“I don’t think people fully understand so I’m just gonna say it right off the bat. Jason “Rowdy” Cope was and has always been The Steel Woods.” That’s how fellow musician Brent Cobb described the importance of the band’s co-founder, co-songwriter, and guitarist in an extensive Facebook post. Cope passed away in his sleep earlier this year on January 16th at age 42. He lived with both physical and mental agony before being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in late 2018, and, in recent years, overcame the twin demons of alcohol and PTSD. After his diagnoses, Jason had done all the right things to get his life back on track and was clean, sober and in good mental health according to his family, and proven by his clear toxicology report.
Cope had a hand in writing six of the ten songs on All of Your Stones, the third release from The Steel Woods since their debut in 2017. The band’s singer and co-songwriter, Wes Bayliss, wasn’t always sure what the future held for the group, which includes Johnny Stanton on bass and Isaac Senty on drums. “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 Bayliss. The band has added Tyler Powers on guitar to fill the vacant spot: Powers had stepped up in the past to cover for Cope when he was absent for shows.
Musically, the tracks on All of Your Stones continue the Outlaw Country/Southern Rock tradition established by the band in their previous releases. Starting with “Out of the Blue” written by Cope and close friend Aaron Raitiere, the song has a real Gimme Back My Bullets-era Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe that continues with “You’re Cold.” The poignancy of “You Never Came Home” is accentuated by the soaring guitar of Cope and the tortured vocals of Bayliss as he sings of a partner he will never see again. Although Wes had someone else in mind when he wrote “Old Pal,” it’s easy to put Cope as the subject of the lyrics: “Old Buddy, Old Pal / If I could call you up somehow / I’d lie and tell you that I’m getting by without my best friend.”
Each Steel Woods release has showcased a standout cover and from Skynyrd’s Second Helping record is offered “I Need You,” here, featuring a duet with Ashley Monroe. Probably not the Skynyrd cover most fans were expecting but it is a highlight of the record with standout vocal performances. The Ross Newell-penned “Run on Ahead” is the band at its stripped-down best, with only acoustic and minimal electric guitars backing the pained vocal. “Baby Slow Down” and “Aiming for You” are in the same vein of the album’s openers and set the stage for the title track.
Before forming The Steel Woods, Jason Cope spent nearly a decade as guitarist for Jamey Johnson who shares writing credits here with Cope and Bayliss on “All of Your Stones.” The song is about taking the “stones” that are thrown both personally and artistically and building something positive. “I built a house with all of your stones / I kept ‘em all, the ones you have thrown / Judgements and insults you didn’t want to own,” sings Bayliss and later adds “I laid the foundation with my peace of mind / You helped its creation one piece at a time.”
Brent Cobb’s Facebook tribute gave his personal take on the future of the group without Cope, “Not that the rest of the band can’t or won’t go on to make great music without him or that they haven’t all put in a whole lot of hard work because they absolutely have and will but Rowdy wasn’t just their guitarist. He wrote most of the songs. Some of them 15 years ago with this band in mind. He gave the direction for much of the sound. Each member was the perfect extension of his own soul to convey his message. Each album, a chapter in his book. This wasn’t by chance. It was by design. Rowdy never left anything to chance. I know this because I was there through all of it. The happy and sad, the dark and the light. It was a wild ride and feels like it only lasted about as long as a breath. Had any one of the members been absent there would be no Steel Woods. But make no mistake, Rowdy is the foundation.”
The Jason “Rowdy” Cope Foundation has been created “in honor of Jason’s passion for healing. With the help of his band, his friends, his fans, and our family, we have made it our mission to continue carrying the torch for healing that meant so much to him. Our plan is to offer grants that provide the necessary finances to assist individuals struggling with PTSD to help them on their path to hope and healing,” according to the foundation’s social media sites.
Derek Stanley, the band’s manager and a close friend of Cope, says the last thing Jason would have wanted was for the music to stop. With the blessing and wishes of Cope’s family, The Steel Woods will continue. All of Your Stones is a fitting farewell for the man who made it happen from the beginning.