Acoustic Alchemy

Doug Wood forms the Modern Acoustic Music Collective to make the local scene cohesive.

The Modern Acoustic Music Collective, featuring Doug Wood, Charlie Mosbrook, Brian Henke, and Kelly Fleming The Beachland, 15711 Waterloo Road 8 p.m., Sunday, August 6, $4, 216-383-1124
Doug Wood: NPR and Borders Books and Music love him.
Doug Wood: NPR and Borders Books and Music love him.
Doug Wood isn't flashy, and he's not out to change the world. Wood simply wants to spread the word of his acoustic guitar and press kindred spirits into service. "Sophie's Song" and "Wait Up," from his recently released I Am Kiroc CD, are being played on the Kent State University station WKSU (89.7 FM), and Wood is confident that more of the album's 10 tunes will gain radio play as he and his low-key soulmates develop a following. Selling it over doesn't hurt, either.

While Kiroc is subtle, it's not high-tech. Tunes such as the highly wrought, circular "Hull's Triumph" (an homage to Wood's great-uncle, Isaac Hull, the second captain of Old Ironsides), the hesitant, ultimately triumphant "Through the Eye of the Needle," and the jubilant "Journey" announce a singular artist who requires no fanfare. Like guitar models Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, and John Fahey, Wood crafts melodies as memorable as they are methodical.

"I love music," says Wood, 33. "Even when I lived in Maine, I'd always been influenced by college radio. And being able to experience so many different kinds of music really helped."

An academic brat, Wood was born and raised in Denver, lived in Eislingen Fils, Germany (between Stuttgart and Munich) and Portland, Maine, and, by his teens, wound up in Huron, Ohio. He attended John Carroll University in University Heights, graduating in 1989 with a major in communications and a minor in business. Toward the end of his college career, he became program director of the John Carroll FM station, WJCU.

In 1989, Wood and bassist Darren Frate formed Watts Gnu and had escalating success throughout the early '90s when they worked the Boston area, busking to pedestrians and subway riders. In 1992, they were finalists in a Louisville music competition sponsored by Pizza Hut. In 1994, Watts Gnu opened for Acoustic Alchemy at Peabody's, when that club, in Wood's words, "was what I considered a decent place." That same year, Wood, Frate, percussionist Michael J. Graehling, and drummer Brian Farley released Kindred Spirit, the sole Watts Gnu disc. Produced by former James Gang bassist Dale Peters (Frate's uncle), it signaled the arrival of two talents who have since gone their separate ways. Tellingly, they still play together. While Wood's is the marquee name on I Am Kiroc, its subtitle reads "featuring Darren Frate," and the two will share the stage when the Modern Acoustic Music Collective makes its concert debut.

Since 1997, when Watts Gnu broke up, Wood has been on his own. He took the first year off from music, deriving an income from his own painting company, which specializes in decorative finishes. Wood's wife, Linda Zolten, is a muralist. Now, he largely leaves the art to her. Wood has been a full-time musician for nearly two years, and his key outlet is the Borders Books and Music megachain.

Borders offers Wood a national network and a hospitable venue for performances.

"They carry my CD, which makes it very easy for me go to in and play and not have to worry about people hearing the music and saying, 'Okay, what store can I buy that at?'" Wood says.

Occasionally, Wood still tours with Frate, which is when Kiroc enters the picture.

"Are you familiar with old Star Trek episodes?" he asks. "There's one in which Jim Kirk loses his memory and the only thing he can remember [of his name] is Kiroc. In the back of his mind, he's saying Kiroc. When we go on our long trips, and we're trying to keep ourselves awake, we'll recreate old Star Trek episodes and make fun of them."

While his sense of humor is weird, even to Wood, his sense of purpose is clear. Not only is he a man of faith, but Wood has a musical agenda, which is why he initiated the Modern Acoustic Music (MAM) Collective. Along with fellow Cleveland-based musicians Brian Henke, Charlie Mosbrook, and Kelly Fleming, Wood will launch what he hopes is an ongoing acoustic series at the Beachland Ballroom.

"As we've been doing our separate musical things, we decided we had an ability to put together a concert series featuring all of us, our own folk festival-type concerts," Wood says. "So we formed MAM to have a feature presentation that we can bring from city to city and college to college.

"We've been struggling with how to present acoustic music," Wood says. "A lot of times, that acoustic guitar thing gets kind of old, and this way we can present our best stuff in a shorter set. Basically, this is our way to start our own agency."

The key is doing it yourself, suggests the self-taught Wood. "I like to think I'm a good salesperson, and I'm the person who's gotten myself played on six separate NPR stations in six separate cities," he says. "It doesn't take much to do that. It just takes energy and time. That's part of the responsibility of trying to get myself good gigs. I have to pursue them. If I never pursue them, they're not going to happen."

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