Otto Wood, the Bandit by Trevor McKenzie

You’ve heard the song, now read the book!

The University of North Carolina Press is preparing to release a new book by Trevor McKenzie about the notorious murderer, robber, and bootlegger, Otto Wood, immortalized in the folk song that bears his name. Popularized by artists like Norman Blake and Doc Watson, the song has carried Wood’s fame to people well outside his home in western North Carolina since his Depression-era crime spree.

Otto Wood, the Bandit, chronicles the outlaw’s life, which connected with locals through a series of daring prison breaks. Even after being convicted of murder, Wood made four of his escapes from the state penitentiary, something simply not see in today’s prison environment. The last cost him his life.

McKenzie is a transplanted Tar Heel, born in Virginia, whose day job finds his working as an archivist at the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. But for his passion, Trevor is an old time fiddler, songwriter, and singer, working with a number of string bands in the region.

His record of Otto’s criminal escapades includes the bandit’s earlier exploits, which mostly involved car theft and running homemade liquor, to his manipulation of his popular persona by talking to reporters after he became a public figure. Wood even penned and published an autobiography while he was incarcerated for 30 years after having been convicted of murder.

As the book premiere press release has it…

An early master of controlling his own narrative in the media, Wood appealed to the North Carolina public as a misunderstood, clever antihero. In 1930, after a final jailbreak, police killed Wood in a shootout. The ballad bearing his name first appeared less than a year later.

After serving as a staple in Doc Watson’s repertoire, and one he recorded for the Vanguard label in 1965, the song has been picked up by contemporary guitar slinger Billy Strings, who sang in it a video performance last year.

McKenzie consulted not only the song, but prison records, Otto’s personal writings, and additional primary sources to paint a picture of this distinctive individual who became a folk hero long before social media made it commonplace. In the telling, he also seeks to paint an accurate picture of the times and places where the bandit made his name.

David Holt provides a forward.

Otto Wood, the Bandit is set for release in September. Pre-orders for both paperback and hard cover editions of the book are available now from top online booksellers.

Share this:

About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.