Woody Mann got the blues early and got them bad – his first step towards becoming one of the top acoustic guitarists in the world.
New York-based Woody plays The Ropetackle, Shoreham, on June 11 and Chichester’s Blues on The Farm on June 23.
“I grew up doing my own music, basically the blues, but there are a lot of other influences. I am not what you would call a traditional bluesman, but my music does come from the blues. I learnt from the old masters of blues, and then I tried to put my own spin on it, but everything comes from the same roots.
“What I think spoke to me was the idea of just one guy sitting there pouring his heart out.”
For Woody, a turning point was meeting the Rev Gary Davis: “He was my teacher. He got me started. It was the first time that I had heard that type of guitar, and as soon as I heard it, I was just flipping out. I think a lot of it was to do with the fact that it was just one person playing, a band in a box. The rhythm, the melody... it was all there. The idea of the soloist really appealed to me.”
Blues, gospel, and ragtime guitarist Davis died in 1972, but his guitar mastery proved an indelible influence on Woody.
Woody went on to train formally at New York’s celebrated Juilliard School. He also completed a period of intense study with Chicago-born pianist Lennie Tristano, who introduced him to the world of jazz and its infinite possibilities.
All the elements were converging, and Woody started to develop an improvisational style all his own.
“Sometimes I think what I do is more contemporary blues. Blues is a craft for me, and that’s important. The idea is improvisation. That’s the core of it. It is about being spontaneous in the moment, about not having set arrangements.”
Which, of course, underlines its connection to jazz.
“Blues was the precursor to jazz. Without those guys, you would not have had jazz. It’s that concept of improvising, that idea of individuality.”
And that accounts for the huge spectrum that the blues encompasses – all forms linked by the craft which underlies them all. And that’s what makes playing somewhere such as Blues on the Farm so attractive.
“I love England. I love playing over there. I just love the audience there. I love the arts centres and the smaller theatres. There are more opportunities to play. There is a big tradition there. In England there is a real closenesss to America.”