I first heard The Wooks one afternoon coming out of my in dash XM Radio. Bluegrass Junction was spinning up something new, and I knew right then that I needed to find out more about this band. Turns out, these five guys from Eastern Kentucky haven’t been together that long, but they’re already making an impact on the bluegrass/Americana music scene. Arthur Hancock (Banjo), CJ Cain (Guitar), Galen Green (Mandolin), Jesse Wells (Fiddle), and Roddy Puckett (Bass) make up this quintet formed around 2013.
Getting It Together
“We all had relationships with each other and knew each other from other musical experiences and seeing each other in different bands,” Arthur told me recently. “Galen and I grew up together playing music in high school. Roddy and Jesse had already become pretty established in the Kentucky music scene. CJ and I met later in life, around 2012, and began playing music together. Galen eventually moved closer to us, and we began playing music together again along with CJ almost immediately.”
The three friends got an offer to play a party. Knowing they might need a little help, they sought the services of Roddy and Jesse. “We already knew we liked them, so we asked them to play with us for that gig. After we played one time we realized it was a lot of fun and we wanted to do more of it. That’s really how this whole thing started,” Arthur said. “They had been playing in some pretty prominent bands that we had followed ourselves, so it was a pretty cool thing to finally get to play with them,” CJ added.
Most all the guys grew up around music and came to be musicians though some sort of family influence, “except maybe Galen,” Arthur said. Although at one time Western Kentucky was very heavily populated with bluegrass, CJ said that today it’s not as popular as you’d think. “It just seems like music goes through cycles. In the 60s and 70s Lexington was the big place to be,” added Arthur. “At one point, there was a lot of pretty famous bluegrassers all living here at the same time. For instance, J.D. Crow’s band was playing five or six nights a week at the Holiday Inn here at one time. It was a really happening place but it’s very hard to sustain that. Kentucky has evolved now like everywhere else, but there are still a lot of cool things musically happening all across the state. Roots music, as a whole, is on the up in our area.”
“I wasn’t really a huge bluegrass fan until I went to a bluegrass festival with someone in high school,” CJ said. “You see all these people playing in the campground that maybe didn’t even know each other before. It was a pretty amazing thing to witness. There was very good music being made without even trying that hard. Everybody speaks the same language there, which I found very interesting, and made me think that it is was certainly worth pursuing. It only takes hearing one or two bands, and before you know it you’re wrapped up in the whole thing. For me it was Seldom Seen and Tony Rice.”
“For me it was my dad and my uncle who had been playing bluegrass since I was born,” Jesse added. “They were attracted to music later in life seeing older people in their community playing music. When dad came back home from the Viet Nam war he made the connection to Eastern Kentucky through the music and literature of the area. By being gone, that was his impetus for learning how to play the fiddle. I had no choice but to fall in love with it after being around it so much.”
When I asked them if they were able to call it a full time venture yet, Arthur said, “I haven’t had a job in like 18 month.” “We’re in the process,” another chimed in. Jesse teaches music at Moore Head State University, “so that doesn’t really feel like a job.” But the rest of the guys seem to be able to call this a full time situation at the moment.
More Than Bluegrass
Obviously rooted and centered in bluegrass, the Wooks, not unlike any other band, strive to generate a unique sound of their own. They’ve been able to find something that’s just a little different than other groups. “It’s just kind of hard to put a name on what we do. We don’t really stay in one kind of sound for very long in any given set. Jesse is an incredible electric guitar player and he can approach the fiddle like he does the guitar with some of these rock and roll songs, more jam type tunes. But then, when we do an old time tune that might just feature a fiddle and banjo, or the fiddle and mandolin almost the whole way through, it fits too. The good thing is, we believe there something for everybody. I think the biggest thing is that we just play music that we actually really like. There’s not really any song in our set list where I feel like when I get to it, I think, ‘oh, I gotta play this thing?’ Jesse is really adamant on this idea that you can’t go out there and do what a bunch of other people have already done. You have to do something your own way. If you do that and the crowd is engaged, at that point it doesn’t really matter what kind of music you’re playing. If the crowd is connected with you, then essentially all of the genre stuff pretty much goes out the door. Whereas, if they’re just spectating, they might not like it if you venture outside of what they are used to. If you have good energy, then your energy comes across.
The band wrote eight of the 11 tracks on the current CD, Little Circles. “At times we play a two-set show, so with just one record out, we obviously do cover some other tunes along the way,” CJ said. “Roddy brings a lot of Greatful Dead and Jerry Garcia stuff to the band. Arthur was very influenced by Robert Earl Keen, and I’m into Guy Clark and John Prine. We play a lot of stuff by The Band as well. That group seems to influence this group’s music quite a bit.”
“Bluegrass is a lot like jazz; everybody has an opinion on what it is. That can be very hard to overcome at times for bands. And there’s really not that many bands out there anymore that truly sound like Bill Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs. If Bill Monroe hadn’t broken the rules we wouldn’t have bluegrass in the first place. I think what we do is just make good music, and we let the audience decide what it is. If they like it, then we’re good with that.”