November 20, 2016

Oscar Woods

Oscar Woods seemed to have spent most of his working life in Shreveport, Louisiana, a small southern city on the banks of the Red River. Shreveport was a cotton port for much of the 19th Century, while cotton was King, and the nearby Parishes, Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, etc. were major producers. After oil was discovered in the area – the World's first over-the-water oil well was erected on a lake just north of Shreveport in 1910 – the major industry shifted in that direction.
All I've ever learned about Oscar Woods came in bits and pieces, like, he was born in Natchitoches, La. in 1906. (See below for different facts.) Perhaps, but in the town or the parish? and when did he leave for Shreveport, the big city seventy miles north? He was recorded several times between 1933 and 1940, but he's hard to track down after that. Found him in a couple of city directories circa 1950, but have no knowledge of him through the musicians I've spoken to.
He was recorded by John Lomax in 1940 for the Library of Congress, and this is when he gave up a bit of biographical info. But Lomax didn't seem all that interested in him and you can tell by the singing tone of Woods that he's not going to be a font of information unless there's a sign of interest from the interviewer. Information I gleaned from Ausie Grigg, a white cotton farmer from Bienville Parish who recorded with the Grigg family band, was that Oscar participated in a bit of recording history back in the early 1930's. He was recorded in a multi-racial session in Dallas, accompanying the Louisiana singer/politician Jimmie Davis on several sides. In my opinion, the Oscar Woods material was better than the JD stuff, but that's just me. Also playing guitar on the sessions, Oscar's sometime partner, Eddie Schaffer.

Artist Biography by 

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was a Louisiana street musician known as "The Lone Wolf" and a pioneer in the style of lap steel, bottleneck blues slide guitar; some experts believe he may have been the primary force behind the creation of this whole genre. Woods was born in the area around Natchitoches, LA, and his unknown birth date is variously listed as having been anywhere from 1892 to 1900. About 1925 he is known to have re-settled in Shreveport, LA, working as a musician and "street-rustler." (In England he would be known as a "Busker.") It is said (Who said?) that Woods developed his bottleneck slide approach to playing blues guitar after seeing a touring Hawaiian troupe of musical entertainers in the early '20s. 
Not long after arriving in Shreveport, Woods began a long association with guitarist Ed Schaffer, and together they performed as the Shreveport Home Wreckers, often appearing at The Blue Goose Grocery and Market, a notorious (?) Shreveport establishment said to be an after-hours speakeasy. Woods and Schaffer made their first two recordings as the Shreveport Home Wreckers for Victor in Memphis on May 31, 1930. For someone whose handle was "The Lone Wolf," Woods was extraordinarily lucky in terms of the number of recording dates he was able to secure in connection with other artists. From this first session up until his last, a field recording for the Library of Congress made on October 8, 1940, Woods was involved in the making of no less than 35 sides. 
On May 27 and 28, 1931, Ed Schaffer was in Charlotte, NC, recording six sides headed by white country artist (and future Governor of Louisiana) Jimmie Davis along with New Orleans-based jazz guitarist Ed "Snoozer" Quinn. Nearly a year later in Dallas, TX (on February 8, 1932) Davis made four sides with the Shreveport Home Wreckers (and Ausie Grigg on bass) as accompanists, and then the Home Wreckers made another pair of sides on their own, issued this time on Victor as by "Eddie and Oscar." These sides are of key sociological importance as they are the first known Southern-made records of country blues made by a "mixed race" group. Needless to say, Victor did not go out of their way to publicize this aspect upon the initial release of these sides, which occurred during the worst year in the history of the record market. However, some old timers (who?) recalled that the association between Jimmie Davis and the Shreveport Home Wreckers didn't just end at the recording studio door -- amazingly, they also toured together. 
Oscar "Buddy" Woods did not record again until he made a trip to New Orleans to make some solo records for Decca on March 21, 1936. One of these recordings was of Woods' signature tune, "Lone Wolf Blues," and another his first recording of "Don't Sell It, Don't Give It Away." These did so well in the race record market that Jimmie Davis took a renewed interest in the Shreveport Home Wreckers. By the time Woods returned to record in a session set up by Davis in San Antonio on October 30-31, 1937, the lowly two-man Home Wreckers had expanded into a six- or seven-piece string band called the Wampus Cats. The Wampus Cats also included a female vocalist by the name of Kitty Gray, guitarist Joe Harris, and mandolinist Kid West. The Wampus Cats made an additional session in Dallas on December 4, 1938, on which Kitty Gray does not appear, but unknown trumpet and saxophone players are therein added to the mix. 
After Oscar "Buddy" Woods cut his last five selections for the Library of Congress in 1940, he disappeared from public notice until his death in 1956. On the same date as WoodsWampus Cats alumni Joe Harris and Kid West also recorded 11 pieces for the Library of Congress as a duo. As in the case of Woods, they were never heard from again. Ed Schaffer is even more obscure than his compatriots, and may have died even before the San Antonio sessions with the Wampus Cats, as he is not known to have been present on that occasion. According to entries in Shreveport city directories, Woods stayed in the Shreveport area in his final years, playing dances and working as a street musician. 
The impact of Oscar "Buddy" Woods on the development of bottleneck slide playing was crucial; one musician he took under his wing around 1930 was Texas native Babe Kyro Lemon Turner, who later assumed the name Black Ace. During his lifetime, Woods was best-known for "Lone Wolf Blues," but today the most often anthologized cut in which he was involved is the Wampus Cats' version of "Don't Sell It,-Don't Give It Away." Also, bluesman Robert Johnson paid the Shreveport Home Wreckers an offhand tribute by lifting one verse practically verbatim out of their 1932 "Flying Crow Blues" and using it as the concluding verse in his own "Love in Vain."

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