It was the kind of message you never want to get. On March 16, 2022, Paul McGowan informed me that Copper writer and PS Audio director of operations WL “Woody” Woodward had passed away suddenly at age 67. He was one of the magazine’s most beloved writers, with a uniquely entertaining style and unmistakable wit.
About a week before he passed, Woody had complained of heartburn and, like so many other guys, tried to shrug it off, but his wife insisted he go to the emergency room. It was discovered that he needed open heart surgery. PS Audio president Jim Laib called to let me know. Soon after, Woody had the operation and had four stents put in. Everyone thought he’d gotten through it. Then the unexpected happened. About a week later I got the news that Woody had passed.
I’m writing this tribute a few days after I heard the news, as I’ve been simply incapable of doing it until now. I’m still shocked and saddened. So, if this tribute is a little disjointed, I hope it makes up for that by conveying the warmth and the love we all had for the guy.
I only met Woody in person once, in January 2020 during a trip to PS Audio shortly before the lockdown. (We’d been talking and e-mailing for a couple of months before our meeting, having signed on as Copper’s editor in late October, 2019.) He was a big guy, tall, with longish grayish hair, looking like a cross between a cowboy and a child of the Sixties. He had a big smile and a strong handshake and immediately made me feel at home. We hung out for a good portion of the two days I visited PS Audio HQ. He alternated between showing me around the facility, joining us for lunch, or excusing himself because he had a pressing matter to deal with – and then returning to hang out some more as soon as he could extricate himself from whatever fire drill required his attention.
However, I subsequently got to know him well, since we communicated countless times, up until just a few weeks ago. We always had a great time working with each other, although sometimes he’d tell me he didn’t like an edit that I had done to one of his “Woodyisms,” his very deliberate use of language in a certain way, which I sometimes thought were typos or misspellings or incomplete sentences. Here are a few full-force examples of the guy’s words:
“Dude. Living in a treehouse to avoid your home…dat’s the blues man.”
“By the way. I’ve been waiting to say this somewhere. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” off Zeppelin III is hands down the best studio rock blues recording ever done. Stop, just stop. I’m right and you know it.”
“I would trade in my IRA to experience 1963 to 1985 again. Of course, I only have $600 in my IRA but…I’d still do it.”
“Just relax. If yer reading this, you have nothing better to do.”
Woody and I shared similar musical backgrounds. He had played bass around the 1970s and 1980s in clubs and dives in Connecticut. I had played guitar in similar Long Island and upstate New York venues, from big clubs to establishments with non-working toilets. We shared many stories of nights where we attained nirvana in the cosmic musical zone or played to a handful of people in a dead room; tales of broken-down vans, club owners who didn’t want to pay you at the end of the night, appreciative audiences, hostile crowds, bliss and burnout. No surprise we hit it off.
He had an enthusiasm for music and musicians that never diminished one iota during the time I knew him. It certainly didn’t ever wane in his Copper writing. I think the odds are good that the last thing he heard in his head before moving on to The Great Gig In the Sky was a song.
He was as down to earth and funny in real life as he was in Copper. Yet he could really get down to it when needed. I didn’t work with Woody day-to-day at PS Audio, but you don’t become a successful director of operations by being scatterbrained and disorganized. One of his many e-mails to me said something like, “it’s coming up on inventory time. You’re not going to hear from me for a week.” Or, I’d hear from him on a weekday afternoon, all-too-close to the last deadline minute, saying not to worry, the article would be in by the next morning. It always was…up until a couple of months ago. Then, more regularly, he’d send me e-mails advising that he’d have to miss an issue. I thought it was because he was overworked, like so many of us have been since the pandemic hit. I didn’t pry.
Woody left us with a legacy of entertaining, informative, thought-provoking and sometimes simply delightful writing. Copper had a tradition of publishing one of his holiday stories every season. They were heartfelt, sometimes brutally honest, often poetic: “The hush of the night outside before Santa came. I guess the hush of winter is the same every night. But the week before Christmas. With the cold you couldn’t feel because something else was happening. A celebration. Even if you grew up in Florida next to a freeway, the ambient sound would bow to the sound of the world holding its breath.”
The man had heart.
A few more choice Woody passages:
“We’ve probably all been to hoot nights. As soon as you learn more than two songs, you hang out at open mike nights to get your big break. That practically never happens, but what does happen is that you discover the nuances, frights and sweats of playing for an audience who couldn’t care less.”
“He was born when lightning struck a distillery near Pomona, somewhere between All Saint’s Day and All Fool’s Day. His essence spilled out of a busted bottle of Chivas Regal and puddled on Fremont Street where it began to distill from vinegar to diamonds.”
“How do you get that good at 16? You know how. You start playing in the flippin’ womb. Must’ve been hell on mom.”
One day Woody told me he wanted to write an article about bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten’s book, The Music Lesson. I immediately said yes – if you’re familiar with Wooten’s work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, you’ll know why. I hadn’t read the book, and Woody told me I simply had to, and sent me a copy.
I will cherish it. As I, and everyone who knew him, will cherish the moments we spent talking, hanging, listening to music, and living life with him.
A Selected WL Woodward Articleography (I know you’d approve of the neologism, my friend):