Interview by Victoria Llewelyn
Sam Wood, the sought after guitarist with a reputation for being the happiest man in rock and roll, launched into his music career straight from University. An esteemed fixture with Wayward Sons and Black Star Riders, he can always find time for a few extra projects and is currently playing with Oli Brown and the Dead Collective.
MGM: Sam, you are a young, refreshing and very welcome addition to the rock music industry! Having started out in college bands as many musicians do, you’ve taken things forward and hit the professional stages running, touring extensively with Wayward Sons, joining up with Black Star Riders and quickly becoming very hot property, it seems everyone’s after a piece of Sam Wood! How has this all come about?
SW: For me, it’s always been the dream – playing guitar. I started when I was about 12, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that I’ve felt I could get really good at. All I ever wanted to do was get onstage with a band and play to a crowded room, and for people to like it! If you’d told me I’d ever be within spitting distance of some of these bucket list venues I’ve played one day I would never have believed it.
With Toby (Jepson) it was never meant to be a band, he was planning a solo album and he had produced two EPs for my old band Treason Kings. At that time, I’d jumped on the chance to tell him that if he ever needed a guitar player for any of his projects, and he thought I’d be the right fit, then please let me know because I’d love to do it. A year later I got a call out of the blue, he was looking for musicians for this solo album, gathering people, and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. Those musicians he gathered gelled so well together we accidentally became a band. When Wayward Sons took a break – if ever the Universe was telling you it was the right time to go and do something – I did the same thing, I knew Ricky from when Wayward Sons supported BSR on a few tours before the pandemic and I said if he ever needed helping out with anything to give me a shout because it would be great fun! Then Ricky’s guitarist couldn’t do a few Fighting Hearts shows and I got the call. I went over, rehearsed and it was the same feeling as Wayward Sons, we gelled instantly, it felt great, and I went from standing in with Fighting Hearts to joining up with BSR. Things just spiralled, and when you get these opportunities, you’ve got to grab them with both hands and fling yourself into it, get as much out of it as you can.
MGM: Do you think that having that confidence and enthusiasm (as well as immense talent) is what draws musicians like Toby Jepson and Ricky Warwick to you – perhaps you’re reflective of how they were when they were starting out with their bands over 30 years ago?
SW: Toby found us (Treason Kings) because he was looking for young bands to produce. With Wayward Sons we picked up momentum very quickly because we had Toby’s legacy behind us; we had a ready built fan base that love him and would support anything he’s doing. When the first album came out it took off way more quickly than any of us expected it to, none of us could believe it, so there’s a similarity there. Planet Rock were instrumental with this, they gave it the airplay and pushed it out there. It’s a very fortunate position to find yourself in. With Ricky, his band ‘The Almighty’ were like a punked up Motorhead, and he’s still got that in him; he still writes songs that are more in that direction. The Fighting Hearts is his project to carry on exploring that side of him, to get out and play that. He works so hard; he loves being out on the road and he would gig every night of the year if he could! Both those guys have the kind of energy you want to be around, that real determination. I feel that they have the same outlook as I do, that you still can’t quite believe you’re getting to do this, that your stars have aligned, and you want to cling on to it and feel like a teenager.
SW: Toby has a list of songs as long as your arm at any given point, and he’d sent some of them around, so we were bouncing ideas back and forth between us and said – ok, let’s get into the rehearsal room. The second we started playing together it gelled so perfectly. The more people you play with the more you realise that this really does not happen often; with everything we tried out we all knew what to do to make it fit. It went very quickly from being a solo album to a new band, I’m not sure exactly when the transition happened but it was a very natural progression. It was way before the album was recorded anyway, and that’s a really good feeling in itself when you’ve gone in as a hired gun to do the best you can, and hopefully it’ll be fun and sound good, and then all of a sudden, it’s like – hey, we’re doing something really serious here!
About a year after the first album came out, we did a big tour with Steel Panther, all these amazing venues – Hammersmith, Manchester Academy, Glasgow Barrowlands, venues you’d never imagine getting to play and then all of a sudden you’re there.
Toby is the songwriter, although there are a couple of exceptions, everything that’s there predominantly started with Toby singing into his phone with an acoustic guitar. He’ll give us a skeletal idea and free reign to do whatever we want with it. He’s very gracious; he said to us – I’ve got you guys involved because I like the way you do things, not for me to tell you what to do, so go run riot! The band are always the best barometer of whether something’s any good, and we’d always have the Mac set up, everything we were doing being recorded into these files so that afterwards we could go home and listen to them in the cold light of day to see if we’d written a masterpiece, or anything but!
MGM: Wayward Sons put out three albums altogether before taking a break. How did the band progress musically over that time?
SW: The beauty of going to do the second album was that we now had an idea of how the band sounded. In the first album you’re putting ideas together to see what works, but you go into the second a lot more focused, with a more acute vision of what you want to achieve. I love the first album, but I think the second and third are a lot more sure-footed and confident. You know what you want to say a bit more, you’re aware of what you’d go back and change on the first one if you could, and you feel like you’re moving forward. That’s a lot of fun too.
MGM: One of your other projects is Land Sharks, a very different band to Wayward Sons and Black Star Riders. What are Land Sharks about and how did they happen?
SW: It’s another band that happened by accident! I’m up in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and my housemate at the time, Mikey, he is the singer, and he knows all the band members of Embrace, who are also local to that area. Steve, the bass player, and Mike, the drummer, are both huge punk, rock and heavy metal fans and they wanted an outlet for that, as it’s completely different from what Embrace do. They were looking for a guitar player and Mikey asked me if I fancied it.
MGM: What have your musical influences been over the years? Have you always had a passion for guitars?
SW: When I was around ten I had a drum kit and I used to thrash around on that for a bit, but my Dad kept a bass guitar in the house and I picked that up one day and decided I liked it a lot better. Then a friend of mine got an electric guitar and I thought ok, I like the look of that! So I ended up getting one and that was that. I always did music at school, played clarinet in the orchestra, so I had a good musical grounding which I think helped, and I’ve always been exposed to it. All my musical tastes and influences come from my Dad’s record collection, I was brainwashed at an early age! My first loves were T Rex, The Sweet, Slade, all the glam rock bands from the 70’s! I loved Thin Lizzy too, so to have the opportunity to replicate what they did with BSR, well, I don’t think you can have a closer connection, can you?
MGM: How do you manage your time between all these different projects? Do you have a day job on top of it all and how does that fit in?
SW: I’m very lucky in that my day job is my other passion, classic cars. I have a classic car business. Once again, this started as a hobby and accidentally turned into a job. It’s perfect, because I love doing it and I’ve always owned classic cars. Aside from that, I’m not beholden to anyone being self employed- if I get a phone call now saying there’s a tour next week I can just go without letting anyone down. If you have to say ‘let me check’ by the time you do someone else has been asked.
You’ve got to make yourself available. You can’t make your own luck, but you can make yourself more lucky. So being able to facilitate that is really important. I’m playing with Oli Brown (Raveneye) at the moment and there’s more stuff on the horizon with BSR too. Toby is back from his travels also, so maybe Wayward Sons will be kicking off again at some point. So I need to be able to get up and do things at the drop of a hat!