Beth Fitchet Wood & Steve Wood: The talented musical duo shares their story – with a common voice
By MAGGI HENRIKSON
Photos by Mary Hurlbut
When I met with Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood, I had the distinct impression I was talking to one person. Of a like mind, they never fail to finish each other’s sentences.
Beth: “Music has always been a part of me, since I was three or four.” Steve: “Music energizes.” Beth: “It’s not that it’s part of your identity, it’s way deeper than that.” Steve: “Like any good relationship you make the choice to go deep. You don’t put yourself first. You’re serving music.” Beth: “You’re not first, music is first.”
Absolutely, they think alike. They’ve been soul mates, and in service to music together since 1969. Originally with the band Honk, the pair has collaborated for many years performing with big name concert acts, as well as at the local art festivals. This summer they will be playing at all three festivals – plus a Honk reunion, coming up Aug 5 at the Coach House. Additionally, Beth composes and teaches piano and voice, and Steve composes and records the music for MacGillivray Freeman’s IMAX Films.
Hatched on a Hoot night
They met at the famed Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, where they were each trying out for a gig. It was open mic night, known as “Hoot night,” a good stepping-stone toward booking a job. As Steve tells it, The Golden Bear was generous toward musicians, “As soon as you got a job there – even as opening act – you got paid.” Which was pretty great, because back then he was paying $75 a month for his Laguna Canyon rental, and stood to make $25 a night for gigs.
In those days, a musician could afford to live in Laguna Beach. (As he says, it was when Laguna was “an artists’ colony, not a collectors’ colony.”)
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Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood
Both are self-taught musicians. Beth leans toward “Jazz Americana,” and Steve cites jazz, rock and roll, and multi-cultural influences. Of his musical sensibility, Steve says, “I’m less of a performer, more of an architect.” But Beth interjects, “He’s really good at rock and roll!”
As far as favorite musical influences, Beth cites Bob Dylan. Steve thinks of Rachmaninoff. “And Bach!” Beth says.
The analog life
The pair has just returned from their little cabin in the woods of New Hampshire. Steve had a very unwelcome guest there, in the form of a tick whose bite had launched him into a high fever. Thankfully his Laguna doctor figured it out quickly, and had him on the mend with antibiotics right away, so he could reflect fondly of their time there.
It had been Beth’s grandfather’s cabin – now a sanctuary in the woods for the Woods. “No TV, no internet, no distractions. We play music,” said Steve. “It’s an analog life instead of a digital life,” said Beth.
A cabin on an island in the middle of a lake – sounds idyllic. Except for the ticks.
When they get their next breakaway it will be to Croatia, sailing on the clear, blue Adriatic with the MacGillivrays. No doubt, these travel experiences bring them and their music fresh perspective.
A Laguna journey
Beth Fitchet grew up in Phoenix and found her way to LA in the heyday of the music scene there by the early 1970s. She was the girl folksinger onstage at the Troubador and at many other Southern California Hoot nights.
She recognizes that her original music is not the typical bar-band type. “It’s not that great for drinking music. People don’t just space out when they listen to me,” she says. Of course, with bars being the most available venues, it has not always been easy being a thinking person’s musician, rather than a drinking person’s musician.
“It’s not great for my business!” she laughs.
Then Steve shared his background as Laguna local wannabe.
His dad was the unlikely combination of FBI agent and beatnik piano player. Both his parents were freaks for the beach. “My parents were beach-niks from the San Gabriel Valley,” said Steve. “I’ve never known anybody as in love with the beach as my parents. So they came here!”
Much as they loved Laguna, his parents bought where they could afford, in Newport. Steve managed to make it to Laguna once it became affordable following the mudslides of 1969. “I wanted to be a local so bad!” he says. “I’d hang around the lifeguard stands, and write information down for them – like a Junior Guard.”
He surfed to his heart’s content, while also founding Honk, and matching up with bands such as Kenny Loggins’ (as keyboardist and musical director), and the Pointer Sisters.
Ultimately, becoming a Laguna local, Steve feels he’s completed his parent’s journey.
The jewels that are family and friends
The Wood family includes two sons, Nate and Jimmy. Nate, a musician, is back east, living in Brooklyn and playing in a band called Kneebody. Jimmy is a wood cabinetmaker, and a Tae Kwon Do instructor. He got his mom and dad into Tae Kwon Do, too, which they are all happy about.
“We do Tae Kwon Do four times a week,” Steve says. “Pretty good for a couple of 67 year-olds!”
A big part of Beth and Steve’s “other family” are the musicians they have known and played with over the years, such as Honk, as well as several musicians they produce from all over the world.
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At home at their piano
Although Honk seemed headed for the big time, it’s probably due to their dis-banding that the members have all stayed friends. “We just couldn’t keep the spirit up with all the commercial pressures,” said Steve. “Fortunately we broke up because we are all still best of friends all these years later. Plus I got to keep the family jewel, Beth!”
Steve has been long-time friends with fellow Laguna local Greg MacGillivray, now the biggest producer of independent IMAX documentaries. They share a love of surfing, and of music. To have a professional and personal connection is something rare – and fun. As Steve says, “I have composed and recorded 25 scores for him and this has led to many adventures and friends around the world.”
Together with one voice
Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood have music coursing through their veins, and they’ve managed to be financially supported by music their whole lives. But whether playing acoustic in a cabin in the woods or jamming on stage, recording original scores in the studio or producing international musicians (such as the “Bob Dylan of Slovenia”), they do it together best.
Steve adds, “We enjoy hanging out together. We’re best friends – so, everywhere we go, everything we do, we want the other there.”
Spoken as one.