A.L. Wood, a prolific songwriter, powerhouse banjo picker, and soulful singer was honored in Troutman, NC, Saturday night for his lifelong contribution to the bluegrass community. His musical career spans 60 years.
The event, hosted by Wood’s sons, Mike and Bobby, and president of the NC Bluegrass Association, Vivian Pennington Hopkins, was held in Troutman Church of God where Connor Lambert (Sons of the South mandolinist) is pastor. Referenced as a bluegrass reunion, the evening began with a family-style covered dish meal and socialization in the fellowship hall, followed by a concert in the church’s sanctuary.
Wood and his band, the Smokey Ridge Boys, played the festival circuit from the ’70s to early 2000s. They released two albums on Rebel Records in 1973, and one on the Rich-R-Tone label in 1982. In more recent years, several songs the lyricist penned have been recorded by bluegrass notables such as Sweet Carrie by Dailey and Vincent, Rhythm of the Wheels by Rhonda Vincent, and Sing A Bluegrass Song by Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road.
Throughout the evening, four generations of A.L.’s family graced the stage. Married to his wife, Ruthie, for 53 years, their union has garnered 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and 13 great-grands.
The concert began with the Wood Family Tradition comprised of A.L.’s two sons, a grandson and his wife, and a granddaughter’s husband, Brian Aldridge (former mandolinist with Sideline), plus a great grandson. Their set list featured their patriarch’s music including a medley of three of his original pieces: Frisco, Carolina’s Calling Me, and Story of the FFE.
Next, the honoree took the stage, playing many of his own tunes. The 81 year old picked a hard driving instrumental, Hombre, that he composed and shared a little of his musical background.
“In Korea, I learned to play guitar from a friend from West Virginia. When I got back home, my brother, Odell, learned guitar, too, and we started playing dances. I told him (Odell) that I was going to learn (to pick) the banjo.”
Quite a storyteller, A.L. picked and sang John Henry. Upon ending the song, he explained a term, shaker, mentioned in the song.
“I didn’t know what it was either until I met John Henry,” the jokester teased.
He talked of his travels and a trip to perform in Canada.
“We saw a sign that said, ‘Drink Canada Dry.’ Well, we tried and it’s impossible!”
Throughout the evening, the man of the hour was joined by an impressive array of special guests that included heavy hitters, Hershel Sizemore and Jack Lawrence.
Sizemore joked, “Wood said he was going to saw the neck off right behind the capo (on the fourth fret) so we wouldn’t play anything below B.”
“I pretty much spent a summer with A.L.” Lawrence added. “Early in the ’70s, I was a Smokey Ridge Boy. I learned how vocal harmonies work and some banjo stuff. A.L. said that I had to get a haircut. It was really long so I got maybe 2-3 inches of it cut off. A.L. said, ‘I told you to get a haircut.’ I reminded him that he didn’t say how much that I had to get cut and he didn’t ever mention my hair again.”
Randy Carrier, another one of Wood’s former bandmates, recalled, “The only time that I ever went to Bean Blossom (Monroe’s festival) was the one time that I played it with A.L.”
Another former Smokey Ridge Boy, Lester Deaton, reminisced about Wood’s showmanship. “He held the audience in the palm of his hand.”
Before picking a tune on the mandolin, Wood’s young great-grandson, shared, “Guess who my buddy is? It’s A.L. Wood!” Then he tore into Boil Them Cabbage Down showing the world that another generation of musicians was in the making.
Hopkins presented the senior Wood with a plaque from the NC Bluegrass Association, recognizing him for his contribution to bluegrass music.
“This is what I live for,” she expressed as she handed him his award.
“I’ve had a wonderful time picking,” the honoree humbly stated. “The Lord has been good to me. He gave me a wonderful, supportive wife, and family.”
Wood’s oldest son, Mike, concluded, ““It was an honor to celebrate with our father and such talented friends. My brother, Bobby, and I have spent over 40 years traveling and playing our father’s music. Although a lot of his songs have been recorded by many other artists, we felt that our family band, Wood Family Tradition, should continue to honor his music, soul, and drive. Those same musical ethics have been passed down through four generations.”