It’s a huge undertaking to gather all the members of Woodenhead together — past to present — for the upcoming 40th anniversary party, but New Orleans multi-genre guitarist Jimmy Robinson doesn’t mind.
“This one will be the current lineup, and a reunion of all former members, and a tribute to the late Edgar Lipps, our first bass player,” Robinson explained a few days ago. “On board will be founding member Dan Cassin on cello, original drummers Tommy Lachin and James ‘Animal’ Comiskey, violinist Dennis Elliott, bass player Lenny Jenkins and vocalist Angelle Trosclair, along with the current lineup.”
That current lineup is Robinson on guitar, keyboardist Fran Comiskey, bassist Paul Clement, and drummer Mark Whitaker. Robinson and Comiskey are responsible for most of the original music in the electric instrumental band’s collection, which is massive.
“We are resurrecting material from the very beginning of the project, some of which has not been played for 40 years. It's going to be a massive undertaking, and we are rehearsing with all of the different musicians, some of whom live in other cities. Should be a real interesting evening. A lot of real lost gems are being re-learned,” Robinson added.
Back in 1975, Robinson — then a classical guitar major — attended the Loyola College of Music, still figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. He and fellow student, Danny Cassin, formed the band with the current bands of the day in mind. Both were heavily influenced by the Beatles (naturally), Cream, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and Yes.
Woodenhead took all those influences and took down all those invisible borders in the major throes of rock, jazz, and pop, for the ultimate experience in a fun, far-out fusion playground.
So, what’s going on with this 40th anniversary show? Jimmy Robinson offered up the details the other day, exclusively for AXS, plus a little extra for himself.
AXS: How in the world are you going to rehearse with all the musicians outside of New Orleans?
Jimmy Robinson: We are sending scores and mp3s back and forth, Skyping sessions, and then physical rehearsals when everyone gets to town close to gig day.
AXS: What's the difference between this anniversary show and the one you had in April to celebrate the CD release of your Live At Tipitina's album — other than the bulked-up personnel?
JR: We are going all the way back through reams of material, a lot of it we have not played in decades. Really fun, and the caliber of all of these musicians is really stellar…they have grown into their own careers as virtuosi.
AXS: What challenges are you encountering in putting this whole thing together with all the original members?
AXS: With so many musicians on board, will this 40th anniversary show be scheduled within an inch of its life, or be loose like a jam session with everyone sitting in whenever they want, or maybe something in between?
JR: No we have specific songs from each person's era with the band, very challenging stuff that everyone is woodshedding. I have had to recreate scores that we don't have anymore, and even make demos of songs that we never recorded. It's actually been really fun and a great exercise.
AXS: What kind of show do you like to put on anyway, more of a free-for-all party, or a structured set?
JR: Like I said, it will feature music from the different periods, but there will be some crossover with new and old players. Working on a rather complicated set list and stage plot now.
AXS: That's a lot of songs.
JR: There is so much of it. It's exciting to play it, especially the really early stuff. Very intense music...
AXS: How do you feel about Woodenhead continuing to perform 40 years and counting, when a lot of bands don't last past the six-month grace period?
JR: Very lucky. It is a real labor of love.
AXS: What were the reasons for forming Woodenhead in the first place, back when you were in college in the '70s? And what was the music scene like, quite different now?
JR: I had been in rock and progressive rock bands for years. Music College opened my thinking a lot, and Dan Cassin, the cellist and founding member, and I were really blown away by the Mahavishnu Orchestra's appearance and later The Dixie Dregs.
AXS: What is the ideal Woodenhead gig and audience like anyway?
JR: People who are adventurous and want to listen.
AXS: This question is hard to put into words, but... What do you personally get out of performing in a band like Woodenhead that you don't get as a solo artist or with other groups?
JR: It's very different. I love the camaraderie and the craftsmanship working together with great writers and players.
AXS: What else is in store for Woodenhead, and yourself artistically?
JR: We are working on a new studio album. It's been a while. The Live At Tipitina's CD did really well. I'm hosting two Italian guitarists, The Bruskers Duo who I met at a festival there, for three New Orleans gigs in March. Then in the early summer, I'll go to Italy and perform with them there. My wife is coming this time, and I can't wait for her to see how beautiful the country and the people are.