The Steel Woods bring their rough, country sound to Oxford

Posted on Jan 23 2019 - 5:50am by Liam Nieman

Though their biggest influences are outlaw country and Southern rock artists like Waylon Jennings and Gregg Allman, The Steel Woods will come to the home state of one of their other influences — the Delta blues — when they play at 9 p.m. tonight at Proud Larry’s.

 Photo by: Andrew Long

Composed of songwriting duo Wes Bayliss and Jason “Rowdy” Cope as well as bassist Johnny Stanton and drummer Jay Tooke, The Steel Woods is a country rock band with roots across the South. Cope said they pride themselves on the fact that they write and produce their music independently.


The Steel Woods’ latest album, “Old News,” came out last Friday and features a range of gritty country tunes — from originals by Bayliss and Cope to a series of covers that pay tribute to artists like Merle Haggard and Tom Petty who died during the creation of the album.


The Steel Woods’ music takes elements from a variety of genres, including country, funk, rock ‘n’ roll and bluegrass. Cope said he loves Jennings and the outlaw country artists just as much as he loves James Brown and Motown, but ultimately, his and Bayliss’ upbringings in North Carolina and Alabama respectively impact the band’s sound the most.


“We’re naturally going to sound Southern,” Cope said. “We all speak English, but we were born with a dialect, saying ‘y’all,’ drinking sweet tea. And that bleeds over to our music.”


Bayliss and Cope collaborated to write the songs on “Old News,” with different ones being pulled from each of their individual life experiences.


Because of this variety among the songs, Cope likened the album to a novel, with each song being an individual chapter with its own story. Beyond musical influences, Cope said the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, E. E. Cummings, Walt Whitman and the New Testament of the Bible have all informed his songwriting.


The cover art of “Old News” features a mock newspaper cover, complete with headlines and “VOL. 218 NO 1” underneath the band’s name. With this newspaper theme, Cope said he felt it appropriate to include an “obituary,” honoring the lives of some of the influential artists who died while Bayliss and Cope were writing the album.


Some of these tributes include Petty’s “Southern Accents,” Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over Yet (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)” and Wayne Mills’ “One of These Days,” which has a special resonance for Cope and his bandmates.


Mills, an Alabama singer-songwriter who was killed in 2013 by a Nashville bar owner, was a close friend of and musical inspiration for Cope. “One of These Days” is, fittingly, about mortality and was played at Mills’ funeral.


Josh Card, a Florida-raised artist who made a switch from the punk to the country scene, will open for The Steel Woods in Oxford and on the band’s next few stops on tour. Cope said that his band’s and Card’s music pair well together and called Card “a down-home, old-style country musician.”


After their show in Oxford, The Steel Woods will play shows in Athens, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, before heading to the Grand Ole Opry stage on Jan. 26 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.


“Every time we play (at the Opry) it’s sort of like the first time,” Cope said. “It’s never not really magical and humbling to be there. A lot of my heroes have played there.”


The band has tour dates lined up through July, and Cope said he has just one hope for the rest of the tour: that he and his bandmates “don’t trip over the moon on the way to the galaxy.”