Requiem for the Woodshed: A decade or two of absence for a heart that can’t grow fonder…
The compulsion to share our distress is of a cosmic and binding subscription. It comes from the animal side of our sophistication; much like the remembrance of a wounded hound that calls to you through memories of primal noises and eyes of sadness. The sheer and overwhelming sense of suffering, of loss, keeps you honest at least, and far more human at best. And so it is that we entertain the strange pain of the fourth week of every August, and the curious case of Stephen Ray Vaughan and Douglas Allen Woody.
It’s odd that SRV was born the 3rd of October, 1955, while Woody was born the 2nd of October, one year later. The oddity increases when you realize that Vaughan died the 27th of August, 1990, and Captain Al passed the 26th of August, 10 years later. Both died tragically and young- Vaughan in a freak helicopter crash at the beloved Alpine Valley just after 1 A.M., while Woody also died sometime in the twilight before dawn- literally down and out in New York City.
They shared a quality of humanity as well. SRV had grown to be a humble and affecting spokesman to folks everywhere who needed the nudge to get clean and change their lives. Much like Phil Lesh’s Donor Raps, Vaughan would appeal from the gut to anyone in listening distance that if he could change, so could they. Woody was on that track himself; he had his appetites, but was in the midst of changing tastes when the battle was lost. That doesn’t tarnish the fact that every person who saw Woody was inspired, intimidated, or inebriated by him. Much like Stevie, Allen had the authority of a master about him, and that electricity and charisma is addicting once found.
It takes an addictive soulfulness to gain such control over any aspect of your being, and once mastery is attained, perhaps that’s when the addictiveness finds new endeavors. Whatever it was that resigned our heroes from this coil, it is the vigor of their life that carries forth the legacies. That same vigor fired the unstoppable liquidity of Vaughan’s runs, and gave Woody the balls big enough to force-feed Pastorius, Pappalardi, and Prestia to his Woodshed faithful. Sometimes all in the same two minutes of primal bass glory that was his “Suffer” solo.
The Woodshed. That place of pleasure and pain, where standing at stage level fifteen feet away felt like machine gun rounds eviscerating your chest. For those who could stand it, and perhaps used ear plugs, it was a rarely found nirvana where Hendrix’s Electric Sky Church of maximum volume and holy noise was reborn for those far too late to have shared first-hand communion.
SRV had his own Woodshed. Watch the footage we’re blessed to have of him, and you can tell that it took extreme commitment to sustain the volume and violence Vaughan was comfortable playing with. Near the end, he was working with famed amp designer Michael Soldano (yes, Warren Haynes fans, that Soldano) to find a less-damaging solution to capture that certain harmonic convergence humans feel when experiencing such intensity. Stevie and Woody understood this to a fault.
But every musician worth his or her salt has their own Woodshed. Go into any blues bar across this country any night of the week, and you will hear someone who has drunk the cool-aid and hopefully won’t slaughter their hero’s life achievements too badly. But it’s not their fault. No one plays guitar life Stevie Ray Vaughan, and no one plays bass like Allen Woody. I remember catching a band named Harmony Riley years ago in some bar in Central Iowa. My friend was one of two openers, and we stood together while the HR guys warmed up. The bass player donned his Thunderbird, and started jamming the iconic line to “Thorazine Shuffle” for his warmup. When we made notice of it, he smiled and nodded, and we three knew the truth. If he could play that right, he could play anything. For budding guitarists, SRV’s work remains the same unspoken benchmark, so be a little kinder the next time some guy takes the figurative axe to “Tight Rope” or “Pride and Joy”.
I believe everybody should have their own Woodshed. A real-life place to practice and grow and refine what you love to do most. A proverbial place where we can actually transcend our own affectations and self-imposed limitations. The Zen ‘no place’, which is not real, but as real as it gets. The all-American garages which are real when serving as garages, but only become Woodsheds once something “real” is performed inside them. Like a ritual or a sacrifice, because frankly, that’s what it is. Any place is a Woodshed, yet no place is a Woodshed without you and your offering.
Which is why Warren and Matt were right to retire Woody’s woodshed for a while. The doors are open for business, but don’t sweep that corner or paint those walls. Just do your thing and we’ll all be fine. And to men like Dave Schools, Oteil Burbridge, George Porter, Jr., Les Claypool, Greg Rzab and most definitely Andy Hess, every Muler on earth should be thankful to the deepest for the tireless, and sometimes thankless, task you volunteered for. And to Jorgen Carlsson, thanks for bringing some thunder- albeit your own- back to the corner of every Mule stage known as the Woodshed.
To Jimmie Vaughan, we’re all still real sorry for your loss, and we’re thankful for the honor and compassion you’ve shown your brother. Thank you for not following the example of other sibling survivors who have robbed the graves of the deceased, and completely embarrassed the richness of heritage left behind.
It was once noted that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”, so I am sure that too much has been said already. Endless platitudes serve no purpose worth serving. May we all bow our collective heads, in a silent and knowing nod, towards the great beyond, whose infinite greed has collected for itself a band better than any left on earth. For if the Woodshed is a’rockin’, don’t bother knockin’…