Stage Left: Local Music Duo, Wooden Ships
Wooden ships never go out of style. And neither does great live music played well on the Eastern Shore. And those two things come together with John Brittingham, J. Guy George, and Jon Jacobs and their band, Wooden Ships.
The band takes its name from a Crosby, Stills, and Nash song.
That’s a feeling and an image for which the Eastern Shore is known, and it’s also part of the reason for the name — band members are connected to the water, sailing, and the classic, free, and easy feeling of wooden boats. Yet anyone who knows wooden boats will tell you they are far from free or easy to build and take care of. Playing music is something like that, as well. Music, for George and Jacobs, has been a lifelong pursuit and passion.
“When people ask me how long I’ve been playing bass, I usually say forever,” Jacobs said. “I actually started in junior high.”
Jacobs has been on the Shore for 32 years — he raised two children in Cambridge and was a biologist for his career. He’s played in a number of bands and often has three or so music projects going at a time. He also plays in Christ Church Easton’s Harrison Street Band. When asked what kind of music he likes to play, he quotes a legend.
“Louis Armstrong was once asked what kind of music he liked to play. And he said, ‘there’s only two kinds of music and I play the good kind,’” Jacobs said.
George’s family has deep roots on the Eastern Shore — he can count back generations that have been born and died here. He remembers that moment he decided to get serious about playing music.
“I was at a dance at Saints Peter and Paul in 1977 and the band Drawbridge was playing and I said, I want to do that,” George said. “So I went to Sound Music on Goldsborough Street, where a lot of area musicians at that time learned to play, including Bird Dog Wheeler.”
The first song he learned to both play and sing was “Sandman” by the band America. Ever since, George has made music a part of his life, playing in numerous bands, running Rabbit Hill Music, and teaching guitar and music students. George is also a member of the Choptank River Big Band.
The origin stories of many bands are hazy. Local musicians play gigs all over the place, meet other musicians, play together at open mic nights. George and Jacobs met through a mutual friend, Campbell Wright, who attended Franconia College with Jacobs. And when musicians play together, they can often get a sense that they gel well and enjoy playing with one another.
“Playing with Jon, when you flow and have fun, the music can take you somewhere,” George said. “We try to put the right feeling into every note, to evoke a response from the audience. We want people to feel something.”
Wooden Ships started playing together about a year ago. They play with as few as two members—George and Jacobs as a duo—or with four or more musicians. George plays guitar and sings, Brittingham plays guitar and slide guitar, Jacobs plays bass guitar, and they’ve played with drummers Shane Newsome and Steve Beck, depending on where the show is and who is available.
When it comes to what they play, the band has a big songbook including songs by Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, John Prine, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with sounds from Americana, rock-and-roll and country; they try to read the audience to see what they respond to.
“J and I have been known to perform James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good’ as a duo,” Jacobs said. “There aren’t many duos who will try to pull that off.”
Wooden Ships most frequently plays at Harry’s on the Green in Denton, where they play both inside and outside depending on the weather and time of year. They’ve been in the recording studio and recorded songs, both original as well as the song for which they are named.
When it comes to what the future holds, they talk about playing more together, writing and recording more songs, and simply enjoying what they do.
“We’d like to play waterfront shows all summer long with friends who are good musicians!” Jacobs laughed. “Honestly, we are at the stage as musicians where we enjoy playing together and audiences are appreciative of what we do. We have fun and we look forward to getting together.”
Wooden ships on the Chesapeake Bay capture a regional feeling, and live music by “Wooden Ships,” conveys that feeling and the feeling that these musicians enjoy playing music together.