"I remember playing 'Brown Sugar' in high school," Anderson says during a recent Sunday afternoon phone call, recalling his first Enloe High gig as half of a duo that went by the name Rooster. "You know, they have these occupation days, so our occupation was that we were going to be rock stars. We set up shop in the band room. Black and white, everybody was screaming and hollering. It was a great time."
Anderson's Rooster partner was David Enloe, and when they both enrolled at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, their goal was (in addition to achieving academic excellence, of course) to find a bass player and start up a band. When they put up an ad on the college bulletin board, someone named Jade Cordero signed the sheet. "We said, 'We've got to call that guy!'" remembers Anderson with a chuckle. "So we did, and it turned out it was Jack Cornell. His handwriting was so bad that's what it looked like: Jade Cordero." Though his name was disappointing, Cornell turned out to be, in Anderson's words, "a great bass player and a great fit." With the addition of vocalist Debra DeMilo and second guitarist Terry McInturff, the Fabulous Knobs entered the world in the summer of 1978.
In biblical terms, the Knobs begot the Woodpeckers who begot the Woods. The Woodpeckers formed in '84 when Dan Baird, fresh from a Georgia Satellites' break-up, would take the train up from Atlanta to play with a post-Knobs Anderson, Cornell, and Enloe. When the Satellites decided to give it another go after landing a posthumous record deal, Baird's evenings were again booked. "We lost the pecker, so we were left as the Woods," says Anderson, laughing at a line that you know has been going strong for years.
In the late '80s and early '90s, the Woods was the outfit with which to celebrate Friday and Saturday night in the Triangle. At Chapel Hill's second-story La Terraza (now defunct), the crowd would get so wound up that you could picture that always-suspect floor giving way and a bunch of goodtimers crashing to the auto shop below. Not that it would have slowed anybody down. So strong was the Woods' bar-band pied piper pull that the fallen would have brushed themselves off, ordered another longneck, and commenced to yelling out for "Worse for the Wear" or a cover of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait."
In addition to swapping vocals, all three members of the Woods wrote, but it was that guy Anderson behind the drums who wrote the tunes that people seemed to sing along with the loudest, stuff like "Battleship Chains" (a hit for Baird's Satellites and the centerpiece of the Woods' '87 TwinTone release It's Like This) and "I Love You Period." When the Woods hung it up in '94, Anderson kept on writing--on his own and, via frequent trips to Nashville, with various partners including former NRBQ guitarist Big Al Anderson. Among the 30 or so songs coauthored by the Andersons is "I Can Give You Everything," which was recorded by Etta James, a circumstance that Anderson calls his "proudest achievement in music."
There were other nice occurrences--a song that he penned with Music City ace Bob DiPiero became the third single from Jo Dee Messina's debut--but the co-writing eventually started to feel too much like a job. "These guys had offices that they wrote in. So you'd be in an office building trying to write a song," Anderson explains, emphasizing the word trying. "When I write, I do it when the inspiration comes. I'll grab a guitar, or I'll sing as much of it into a tape recorder as I can. I can't sit down and try to write a song."
Inspiration obviously comes a-knockin' frequently. Anderson has released three solo albums filled with his own compositions, save a cover of the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and a couple Big Al collaborations. All three records are filled with a "Hell yeah, I get to make records!" exuberance, the work of a guy who wants to re-commandeer the high-school band room and make all the kids dance. The titles of songs such as "Beer Drankin' Woman" and "Nya, Nya, Nya" warn you not to take them too seriously. But Anderson has an introspective streak as well (you hate to go as far as to call it a serious side), which comes out on "Yesterday Clyde Virginia," a gem from fairly deep in his vast catalog that's crying out for rediscovery, and "Gettin' Back Together."
These days, Anderson leads the Olympic Ass-Kickin Team from the drum kit as the band gets ready to release its first album. (He also still puts in a little time alongside Baird, Eric Ambel, and Keith Christopher in side-project the Yayhoos.) Cornell, who supported Anderson on all three of those solo records, is the OAK Team's bass player and the album's producer. It's a four- or five-piece group depending on the travel schedule. Dave Bartholomew and Scotty Miller are guitarists 1a and 1b, with the Cartridge Family's Greg Rice a relatively recent addition on keys.
For the most part, the self-titled debut rocks right along in trademark Anderson fashion thanks to the likes of "Purple GTO," "Feel a Drunk Comin' On," and the mission statement "You Know Me," echoing both the straight-ahead pubjoy of Rockpile and the Southern-fried Face-isms of the Georgia Satellites. Think of them as a band that could play at the garagey Sleazefest, the pop-rocky Sparklefest, and St. Louis' rootsy Twangfest (and has, in fact, appeared at the first two) without fitting snugly into any of the three. But the album also pauses for a couple breaths, specifically on the wonderful mid-tempo pair of "Raindrops" and "Inez" (the latter featuring expressive keyboard work from Rice that nudges the song unapologetically in the NRBQ direction) and the almost literally sobering album-capper "Rehab."
That closer plays like the reflections of a family man, something Anderson definitely is. About his wife Grace he simply says, both matter-of-factly and affectionately, "I couldn't do what I'm doing without her." And he likes to talk about his two boys, Nathan, who Anderson describes as "a 9-year-old who'll be 30 soon," and 15-year-old Will. The older son has a band and makes skateboard videos, including one that's on the new HellCar 21 DVD. "I'm trying to keep him more interested in the (video work) than the band thing because he thinks he's going to be a rock star. He needs to have something to fall back on. I tell him, 'You want to do something like that instead of what I do, going out and getting on a 24-foot ladder,'" offers Anderson, alluding to his day job as a house painter.
That said, Will happens to be involved in one of my favorite moments on Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass-Kickin Team, which takes place in "Gityoassupda Road," a rant at excessively slow drivers. Consider it road rage that you can sing along with. After Anderson twice asks "Can't you hear the horns?" Will blows in forming half of a two-man horn section with sax-playing guest Scott McCall, also known as the lead guitar player for the Two Dollar Pistols and Kenny Roby's Mercy Filter.
Yeah, it's not neurosurgery. But it's sure a lot of fun.
The CD release show for Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass-Kickin Team is at the Pour House on Saturday, Sept. 24. Doors at 8 p.m. and music at 10; tickets are $6. The Nathan Davis Band opens.
The Woods are also on the bill for Hurricane Relief Benefit Sunday night at Lincoln Theatre.