Nod to: Roy Wood

This section is all about showing some gratitude, in writing, to people who've positively influenced me as a musician. I can't think of a better place to start than with the person who influenced me to become a multi-instrumentalist. That person is Roy Wood.

Wood's name would be familiar from his work with The Move, ELO, Wizzard, and as a solo artist. US denizens who haven't heard his work directly may know him as the writer of "California Man", popularized here by major Move fans Cheap Trick.

Wood found success first as guitarist/vocalist and main songwriter with The Move. He eventually branched out into instruments such as sitar, recorder, oboe, cello, and saxophone, as well as being an excellent and versatile guitarist. His vocals skills were equallly diverse, with a wide range of pitch and tone, ranging from mellow, sweet and clear to mic-shredding. By the time of his first solo album "Boulders", he was also playing drums, banjo, and seemingly anything else he could get his hands on.

Let's not forget the songwriting and arranging. His instrumental skills are highly admirable, but one of the things that makes Wood's work so special is that that it functions on such a high level structurally. What's more, his choice of (and facility with) styles is as diverse as his playing. And he has frequently combined several seemingly disparate styles into some brilliant synthesis. Example: 50's style rock with cellos, oboes, distortion and flanging. Classical and folk structures, blended into something new, exciting and beautiful; rowdy blues with in-your-face cello breaks.

All of this was an influence on me, starting with the multi-instrumentalist aspect. I wasn't obsessed with it strictly for its showiness, but certainly the "wow" factor was there. What was more important to me though was that all those bitchen little moments- the kind you played air guitar or air drums or air cello to- were played by one guy. What this meant to me was that if you loved the sound of something and wished you could do it because hearing it made your head fly off into some glorious place- that wasn't impossible, and in fact here was a guy actually doing it. At the time I first got into the Move, I was already painting and taking pictures, and so I understood the richness possible with solitary creation. Here was a way to do it with music. That idea excited me very much.

I didn't play an instrument yet but the possibility was brewing in my mind, and when, a few years later, I found myself actually doing it, I had no fear of making the move to play several, because I knew it had already been done by someone and done well. I never told myself I'd do it as well; I didn't believe that, and because of that I was mostly unconcerned with it. I've never been concerned with being better than my heroes; I've only been concerned with making music I like. If I like it, I can be proud of it, I can stand behind it. That's real to me. If I hear somebody doing something I like, I'd want to learn to do something along those lines, but have rarely been interested in duplicating something. I'll do it to learn technique, then try to forget the actual lines, so that the facility remains while the specifics do not.

Beyond the obvious, Wood has influenced me with approaches that I think deserve a more detailed mention, especially because they aren't the type of things you might hear in another tribute piece.

Let's start with that heavily maligned effect of yore, the wah wah pedal. I think the nature of the effect makes it possible to develop a very recognizable style. When used in its most often heard form, it requires real-time movement by the player, much as attack, vibrato, choice of has its own phrasing. And Wood has extraordinary phrasing with a wah. In one of his signature sounds, he flutters it very quickly, creating a shimmering effect like light reflecting off water. At other times he moves it slowly, to bring out the notes in an expressive but subtle way.

His choice of unusual instruments (at least unusual in a rock setting) as lead voices, rather than just for color or support, goes beyond what the Beatles started into entirely new territory. Specifically, the cello is really up front in a lot of his work from '71 on. The oboe is also treated as a basic double-reed instrument, and so in Wood's hands it sounds middle-eastern just as much is it might sound western classical.

Last (at least last mention for now), his bass playing is like no one else I've heard, and I mean that in the best way. This is really most obvious on the last Move album, "Message From The Country", where he took over bass entirely. I am not sure what happened to Rick Price, who was a very good player. But Wood sometimes makes it a lead instrument. And throughout, his lines are phrased much more like cello parts than electric bass. The result is unique and, I think, an expansion of the possibilities of the instrument.

For all this and more, to you, Mr. Wood, I extend thanks.

GS, 1/11

For more information on Roy Wood, why not try The Official Roy Wood Website


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