyril Neville’s “The Essential 1994-2007” co-written by Neville with Taj and Norman Caesar. Woods’ smoky piano playing accompanies Neville’s narrative. “The Blues is the music that anybody can feel”.
“Nasty Boogie”, written by New Orleans’ native Champion Jack Dupree was first recorded by him in 1958. It was reprised by The Radiators a now defunct New Orleans band. This version is performed with Joe Louis Walker, guitar, who also shares the chorus with barrelhouse pianist Woods who gives an outstanding performance.
Elvin Bishop plays guitar and sings on Oliver King Perry’s “Keep A Dollar in Your Pocket” performed as a shuffle. This gem was originally recorded on the Excelsior Label in 1950. Bishop plays again on bandleader Jimmy Liggins’ “Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man” sung by Woods.
Charlie Musselwhite is featured on two tunes. “Crying For My Baby” is a beautiful song written and sung by Woods. While “Blues Gave Me a Ride” is a Musselwhite original featuring his vocal and guitar. On both Musselwhite’s harp adds the finishing touches.
Maria Muldaur performs an inspired version of “Empty Bed Blues” with some great piano from Woods. Also included are performances with Baton Rouge’s Kenny Neal; John Hammond playing a National Steel; and Ruthie Foster on her own “Singin’ The Blues”.
The closer is a vocal and piano duet as Woods and Marcia Ball work out on Professor Longhair’s “In The Night”.
Woods’ is a pianist with deep respect for the traditional. His inspirations and piano artistry are on full display on this highly recommended album.
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