Deep Irreverence with the Deep Woods Band
BY CORY FRYE
This pandemic may have rendered us contemplative and serene, but for musicians, it sucks. (For entertainment writers, too, straining to lead stories without it.)
“I kinda fuckin’ hate it,” Bob Shade laughs when I ask the inevitable question. “The lack of venues, people not going anywhere. At the same time, our life was made for this. I have a lot of thoughts about the pandemic, but it really hasn’t had a huge effect on us. My wife, Jan, retired two years ago, and she likes to stay at home. I go to town once a week.”
Bob has plenty to do on his two acres in Nashville, anyway. There’s the ongoing music studio project, which he’s been developing over the last nine years, building from the ground up. Work seems so constant that he calls it the “Winchester Mystery Studio.” And every Tuesday, his band arrives to practice. COVID has pretty much cleared its calendar — even snuffed a vocation or three — but members look forward to making music as a respite from global madness.
The Deep Woods Band, an otherwise tireless unit and longtime local favorite, has played only two gigs since spring. Their last hurrah came March 14 at Bombs Away Café in Corvallis. The following morning, everything changed. Coronavirus entered and ended lives. Quarantine went into effect. Lockdown city. Bars closed. Restaurants shuttered. Stages emptied. Crowds dispersed. The music died. The world learned to stream and Zoom.
Now comes the group’s third and likely final show this year: a concert at Corvallis’ Whiteside Theatre, 361 SW Madison Ave. They’ll be performing in one space to two audiences: a masked, appropriately distanced throng in the building itself and virtual viewers dancing in the safety of their own homes via link. The set begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27. Admission is free with a $5 suggested donation. Advance tickets are available at https://bit.ly/2HyAhhL.
“What is the future of live music?” Shade poses. “I don’t know. I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can, that’s for sure.”
They’ve been at it for quite some time — long enough that in the beginning, their only concern was surviving Y2K.
The band came to life near the turn of the century when Bob’s wife, Jan, then working at Videx, Inc., in Corvallis, introduced her guitar-playing husband to a guitar-playing coworker, Rick Sherwood. Together they recruited other like-minded souls. The lineup has changed a few times (Sherwood left, as did original drummer Gordon Veltkamp, along with a string of bass players and another guitarist), resulting in the eventual quintet of original members Shade and Allan Studley (harmonica/vocals), bassist/vocalist Isaac Jones, drummer/vocalist Tom “T-Bone” Empey, and second guitarist/vocalist Mark Schurman. Shade enjoys this particular incarnation for its strong linguistic bullpen: he, Studley, and Jones write the bulk of its material.
Musically, the outfit boasts an interesting clutch of influences. “Diverse,” some say, a most inadequate adjective. Shade was inspired by the folk and rock of his ’60s youth, primarily the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and the Holy Modal Rounders, the latter a wonderfully weird hybrid of acoustic blasphemy funneled through a folk prism that eventually turned an effusive shade of batshit psychedelic. The group also lists the Mugwumps among its forefathers, a short-lived folk- and rock-fused collective with a roster more famous for not being Mugwumps: Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot joined the Mamas & the Papas while John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky built the Lovin’ Spoonful.
The Deep Woods Band oeuvre is just as beautifully strange — or strangely beautiful, adept at every genre, sometimes in the same number. Songs contain raw slashes of rock, twang, surf, blues, and garage-worthy fuzz, executed by willing, eager students of the form who nevertheless imbue their performances with a fetching sense of ebullience. It’s a careful process known among bandmembers as “Deep Woods-ifying.”
Bob Shade himself is much the same way, an unfettered, unfiltered fount of delight and knowledge, well-traveled over miles and life. He moved his family to Oregon from Lakewood, California (after seeing much of the U.S. as a military man’s son), in 1991 on the literal flip of a coin. First, they occupied 40 acres on Woods Creek Road near Philomath. Near the Millennium, he and his wife found a much more agreeable two-acre spread in Nashville, a Lincoln County burg of 874, where he and his band flourish in creative peace.
What follows are excerpts from our hour-long exchange, covering everything from the musical bounty of Benton County, partying with Bo Diddley, catching the pre-inventive Mothers, and, of course, the greatness of the criminally under-heralded Holy Modal Rounders, which, honestly, we could talk about all day.
How did you find members willing to be part of a project that drew influence from people like the Holy Modal Rounders?
I don’t know. They kind-of let me have my way. We used to play one Rounders song in public, which we haven’t done in a long time. Having those varied influences is a good thing for the music we play. I have a lot of good examples in the back of my head of good, fun music, and it informs my songwriting to a degree.
The Holy Modal Rounders, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, old rock ’n’ roll — I first started listening to those guys when I first started playing guitar in my teens. Somehow, they’re just a big influence. Paul Krassner had a magazine called The Realist for many years, and their motto was “Irreverence is our only sacred cow.” And I kind-of live my life by that. (laughs)
The Holy Modal Rounders were great musicians but extremely funny too.
They were irreverent. I follow [leader] Peter [Stampfel] on Facebook and I’ve talked to him a couple of times. I hung out with him for a couple days in Laguna Beach [California] back when I lived there. His brother is a math teacher in El Toro. I ran into him and he said his brother was coming out to play. That was a thrill.
Their music’s also accessible. It’s simple, and I like that. I also like stuff that’s hard to play too. Like, Quicksilver Messenger Service is one of my favorite bands.
Early on, I said, “Yeah, we’ll play cover music, but we want interpretation, not replication. Allan always says, “Yeah, this song’ll be great once we Deep Woods-ify it.” That’s what happens to them. We mess with them enough to take ownership.
And that makes them more fun to play.
What I like about your song “Josephine” is that it has this surf/fuzz opening instrumentally, then it becomes this harmonica- and guitar-driven rock song. And there’s a blues shuffle to “Everything Works If You Let It.” There’s just a purity to the execution and an appreciation for rock in all of its forms. It’s fun, but you’re also real students.
I’m a rock ’n’ roll trivia buff. If I hear a song on TV that I don’t recognize, I’ll spend 15 minutes trying to figure it out and lose track of what’s happening in the show. What is that? How did this guy get that? Where did that come from? Oh, I see. This leads to that. That leads to this. And I treat it more like chemistry: You put these two elements together and, wow! But separately they weren’t shit. And that turns into the magic of rock ’n’ roll.
“Josephine” is Isaac’s song and there’s a funny story about that. He dreamt it. Isaac is one of those people like my wife in that he can’t lie or embroider. He woke up from the dream and had the whole song in his head. It was there, complete. He sat down and wrote every bit of it out, words and music. There was no struggling.
I’ve never had that happen. I’ve had some that come pretty easily. Others I fuss over, rewriting words, until I’m sure. I sit up here in the house or have the studio all to myself. I play it. I try to get it somewhat learned, I don’t try hard to get it completely learned. Then I take it to the band and it becomes what it’s going to be. It becomes Deep Woods-ified.
“Everything Works If You Let It” is one of my favorites. That was the first song I wrote for the band. I always liked that Bo Diddley beat. When I was a kid, I met Bo Diddley. He was touring the country with another guy on guitar, and they were outside San Antonio on a rainy fall morning. I was hiding under a bridge. An old guy’s under there, fishing. He leaves. A well-dressed black guy shows up: “Hey, Hey, boy. Come up here.” The sun’s breaking through. “Come with me. Bo Diddley wants to meet you.” And we went and hung out in a motel in the ghettos outside San Antonio, getting drunk and high with Bo Diddley. That left a big impression on me.
“Love Song in D” started out as an exercise, like writing a preachy, bitchy song. Songs about women are mostly about unrequited love. I sat down with the full intent of trying to write a love song. I struggled with it for a long time and then that first line came to me: “I wish I had a nickel for every string that I‘ve broken trying to write the perfect love song for you.” And it came to me while I was driving, like so many of my song ideas do. So I pulled over and wrote it out. Most of my stuff starts as one line or an expression.
That’s a good little country weeper.
It is, isn’t it? There’s been a lot of country-ish stuff. I’ve got this country-blues song I’ve been working on called “Nashville, Oregon 97326.” I have one song that the pandemic gave me called “Nothing’s Going On”: “I woke up this morning and there was nothing going on.” It’ll get there. We’ve been working on both those songs a lot.
Tell me about The Wheel of ’68, your 2016 album [the band’s only studio album to date; they tend to live for live]. What was it about that year?
’68 was a pretty damn good year musically and in my life. We were all so hopeful. We thought we were going to change the fucking world. Better living through chemistry. I’m pro-psychedelic. It’s probably good for everybody every once in a while. The Holy Modal Rounders were the first to use the recorded word “psychedelic” in a song.
And the Rounders are best remembered for a song in Easy Rider.
Yeah, “If You Want to Be a Bird.” That’s actually late in their career (laughs). Those first two albums, man — I enjoy their other stuff, the electric stuff, but the [Steve] Weber/Stampfel Rounders, the first couple albums [The Holy Modal Rounders, 1964; and The Holy Modal Rounders 2, 1965] are my absolute favorite. Those fiddle and Appalachian songs and country blues.
So you weren’t into later stuff like “Boobs Out.”
There were better songs on that album [Good Taste Is Timeless, 1971] (laughs). I’ve become friends with Robin Remaily, the violin player on that. He also wrote “Euphoria” off their first album. He lives up around Depoe Bay and Lincoln City. He played a little bit on the album for us, guitar and mandolin. That’s been fun.
Actually, my favorite Holy Modal Rounders are songs like “Indian War Whoop,” “Jimmy and Crash Survey the Universe,” and “The Second-Hand Watch.” Those are drug-fueled all-nighters. Fucking good shit.
I’ve been lucky to be close to the action a lot in my life. In L.A,, I had this head shop before LSD was illegal and was turned on to a lot of interesting things. I went to some of the Mothers [of Invention] shows before their first record. I went to one of the acid tests as the Grateful Dead were switching from the Warlocks. All that cumulative stuff reflects what I want to do with music. For the most part, the guys I liked were having fun.
What is it about that area — Nashville, Summit, Burnt Woods, Blodgett — that attracts such great musicians? What’s it like to make music in that region?
Even in the midst of all this division in our country, the Summit/Blodgett/Nashville area has a lot of different-thinking people. Everybody’s still pretty interested in letting everybody else do their own thing. Nobody pokes too hard at the other guy. In the early ’70s, when the first bunch of hippies — Earl Newman and such — moved into the area, they carefully plowed a lot of ground for us out here. The farmers, ranchers, and loggers realized hey, those people weren’t so bad. I think a lot of that is still happening.
That, and it’s fucking peaceful when you’re separated from your neighbors, for the most part. You can play music. You can play it loud and not annoy people. The community supports a huge variety of music at the Summit Center. Evelyn Idzerda has been putting on all kinds of string bands, bluegrass, and old-timey events out here for about six years now. They’re always well-attended. There’s always a place to play. All you’ve got to do at the Summit Center is go down, and inside the front door on the right there’s a calendar. You write your name on an empty date and it’s yours. The community supports people doing what they’re doing. It’s a great place to live.
What does the future hold for the Deep Woods Band?
Well, we’d like to get a female voice in the alto-soprano range. A keyboard player, too. We want a keyboard player so damn bad. Other than that, everybody’s enjoying it. I see us going for a while yet. Our goal hasn’t changed.