Matt Woods and The Thunderbolts’ blues strike like lightning

It’s difficult to imagine that it was only six years ago when Matt Woods picked up a guitar. Even though he had just started out, his love of music was already in place. Now, fronting Matt Woods and The Thunderbolts, his smoky Mississippi Delta groove can be heard religiously at Blues On Grand where he and The Thunderbolts serve as the house band most Wednesday nights — the site of Saturday’s CD release party celebrating the band’s debut album, “Be My Friend.”

“My brother always played guitar,” Woods says. “So I was always around it, and after I while I got the urge to play myself.”

Blues fans are glad he picked up the guitar. After producing his first solo record, “If I Was a Fish,” which featured an early appearance by the Thunderbolts — bassist Scott Cochran and drummer/Cityview Editor Michael Swanger — on a few tracks, Woods is anxious to share the new album with the band’s fans.

“When I had the release party for the first record, I was overwhelmed with the turnout,” he says. “So I’m looking forward to the upcoming release party; it’s going to be a great time.”

In less than two years, Woods and The Thunderbolts have become a tight power trio. Woods has continually worked on his slide technique, expanding the band’s down-and-dirty, foot-stomping blues sound.

“I started with the slide about three years ago,” he says. “I’ve put a lot of hours into it, and it has really become a big part of our sound.”

If you have never seen or heard the band, imagine a small, sweaty juke joint tucked away on the banks of the Mississippi River, so packed the crowd is spilling outside. Now start tapping your foot and swaying to the hypnotic sounds that flow from these three musicians as dirty dancing and grinding abound.

“You can get drunk to our music,” Woods says. “We’re a little different than most blues bands in the area, but that is just who we are. We play the original party music.”

Though they stand out in the local blues scene, the rest of the world is about to get their first taste of what Woods and The Thunderbolts offer. Earlier in May, the group won the 2007 Iowa Blues Challenge. The band received $1,700 in prize money and travel expenses, eight hours of studio time and the honor of representing Iowa at the 2008 International Blues Challenge, which takes place next February on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn.

“It felt good to receive the honor,” Woods says. “Michael and I won [the 2006 Iowa Solo/Duo Blues Challenge] last year as a duo [Bad Luck City], so I’m glad the group [The Thunderbolts] got the recognition this year.”

Woods says he is excited about the opportunity to show off their stuff to some of the best blues musicians and bands in the world.

“It’s worth the trip just to be a part of something great,” he says. “There will be a lot of good bands there representing a bunch of different styles.”

This summer, the group used the eight hours of studio time it earned from winning the 2007 Iowa Blues Challenge and laid down the tracks for “Be My friend” at Junior’s Motel, a recording studio in Otho. Recording the entire album on analog tape and cutting each track live, the band achieved the live, raucous sound their fans have become accustomed to.

“We have been playing live for more than a year, and that’s how we wanted the album to sound,” Woods says. “We didn’t want it to sound clean and neat; we’re not that type of band. We wanted everything live and raw.”

With original songs by Woods and Cochran, the album is a mix of hill country and urban blues.

friend_cd“Scott and myself had original tunes laying around, and we wanted to use as much original stuff as we could on the album,” Woods says. “The covers are songs that we play every night, songs we were really comfortable with.”

Some of Woods’ influences include Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Howlin’ Wolf. But more than any one person, Woods is inspired by the art of playing music.

“I love playing live,” he says. “You get the energy of the crowd, and the more they are feeling it, the more you get into it.”

With members spanning three generations, Matt Woods and The Thunderbolts have a deep knowledge for the authentic music they play and love.

“We each bring something different to the band,” Woods says. “But we are all happy where the music is going.”

The band has a great philosophy and is excited to get the record out in hopes of pleasing its fans.

“When people come to our shows, they definitely get their money’s worth,” Woods says. “They are guaranteed to have a good time, because we’ll play until everybody passes out or drops from dehydration.”

Jared Curtis
Des Moines Cityview