Nashville’s The Steel Woods has all of the talent necessary to carry the Southern rock torch. But don’t tell the band’s co-founder and co-songwriter that.
“Thank you, but I don’t ever want to carry that torch,” guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope cautiously said. “I don’t ever want to say that we’re doing that. I’m just doing the best as I can as a musician.”
Because Southern rock’s legacy is a mighty inheritance, Cope prefers to humbly think of The Steel Woods as a band in progress.
“I’m glad that people like what we’ve done so far,” he said. “But, overall, I think we’re still, as artists, trying to find ourselves.”
Formed in Nashville in 2015, The Steel Woods has released two well-received albums, 2017’s “Straw in the Wind” and last year’s double-vinyl set, “Old News.” Classic Southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers are obvious influences, but The Steel Woods’ talented songwriters, Cope and singer Wes Bayliss, revitalize the genre.
The Cope-Bayliss collaboration didn’t begin immediately.
“Honestly, me and Wes went fishing together for the first four months we knew each other,” Cope said.
But it was during one of those fishing trips that Bayliss and Cope co-wrote “Axe,” their first collaboration. Featured on The Steel Woods’ album debut, “Axe” is a nearly perfect Southern rock-country anthem about a country guy who can survive even though the devil’s lurking in the darkness beyond the campfire. Once he and Bayliss finished “Axe,” Cope envisioned much more music in the pipeline.
Cope, 41, and Bayliss, 28, lead Steel Woods together despite the 13-year difference in their ages. Cope’s experience and Bayliss’ freshness are complementary, Cope said.
“Between me and him, it’s a totally different generation,” he admitted. “I’ve been doing this (music) for a minute. That’s what Wes needs. At the same time, I need something new. Honestly, it’s the most yin and yang thing. It makes the most sense in the world for us to be in a band together.”
Despite being the senior musician, Cope will defer to his younger songwriting partner.
“Every time Wes changes a line, it makes more sense,” he said. “He understands what I’m trying to get through to the people.”
Cope, a North Carolina native from the Asheville area, and Alabama native Bayliss launched The Steel Woods following Cope’s nine years in country star Jamey Johnson’s band.
“Oh, yeah, I love Jamey,” Cope said. “It wasn’t a thing where I left and it was a bad thing. I left and it was a great thing. And Jamey is super proud of what we’re doing (with The Steel Woods). And I’m super proud of every freaking moment I spent with that guy. If there’s anybody who’s doing country music for real these days, it’s Jamey Johnson.”
During his years with Johnson, Cope performed multiple times at the Texas Club, the Baton Rouge venue where The Steel Woods will perform Friday. After playing a five-hour show at the Texas Club with Johnson’s band, he’ll never forget that place.
“I dang sure played the Texas Club,” Cope said. “After we played all three of Jamey’s albums, he was like, ‘You got your money’s worth. We played our records. Now we’re gonna play whatever we want to play.’ ”
Performing at the Texas Club and other venues in Louisiana taught Cope to love playing in Louisiana.
“I’m telling you, it’s a different deal down there,” he said. “It ain’t Kansas. Not knocking Kansas, but I’m just saying, people down there in Louisiana love music."
The Steel Woods/Josh Morningstar
9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15
The Texas Club, 456 N. Donmoor Ave.