Warren Hood is a member of the incredibly amazing Texas music scene. He has pedigree. He has style. In fact, he has many styles as is evidenced by his latest CD, The Warren Hood Band. In the mood for Americana, tune right in. How about some bluesy swing-like tunes? Yep. Look no further. Throw in some smoky folky songs and you’ve got an even richer concoction. There’s something for everyone on this recording…and it’s all good. Trust me.
What was it like growing up in a family with such a legendary Texas musician? Your dad, Champ Hood, was a much beloved member of the Austin music scene. What are your earliest recollections of seeing your father playing?
Music was always a part of my life. Though as a child I paid more attention to sports, I was subconsciously absorbing music at my father’s (Champ Hood) shows. He played at Threadgill’s every Wednesday with Jimmie Dale Gimore for years. That was just one of several bands/artists he played with. I had tagged along to his gigs since I was a baby so it was all just normal life to me. I met several stars such as Jimmie Dale and Lyle Lovett when I was too young to have a concept of someone being famous. They were just Lyle and Jimmie. I was always surrounded by wonderful positive people, the kind of people that are attracted to quality live music. While my dad played, I would often be looked after by waitresses, bartenders, fans turned friends, etc. It was a wonderful environment. I guess my earliest music memories would be watching my dad play at Threadgill’s with Jimmie Dale while I ate fried catfish and drew pictures at the front table. Every week they started with the Jimmie Rogers classic “Waiting For A Train.” The band consisted of two acoustic guitars, upright bass, snare & brushes. They were called The Threadgill Troubadours and they played folk, country, blues, rock, jazz, Cajun, and just about anything else. These are the cornerstones to what I play now.
Despite the fact that you grew up surrounded by a kind of music that some may call “progressive country / Americana/ swing / folk / what have you,” you ended up going to Berklee College of Music to study jazz. Was this where you really learned to “play well” with others?
At Berklee I broke down and analyzed (maybe over analyzed) the differences between genres of music. I learned why country sounds like country, blues sounds like blues, jazz, etc. I learned what roles each instrument has in each type of band; how music and the various genres has a language or different dialects. I think I really just leaned what to call the things I was already doing and how to take them to the next level. It took several years to un-learn the theory so I could just play freely again but I did just that and I’m better now having gone there. Meeting great musicians from all over the world with diverse musical backgrounds was invaluable.
Do you think your ability to jam with other musicians is something that you were born with or did you learn it by watching and listening for so many years?
Learning how to “jam” is definitely a learned skill. It takes a lifetime of trial and error to get it right and you’ll never be perfect. Learning how to improvise is only part of the battle. You must also learn not to overplay and how to make those around you sound better. My dad was one of the best at backing up other artists. He never overplayed. It was always musical, tasteful, and played exactly what needed to be there when it needed to be there. I learned a lot watching him back up Toni Price every Tuesday at the Continental Club. He did that for about 10 years and now I’ve done that same gig for about eight years. Every Tuesday that I’m not touring I play with Toni alongside my guitar player Willie Pipkin and my cousin, Marshall Hood. Toni is in her 21st year of Tuesday happy hour or as they call it “hippie hour”. It’s pretty special to get to play some of the same songs with the same woman my dad played with when I was 10. It’s a little piece of my childhood that is still here. Her music also covers a wide range of genres and sounds.
Your new CD, The Warren Hood Band is an interesting mix of styles but there’s one song that stands out for me and I need to ask you about it. Tell me about the genesis of “Pear Blossom Highway.” I did some research and discovered that it’s highway in southern California that is one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country. Have you been on the road? Did the location inspire the song?
I cannot take credit for any of the lyrics to “Pear Blossom Highway”. I wrote the music and Gwil Owen wrote the words. Several of the songs are co-writes and they all came about differently. Sometimes I write the words and sometimes I write the music. Sometimes I write both. I wrote the untitled melody to Pear Blossom years before the lyrics came along. I had written several versions of lyrics but never liked any of them. I emailed a recording of me humming the melody to a guitar and two weeks later Gwil sent back a version with him singing words to my melody. I had never heard of that highway before I heard those lyrics. Gwil did a beautiful job. We wrote another one the same way that may go on the next record.
You cover one of your father’s songs, ‘Last One to Know.” Was there any particular reason why you chose that song for this recording?
Our band has ended almost every show with “last One To Know” for about five years. It’s a great dance song for the live shows and because we always play it I just had to put it on the record. The album leaned more in the Americana direction when we first started the project. Songs like “Alright,” “Easy,” and “Pear Blossom” were late additions that almost never got recorded. We bumped another Cajun sounding song we recorded because it didn’t fit the with the new additions. It’s important to me to have at least one Uncle Walt’s Band song on my records (UWB consisted of my father Champ Hood, my godfather Walter Hyatt, and David Ball). They were my biggest influence and to this day my favorite band. No matter what I do there will always be room for a few Uncle Walt’s Band songs.
Charlie Sexton produced this CD. Have you worked with Charlie before? What do you feel that he brought to the project?
I’ve worked with Charlie a little over the years. We both do a fair share of studio sessions/gigs and sometimes our paths cross. Charlie brought a lot to the project. Just about every cool intro was his idea. Charlie plays every instrument so he knows how to communicate ideas to each player. He helped every player in the band hone in their parts. He’s funny and positive and he kept the mood light in the studio. Charlie also has a great understanding of sonic space. He knows what’s missing, what’s clashing, the right mic/amp to use, where the mic should be placed, what effect to use, how much effect, where instruments should be panned, etc. Genius.
Tell us about the members of this current band. Have you played together for a while? Are you still discovering new ways to have fun with the songs you’ve been playing over and over again?
I’ve had the same band for while. Willie and I have played in several bands over the past 15 years including the South Austin Jug Band. Emily Gimble has been with us about four years. Her grandfather, Johnny Gimble played fiddle with Bob Wills, George Jones, Merle Haggard, George Strait, and many others. He was named a national treasure and is arguably the greatest Texas fiddler all time. Our bass player Nate Row has been in the band nine years. The drum stool keeps changing and each player brings their own unique sound to the band. Corey Keller is our current drummer and he comes from a blues background. We all play in several other bands which is very necessary if you want to make a living playing music. We don’t ever play a song the same way twice so that keeps it fresh for us. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes you fall off the horse. We would rather have fun and not be perfect than phone it in each night and play the same solos.
You’ve played with some amazing musicians over the course of your career…and you’re not that old. Do you have any favorite memories?
Playing with Bob Weir at Golden Gate park for 20,000 was definitely a highlight. I’ve had some big shows with The Waybacks at Merlefest for our annual Hillside Album Hour. Every year for six years now we cover a classic rock album at Merlefest with guest vocalists. We’ve done Zeppelin II, Sticky Fingers, Eat A Peach, Abbey Road, Are You Experienced, and Before The Flood. Guests have included Jim Lauderdale, Elvis Costello, Emmylou, Joan Osborne, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, John Cowan, and many others. It’s always a highlight of the year. Hopefully we’ll be back in 2014. On the other hand, oftentimes small shows or campfire jams are even more fun. For me there’s nothing better than playing old Uncle Walt’s Band songs with my cousin Marshall in the living room.
What was it like working with Bob Weir and getting involved with that whole DeadHead fan base?
I did not know much about the DeadHead thing before I played with Bob. I knew who he was and who they were but it was not my generation. It did not hit me until I was up there. It was pretty cool. His fans worship him. It’s a beautiful thing to witness so close and personal.
To learn more about Warren Hood, check out his website.