Steel Woods, Jamey Johnson Guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope Has Died

photo: Zack Morris

This story has been updated.

Founding guitarist for fast-rising and critically-acclaimed country and Southern rock band The Steel Woods, and long time session guitarist and touring member of Jamey Johnson’s backing band Jason “Rowdy” Cope has died according to the band. He was 42 years old. The Steel Woods shared the news Saturday evening (1-16) to many shocked fans.

“It is with a broken and heavy heart that we share the news that our brother, friend and the founder of The Steel Woods, Jason Cope, has passed away,” the band says. “We are writing this still in a state of shock and kindly ask for your prayers for the family, friends and band at this time. We take comfort in knowing he is in a better place now and his passion for music and art will live forever in the work he has left behind. RIP Rowdy, you will be forever and greatly missed.”

Jason Cope made his name and became a familiar face to many country fans after touring in Jamey Johnson’s backing band for nearly 10 years. Taking up guitar at age 11, he grew up listening to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, as well as rock bands like Led Zepplin. Cope worked in the Los Angeles area for eight years before moving to Nashville in 2007 where he soon joined Jamey Johnson’s backing outfit on lead guitar. Cope also co-wrote one of Johnson’s signature songs, “Can’t Cash My Checks.”

Through this time period, Cope also worked as an in-demand session guitar player, performing on records from artists such as Brent Cobb, The Secret Sisters, The Oak Ridge Boys, Pure Ed, Ted Russell Kamp, Nikki Lane, and for Jamey Johnson as well. He played on multiple albums for Lindi Ortega, and produced her 2017 EP ‘Til The Goin’ Gets Gone.

“I lost a friend today,” Lindi Ortega said at the news. “It serves to remind me that we should never take our friends for granted and we should reach out while we can. Time slips away… call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and tell them you love them.”

Jason Cope started The Steel Woods with lead singer/guitar player Wes Bayliss. The two met at a one-off gig in Nashville, and after a fishing retreat together, decided to give a new band a shot, hitting it off despite a 13-year age difference. Jason Cope was the wily veteran, while Wes Bayliss was the promising up-and comer. The two comprised the primary songwriters of The Steel Woods, with bass player Johnny Stanton, and drummer Jay Tooke filling out the roster.

After releasing their debut album Straw in the Wind in 2017 via Thirty Tigers, The Steel Woods immediately shot up the country and Southern Rock depth charts, aided by big opportunities opening for Blackberry Smoke, Miranda Lambert, Cody Jinks, Jamey Johnson, and Dwight Yoakam. In early 2019 they released their latest record Old News to much critical acclaim. The album was nominated for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year.

Though mostly know for their Southern rock style, the writing of both Jason Cope and Wes Bayliss is well respected within the country music community. Having collaborated with so many artists in his career leaves a long list of friends and collaborators morning Rowdy’s loss, including the family of country artist Wayne Mills, who was murdered in November of 2013. After the incident, Cope stepped up to offer emotional support to Wayne’s wife Carol, and his son Jack.

“He was one of the kindest, funniest most talented people I ever knew,”
producer Dave Cobb said at the news. Cobb had worked with Rowdy on numerous projects.

The word is that The Steel Woods had a new album finished, and ready for release in 2021. Now it will be a posthumous release for Jason “Rowdy” Cope.

At the moment there is no information on the cause of death for Jason “Rowdy” Cope. This story will be updated as further information becomes available.

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