“Jeff Woods from the radio” is how most people speak of our resident Blue Mountains music aficionado. His is the voice that has interviewed hundreds of rockers including members of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Rush, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, The Eagles, The Band, and Black Crowes, plus Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Cornell, George Thorogood, Henry Rollins, David Bowie and countless others. Each would contribute to Woods’ international radio series Legends of Classic Rock (2001-2015).
Where Legends left off, Jeff’s current radio series Records & Rockstars continues with more stories and music, only this time the content is, as he puts it, “untethered by genre or era.” It’s the same idea with Jeff’s podcast of the same name which is recorded in his studio in the Blue Mountains, where he conducts interviews, often with local artists. Woods is also the author of 2016 memoir Radio, Records & Rockstars and host of the Crow Sessions at Crow Bar & Variety in Collingwood.
Mountain Life had an opportunity recently to check in with Jeff Woods one morning for coffee.
Mountain Life: Tell us about the studio you’re building near the base of Blue.
Jeff Woods: It’s pretty exciting. Beyond it being the production house of my radio series and podcast, it’s also a performance studio. So, people get to see a band in a small room. Bands get to showcase what they do. And then the world at large gets to see and hear it in video and audio format. Access to events will be win-to-get-in through content sponsors and via guest list.
ML: Recently you’ve featured a number of local artists on your podcast. Tell us about the local music scene here.
JW: When I moved up in 2008, I didn’t know just how rich the talent is here—the concentration of talent. I’ve come to know it. And not a week passes that I don’t revel in that fact. I’ve spoken with dozens of artists that live in southern Georgian Bay and I’ve found them as interesting, as engaging and compelling musically as known international artists. Some of the area artists featured so far: Madison Galloway, Drew McIvor, Franny Wisp, Shane Cloutier, Miranda Journey, Glacial Erratic.
ML: Did you play any instruments growing up?
JW: I took classical piano to Grade 8. But I was never a natural. I had to work at it. But what I got from it was the desire to create and compose rather than to copy [or] play cover songs of other people’s music. I loved the freedom of just playing. Closing your eyes and just playing. But I knew my limitations too. I was not the virtuoso. The great bands that I appreciated—especially in the Seventies and the progressive [rock] movement—I loved the level of playing that each one of these bands possessed. And I wasn’t anywhere near that, so I bowed out and thought, “I’ll go into radio and I’ll play these records and celebrate them and talk about them: the history, the musicianship and the stories behind the songs.”
“Keith made me feel like I was the only person in the world, for 30 minutes. Same with Mick.”
ML: Tell us about some of the stuff you were drawn to.
JW: I gravitated towards progressive rock; art rock is really what it was—extended suites of music. It was adding rock, and amplified instruments, to music inspired by classical movements. That’s what much of the progressive rock of the Seventies was. But then I was also just as interested in the punk rock and new wave rock of the late Seventies, so I was open to everything. However, being a teen living down the road from Toronto, in Oshawa, I felt a great kinship with Rush.
ML: And then, you get to interview them, several times.
JW: Yes, fast forward to the age of 34 and I [was] interviewing Rush every time they put a new album out. That was exciting. But even more exciting than that was getting to interview Neil Peart, their drummer, who had kind of withdrawn from the spotlight due to personal loss. But after he’d healed significantly, he was open to speaking with the press. He wasn’t wide open—he was selective—and I was very fortunate that I was on the shortlist. So that was a thrill, because he not only agreed to chat with me on several occasions, he opened up in a way that was shocking to many, talking about his second chance at family, and about the people he would meet on the road, as he toured from town to town, not with the rest of the entourage, but on his own, by motorbike.
ML: Did the two of you become friends?
JW: It feels like the friendship with Neil extended beyond the interview; but it really didn’t. We didn’t hang out. I didn’t go to his house; we didn’t go out for dinner. But I remember being out one night for dinner in Toronto and I heard, “Hey Jeff!” and I looked over and there’s Neil, Alex [Lifeson] and Geddy [Lee] and longtime manager Ray Daniels. And they were all waving. It was funny. The people I was sitting with were like, “wow.” But that’s as intimate as it got. I do carry on a relationship with some artists, particularly with Canadians because of proximity. For example, Tom Wilson. When I see Tom it’s a hug and a “How are you?” and a bit of a brotherly love-fest.
ML: What was it like interviewing Keith Richards?
JW: Keith made me feel like I was the only person in the world, for 30 minutes. Same with Mick. Engaging. Open. Eye contact. Forthcoming. All the things you want in a conversation whether it’s with a rock star, your co-workers, your spouse, or your friends. The respect that says: I’m giving you my attention undivided. If Mick Jagger can do it, we can all do it. It’s not always easy because we have so much going on in our lives. It’s a beautiful thing when two people can have the intimacy of real conversation.
ML: Are you a Tragically Hip fan?
JW: I was a huge fan of the Hip, from the beginning too… Sometimes when a band gets so massive, I move on to bands that aren’t massive. I want to be more on the discovery. It was getting too big for me. They were still making interesting music right ‘til the end but I was moving onto other things, as we do musically, sometimes. But I can still listen to “Pigeon Camera” or “Nautical Disaster“, the album cuts, and be mesmerized by those songs—the ones that haven’t been beaten to death.
ML: What about that? What about songs that get overplayed?
JW: I never need to hear “Brown Eyed Girl” again. There are so many of those. It’s just too much. Records have 10 songs on them, not two or three. And anyone who bought those records knows all 10.