Jason Cope, the guitar player for the Southern rock band the Steel Woods and a collaborator with artists like Jamey Johnson and Brent Cobb, has died. He was 42. The group’s publicist confirmed Cope’s death to Rolling Stone.
Cope was an in-demand session guitarist, playing on albums by Lindi Ortega and the Secret Sisters, but he first became visible to country music fans by performing onstage with Johnson for nearly a decade. Nicknamed “Rowdy,” the North Carolina native also played on Johnson’s albums That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song and co-wrote The Guitar Song track “Can’t Cash My Checks.”
In 2016, Cope founded the Steel Woods with singer Wes Bayliss in Nashville. The group released their debut album, Straw in the Wind, in 2017, and followed it up with 2019’s Old News. Both albums mixed elements of outlaw country and Southern rock with a blast of hard rock — the group covered Black Sabbath’s “Hole in the Sky” on Straw in the Wind and “Changes” on Old News. (Rolling Stone)
The Steel Woods are an American country music group from Nashville, Tennessee, exploring a variety of genres – stringing together lyrically strong songs, a big sound and well-put together harmonies, they have created a new sound that is being dubbed “Smart Southern Rock.” A quartet of Southern rock traditionalists from Nashville, The Steel Woods lay claim to the sound pioneered by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like Skynyrd, The Steel Woods balance heavy blues-rock with Southern poetry, and they add a bit of plainspoken outlaw country to the mix, as evidenced on their 2017 debut, Straw in the Wind.
Though their style is unapologetically Southern Rock and Rock, just pull back the layers to find lyrics that feature passionate storytelling and messages that resonate. At first glance, Nashville four-piece The Steel Woods may seem like a chip off the ol’ Skynyrd block. But you’re just as likely to hear hints of Ricky Skaggs in the outfits’ rollicking bluegrass rock as Southern rock heroes like Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers Band.
Lead singer Wes Bayliss’ Southern fried vocal certainly fits among the long list of long-haired rebel rockers, but there’s a certain subtlety to The Steel Woods you just don’t hear in modern Southern rock. Much of that comes from the band’s affinity for old country tunes. “I grew up on Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Led Zeppelin,” says co-founder and guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope.
The themes reflected in their music range from perseverance and unity to hope and resilience. Inspired by conversations they had with people they met on the road, The Steel Woods strive to find common ground through shared life experiences and a musical connection.
Over the last few years, the band has built a loyal and passionate fan base through their road warrior touring mentality and extraordinary live shows. Whether headlining or supporting artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jamey Johnson, Cody Jinks, Miranda Lambert and Blackberry Smoke, among others, The Steel Woods consistently convert audiences with each performance.
The band sounds like “drinking a bottle of bourbon and having inebriated hallucinations of Gregg Allman and Lucinda Williams standing hand in hand in powder-blue choir robes, as ‘Melissa’ plays in the background,” the staff of Rolling Stone wrote in a May 2017 “10 New Country Artists to Know” list.
With a pair of critically acclaimed Woods Music/Thirty Tigers releases under their belts in Straw in the Wind (2017) and Old News (2019), Nashville-based The Steel Woods have lived up to their name as a hybrid musical force both in the studio and live.
Founding member and guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope died on January 16, 2021.