Mitch Woods calls his music "Rock-a-Boogie," a personal extension of the jump blues and boogie-woogie that rocked the roadhouses and jumped the juke joints of the late '40's and early '50s. It is a raucous sound currently gaining favor in blues and R&B circles. But Mitch is no latter-day dilettante sorting through old records to find himself a "new" sound; he has been playing this music for more than 20 years. After Mitch's arrival in the San Francisco Bay Area 20 years ago, Oakland blues guitarist HiTide Harris heard him play and was reminded of old Louis Jordan records, something Woods had never heard before. Encountering the jump band sound of Jordan was a major step in his quest.
"I am not a revivalist," cautions Woods. "I'm doing what I do. I have a love for the music and it's a style I want to carry into the '90s." His third Blind Pig album, Solid Gold Cadillac, is a typical mixed bag of material for Woods and his Rocket 88s; a few originals, a few old favorites finally commited to posterity, a few obscurities that found their way into his hands, all informed by the unique flair and distinctive character Woods brings to his music. Sources range from obvious quarters like Joe Liggins' "Pink Champagne" to forgotten nuggets like the early Leiber and Stoller "Got a New Car."
His own numbers like the title track or "Blues Hangover" feature the same irreverant bonhomie and jaunty ripostes as the vintage numbers. Clearly Woods has learned his lessons at the feets of the masters. Helping him and the regulation Rocket 88s on these sessions were an array of guests, including the Roomful of Blues reed section, saxmen from the East Coast allies in the same school of music; guitarist Ronnie Earl, a Roomful alumnus himself; and ace blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite, who put his inimitable touch on "Blues Hangover." Woods' own band includes veterans who have played with the likes of Commander Cody, Elvin Bishop, Marcia Ball and others.
The selections find Woods and the 88s giving the old Clarence Garlow number "Crawfishin'" a Professor Longhair New Orleans flavor; Woods trying his hand at the Hammond B-3 organ on an Albert Collins standard, "Frosty," that showcases guitaristics from both Kenny Ray of the 88s and Ronnie Earl, sitting in on the track. Mostly, however, the album rides down the middle of a honky-tonk groove that led Woods to labelling the sound "rock-a-boogie." Woods cites musicians like Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Roy Milton, Jimmy Liggins, and even Louis Prima as inspirations. Rippling brass and rolling keyboards meet a walloping backbeat and it's "let the good times roll."
This music has lain hidden under the floorboards, never unearthed by rock scholars or British revivalists, but may have formed the bedrock of uptown R&B music by Ray Charles, Joe Turner, even Chuck Berry and James Brown. For Woods, it has been the subject of fascination his entire adult life. He combed record stores for hints of the literature. He made his way into the heart of West Oakland, where Louis Jordan was playing the Showcase. He drove to see Mr. Honeydripper himself, Joe Liggins, play one of his last gigs. After meeting this giant of the music between sets, Woods was invited to join the festivities onstage. "He turned over the band to me," recalls Woods. "Would you welcome Mr. Rocket 88 himself," said Liggins. "He's a man with quite a left hand . . .