The death of guitar player, songwriter, and founding member of The Steel Woods Jason “Rowdy” Cope on January 16th sent shock waves throughout the independent country and Southern rock world. The 42-year-old was a much beloved member of the community who had also collaborated with scores of other artists as a player and producer, including Jamey Johnson, Lindi Ortega, Brent Cobb, and many others. It also threw the future of one of the fastest-rising bands in independent country into uncertainty.
At the time of Rowdy’s death, The Steel Woods were in the midst of preparing to release what they believe to be their magnum opus, written and recorded with Rowdy called All Of Your Stones. To honor Jason “Rowdy” Cope and to bring his final work to life, and after much soul searching, the remaining members of The Steel Woods have decided to soldier on, and will be releasing the album on May 14th via Thirty Tigers.
Lead singer Wes Bayliss, bassist Johnny Stanton, and drummer Isaac Senty will continue forward with the blessing of Rowdy’s family and with what they believe would be Rowdy’s wishes, not just releasing the new album, but touring behind it, beginning with their first show since Cope’s death at Billy Bob’s, Texas on March 18th.
“The show will go on and we will carry the torch for our brother, Rowdy,” the band said on January 31st. “It’s been a few weeks since Rowdy left us peacefully in his sleep and we want to say thank you to everyone for the heartfelt messages and posts. It is comforting to know how much of an impact he made on so many lives. Thank you for sharing those experiences with us.”
What made the death of Jason “Rowdy” Cope so shocking was had had overcome the demons of both PTSD and alcohol in recent years—the latter due in part to the diagnosis of diabetes. First diagnosed with the diabetes a few years ago, Rowdy took a hiatus from the band in September of 2018 due to issues with the disease, with guitarist Tyler Powers filling in at that time. Tyler Powers has also been named as the replacement for Rowdy moving forward. Though no cause of death has been revealed for Rowdy, the family and band believe Cope’s death was related to his diabetes issues.
Close friend and fellow songwriter and performer Brent Cobb addressed Rowdy’s death at a recent socially-distanced acoustic show.
“Man doggone Rowdy. Rowdy was by brother,” Cobb said between songs. “I watched him build that band for 16 years. Folks don’t know that, but I was in the room when he wrote ‘Axe,’ and we wrote that song together 15 years ago. And he had diabetes. And I don’t know what happened, he just … a week-and-a-half ago he sent me the new record they’re gonna put out, and he was so excited. He’d made it through all of this dark shit. And then I guess he forgot to eat a meal or something, and died. It sucks … I’m gonna miss him so damn much…”
Jason “Rowdy” Cope was also a close friend to country artist Wayne Mills who was murdered in Nashville in November of 2013.
“Rowdy was a good man. When Wayne Mills, when all that that happened with Wayne and he died, Rowdy did not miss a trial,” Brent Cobb said. “He was there every day of the trial. He took Jack Mills under his wing, and Rowdy’s been teaching Jack how to play guitar the last couple of years. And man that just sucks. The good ones go.”
Ahead of the new album, The Steel Woods have released the title track to the record that features Jamey Johnson as a co-writer with Jason Cope and Wes Bayliss (listen below). The album also includes a rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “I Need You” featuring Ashley Monroe, and a sentimental track called “Ole Pal” by Wes Bailess about missing a long-lost friend. The song takes on new meaning in the wake of Rowdy’s death, as do many of the selections from All Of Your Stones.
“He was in a bad place for a little while, and he came out on top. I was real proud of him for doing good. And we still made a great record after all that,” says Wes Bayliss. “The majority of the songs seem to make a whole lot of sense with Rowdy’s story. And this happened to be his record with the exception of a few songs. I’ve got a few on there [that I wrote] that didn’t make a whole lot of sense until his passing.”
Jason Cope started The Steel Woods with Wes Bayliss after the two met at a one-off gig in Nashville, 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, and took the band to one of the most promising new outfits in independent roots music. They released their debut album Straw in the Wind in 2017, and their 2019 album Old News was nominated for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year.