SEATTLE | 18/09/2018 | 17:23

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Toni Wood: “Andy loved the sparkle he put in people’s eyes”

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“There was a paper he wrote. His last paper in high school. His teacher loved him anyway and gave him an A+. In his paper, he said, “I don’t need to go to college. I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to be famous. I’m going to be a rock star. Maybe after that I’ll have a talk show. I’m just going to do it all.” And he said, “then when I get that famous, I’m coming back to tell you guys thank you”. Toni Wood, Andy, Kevin and Brian Wood’s mother talks about the childhood and early twenties of her sons. Read our in-depth interview.

 Toni Wood (Photo credit: Miklós Pintér)

“My heart almost leapt right out of my chest!”

I heard the great news that Andy finally got his statue!

Yeah! Oh what a day it was! It’s a day that I will remember till I lose my memory. I have a friend, a fan of Andy’s, who comes to visit me all the time. His name is Dustin. He’s just an adorable young man, and adores everything about Andy. Even me, and he says all the time, “We have to have a statue. Andy has to have a statue. He deserves a statue.” Well, I messaged him yesterday and said, “Forget about the statue. We got one!”

So, how did it happen?

I was sitting here the night before last, and a big car pulls up outside, and I think to myself, “wrong house, you need to go down there’, and then I saw Nicole Vandenberg [of Vandenberg Communications in Seattle]. She came marching up here and she said, “You know, the exhibit’s opening” [Pearl Jam’s exhibition at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture]. And I said, “I saw that online and I wondered if there’d be some things about Andy in there?” and she said, “Oh yes”. And I said, “Well, good, that’s good”. And then she said, “No Toni, It’s really big. You have to go. And Stoney [Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam’s rhythm guitarist] told me that I can’t come back without you.” So, she drove me up there yesterday and Stoney met us and we walked through all the darkened hallways and finally, in the back of the exhibit I saw it. I saw Andy’s face and I thought “Oh my gosh!” My heart almost leapt right out of my chest! I was speechless. I still am. Well, I guess I’m not speechless but anyway. Oh! It’s a big day for me. It’s so joyful that people don’t forget that guy. You can’t forget him. He’s really unforgettable. So, there you go.

You said Stone Gossard was there. Did Jeff Ament go, too?

Yes, Stoney met me at the door and walked up through all those hallways with me and then we walked in and there’s Jeff. Oh, I love Jeff. And his wife, his beautiful little wife! Anyway, then they told me that they had the statue commissioned. And then the artist talked to me too, and told me that he felt like Andy was right over his shoulder saying, “Um-hum”. The statue… it’s just… it’s just gorgeous. It’s him coming out of Olympus with his arms out extended. After I saw that, I went through pictures last night of him as a baby and at two years old. We came across the country when he was two years old. His brothers, Kevin and Brian were six and five, and we all drove across country. We stopped at Mount Rushmore. We got out of the car and got to this platform. Andy saw these big presidents and then he ran around to that performance side of the platform, opened his little arms and he said, “God Bless America!” And everyone went, “Yeeeah!” He was only two years old. And that’s where you could see that something changed in his brain. Like, “Oh! I like this.” He loved the sparkle he put in people’s eyes. And he did that for the rest of his life. He put a sparkle in people’s eyes. He was just an adorable guy.

He was born to do what he did, I guess.

Oh yeah, he was! There was a paper he wrote. His last paper in high school. His teacher loved him anyway and gave him an A+. In his paper, he said, “I don’t need to go to college. I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to be famous. I’m going to be a rock star. Maybe after that I’ll have a talk show. I’m just going to do it all.” And he said, “then when I get that famous, I’m coming back to tell you guys thank you”. He was so sweet.

Andy was your third son. Being the youngest in the family, maybe he felt as though he had to do more?

Maybe, yeah. And you know. On the other hand, you parent the first child really seriously. And then, we had Brian within a year after Kevin. And so we parented him really seriously. And then, by the time Andy came along we were more relaxed. I felt for the first time like a real Mom when Andy came along because I was just learning with the other two.

 Andy Wood’s statue (Photo credit: Miklós Pintér)

“What is your problem, people? This is Love Rock!”

Andy was born in Columbus, Mississippi. Why did you move to Washington?

Well, my husband, Dave got a job in downtown Seattle as an Air Force recruiter. So, we moved to Bainbridge because it’s handier to Seattle than Seattle. So, that’s how we ended up here. It was really the first opportunity of having a home for the boys. They never really felt like anything was home because we travelled. Every couple of years we’d move. They’d have to say goodbye to friends and start over.

The whole family were big music fans. What was your favourite kind of music?

I think my favourite music was R&B. But I’d listen to all kinds of music and I’d make the kids listen. I’d say, “Come and listen! Come and listen!” I even listened to some country & western. Their Dad was big on country & western. He loved Willie Nelson. At the time I hated Willie Nelson but I love him now.

So these were the first influences for your boys. Why do you think they all got into making music?

Andy just loved Elton John. He didn’t allow the fact that Elton came out as gay color his judgement, even though his father spoke out against being gay. Andy was like, “So what? I love him. It doesn’t matter what he chooses to do in bed, that doesn’t bother me at all.” He was only like six years old and he didn’t let other people sway him. He always knew the right thing to say and the right thing to do and the kind way to treat people. He taught me how to be kind. He would correct me sometimes and say, “Oh Mom, no, you shouldn’t say that! That’s just not nice”. And then, you know, I became aware of what I was saying in front of my little boy.

It seems he was a very warm person and everybody loved him.

Oh, I know it. In high school, I had a lady stop me once, and she said, “I was waiting to see you”, and then she said, “I had to tell you that my daughter was a wall flower. You know, she never came out of her shell. She was shy. She was plain. She was a wall flower. She was terribly shy, it almost crippled her. And she came to the high school like a 13-14 year old. She didn’t mix with people. And Andy saw her and stood with her in the hallways and introduced her to people that walked by and took her under his wing. Just for kindness.” And the sculptor yesterday said to me, “I was sitting in a coffee shop and I ran into an old friend of mine and he said, ‘Hey, what have you been doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m doing a bronze of Andy Wood.’ And the guy said, ‘Andy? I met him in high school. I was shy. I had just come to the high school and… I got on the bus and Andy was there and everybody just stared without any expression and made me really nervous. But Andy, he said, ‘Hey! Come over here! This is your seat.’ And he was really kind to him. And he said, ‘I’ll never forget him. He was a great person’.

 Toni and Cooper (Photo credit: Miklós Pintér)

“Hey, I want to be a rock star”

Kevin and Andy started to play together very early. Andy was 14 when they formed Malfunkshun.

Yeah, I know. You see, Kevin had taken him to a rock concert and I can’t remember who was playing but they were watching the concert and then Andy poked Kevin with his elbow and said, “Hey, I want to be a rock star”, and Kevin said, “Me too”. And they went home and started the band. And Dave Rees [first bass player of Malfunkshun] says, to this day he still laughs about it. He says, Andy said “Dave, you play bass and I’ll get it all organised. And Dave goes, “Andy, I don’t know how to play bass”. And Andy says, “Oh, it doesn’t matter!” So, they just started making noise and ended up making music.

When did you realise first that it’s more than a hobby and that something good would come of it? And that Andy would be a rock star?

There was an open air rock concert out at some berry patch out in the sticks here on Bainbridge and they were playing. And I went, of course. Then, here he comes up on stage and just commanded. He just commanded attention. There was something about it. Everybody just stopped and their mouths dropped open, and they looked at him like, whoa! You know, they were just delighted by him. And then they started playing music, but everyone started throwing things at them because they were so awful, and Andy said, “What is your problem, people? This is Love Rock!” For me that was that moment… and it scared me, but somehow I felt happiness too, you know. There was a fluttering in me.

I can understand.

So that is how Love Rock was born. That’s the first time I felt, “Uh-oh. He’s going to do it. He’s actually going to do it.” Yeah, and then when he got drawn away from Malfunkshun, he felt like he was still a part of Malfunkshun, but Stoney, Jeff and the rest of Green River said, “Come and play with us, be our singer”, and then things just kind of got big. It started building. Then the record companies started romancing with him. I was at work and I heard the phone overhead say, “Toni Wood, line 1. Toni Wood, line 1.” And I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” “Hey!” He says. I say, “Hi Honey! What do you want?” He says, “What kind of car do you want?” And I say, “What do you mean?” “I’ll buy you a new car, what kind do you want?” I said, “A Volkswagen Convertible”. And he said, “I thought you would say that.” And I said, “What are we talking about?” And he said, “I just signed with a major record company and I’m going to buy you a car.” Oh, what a doll he was!

That was very kind of him. That you were his first thought after he’d got signed.

He was all heart. And his heart would be broken so easily too. I mean, girls. They just stepped on him. He was just a puddle for girls. When he was 10 years old, he wrote a poem. 10 year olds don’t do this! But he wrote a poem for a girl in his class, a love poem. He got up in front of the class and read the love poem to her like, “This is it. I’m bearing my soul to you”. Her name was Katie. And she still remembers, of course.

When Mother Love Bone started out they went on tour after signing the contract.

Andy went to California shortly after they signed. And they recorded the album down there. And then, they were going on tour right before he died. They hired a new tour manager that would watch out for Andy. That would help him. They bought him a new keyboard. They just tried to do everything they could but…

… but it happened.

Yeah, he had got in a fight with his girlfriend, Xana that night. She said, “I’m going to the party.” And he had called me and he was sick. I mean, physically sick. And I said, “You got to take care because you’re going out on tour.” So they got in a terrible fight and she said she was going to a party and left him all alone. He was so emotional about girls. If he had lived he may have become a stronger person. He may have had his head on right because so many young men don’t have the right thought process about romance. They just think it’s a life or death thing. I have a feeling, you know, that it was a life or death thing with him. I don’t think he intentionally killed himself but I think that it was an accident, although he knew that he was taking a risk because he had been clean for 120 days.

It seemed that everything was ok.

Yeah, he told everyone that he was…

It must have been a very difficult time after his death.

Oh, my God! It still is. I mean, you don’t get over that. Sometimes, I’ll look at a picture of him and say, “Oh, I wish you were. With all my heart, I wish you were here!” And not because he’d be famous and not because he’d be helping me financially, you know, or anything like that but all because he’s Andy. Because he’s Andy, you know. We loved him so much.

Brian, your first son was part of the band Hater.

I loved it when he was playing with Kevin. When they played with Devilhead… And there was another band. The Fire Ants. They had a song called ‘100 Wives’! It’s a great song. It just builds and builds. And he was a fantastic singer before he ruined himself. Brian lives a very life and he’s been fighting cancer for three years.

How did Kevin take them splitting up with Andy?

It was awful for Kevin. It broke Kevin’s heart. He knew Andy was jamming with those guys and those guys, at the time, they were young. They had the impression that Kevin was leading Andy astray. No, Kevin wasn’t doing that. I feel that some of those guys had probably already tried using hard drugs. Unfortunately, we have a lot of that, addiction, in our family. But anyway, the band members thought of Kevin as the enemy at the time. Which is really sad because Kevin was the one that Andy just adored and then Andy got swept away with those guys but he knew he was going to be big, so then he signed, according to Andy anyway, a solo contract with the record company for a record that he and Kevin could do together and he said that, “Kevin’s going to be my guitarist.” And that was going to be great but then he didn’t live to do it. It’s heartbreaking.

How did Andy feel when he finally left Malfunkshun?

Oh, he felt awful about leaving them. He said, “That was my best friend and my brother. I just felt awful leaving them.” But he did. He had to. You know, he said to me, “This is all going to happen before I’m 25. I’m going to be big before I’m 25. And then, after I make it big and ride that wave for a while I’m going to kind of pull back and write music for movies and do quiet things”, he said. That was his plan, he was going to stay involved in the music but it just didn’t turn out like that. But you know, he was broken hearted having to pull away from his brother and Regan.

Regan a childhood friend from school.

Yes, from here. From Bainbridge. They hung all together all the time and shaved each other’s heads and they’d show and I had a shop at the time and they’d show up with their heads all shaved and I’d be like, “Well, what have you guys been doing?” as if I didn’t know.

 “What have you guys been doing?” (Photo credit: Miklós Pintér)

Mother Love Bone times

Do you remember the time when he first showed you the Mother Love Bone recordings?

Oh, yeah. He passed out records. We had gone out as a family for breakfast or something on a Sunday morning, and we were down on the Main Street. He had some sample records and he was passing them all out and he said, “This is Mother Love Bone”.

That was ‘Shine’?

Yeah! And you know, he always sent me the practice things and the songs that he was writing. And when he wrote the ‘Man of Golden Words’, I was just so… I still am in awe of that beautiful song. You should hear Malfunkshun play it because when Kevin starts that guitar, he does the guitar work. It sounds like the guitar is crying. It sounds, oh so…! It just breaks my heart!

Coming back to Andy, what was his plan after they recorded the album and they were waiting for the release of ‘Apple’? Was there a tour planned after the release?

Yes, but they didn’t get to Europe. The tour was planned and then he died. It was a scheduled tour, and that’s why the world knew that he had passed. It was a terrible thing. You know, when he was lying there in the hospital… He was so loved in this city… this city maybe not the world yet but the city adored him so you just knew that the rest of the world was going to love him too. Because it was a constant parade of people coming, “Can I see him?” “Can I brush his hair?” “Can I go and see him?” Oh! They just loved him! It was love! Total Love! Oh, it was so beautiful and sad, and horrible. I mean, big mean looking guys with leather jackets crying their eyes out just… “Can I see him? Oh, I can’t live in this town without him!” You know, he was so much a part of that city. That’s why I want the statue to be out there where people are [when they remove it from the museum] because he would love it out where the people are.

 Andy’s statue (Photo: Miklós Pintér)

“Never fear, Malfunkshun’s here!”

I think Andy was very positive.

He was like there was a light coming out of him. He just shone. You know, one time when they were in Malfunkshun, Kevin and Regan [Hagar, the drummer] they wouldn’t show up and Andy was just gung-ho for the whole thing all the time. And so he told me that he was going to be at that J&M, or whatever, in the Pioneer Square. So I went, got on the boat and waited for him to show and he showed up all by himself and he came marching through and there’s a bunch of tough guys at the bar and he had his white face and that ruffly jacket and he had his hair all ratted up, really big, and he had some skin-tight tiger printed pants on. And one blue and one green shoe and he comes marching in and he said, “Never fear, Malfunkshun’s here!” And he walked through and they went, “What the …?!”And they watched him walk by and he went up and started setting up and then the guys never showed up so he did a solo performance to almost an empty house but he’d say, “There’s my Mom!” Clapping,“Yay, Mom!” There’s my mom!” He was just…

…an amazing guy!

He just marched in and everyone went, “Whoah!” He wasn’t known much but that’s when people started falling in love with him. Another time he was doing a solo thing at this place called the Blue Moon. Those partners of his were so flaky. And so he was doing a solo show and I had to leave before the show was over because I had to work the next day. And he said, “Hold on everyone! I’ll be right back. I want to walk my mom to the car!” And he was such a sweet boy! And he walks me to the car and I looked up at that white face because he had all that make-up on and tears were coming down…wiping away the… making tracks in the make-up. And I said, “What’s the matter, honey?” He said, “Nothing.” He was probably sad because Kevin and Regan couldn’t make it for whatever reason. You know, as if he was saying, “I have to do this all by myself”.

Andy’s lyrics were a lot better than his peers and he must have got it from somewhere.

He was super bright and curious about all kinds of things. He was very curious, but mostly about people. He knew about all the old musicians, he knew stories and stuff. He’d read their life stories. Like Miles Davis’. He thought Miles Davis was so cool because Miles Davis cured himself of drug addiction. He locked himself in and he said, nobody let him out and he suffered through that by himself and kicked the habit. Miles Davis was a great guy. Early on, before the Civil Rights, when he was playing music they tried to lowball him with his fees because of the colour of his skin and he’d say, “Ok, you are not going to get away with that. I’m going to get exactly what the white guys get coming.” He stood up for himself. He was a strong man and Andy just admired that. Just honest and strong saying, “Alright, This is what’s going to happen.”

Which one of Andy’s songs was your favourite?

Actually, I love ‘Stardog Champion’. I mean, I love the feeling when you are in a room and like, Malfunkshun will play Mother Love Bone music and all the love that’s in that room. And everyone is singing. The room is just full of love. I love that. I don’t play his music though, just every once in a while. But I remember I saw the guy from Candlebox…

Kevin Martin?

Is that him? The frontman?

Yes.

So I saw him on YouTube and he said, “And now we’re going to play a song from somebody you might know and I have to tell you that he was a great guy and could have changed the world. Absolutely could have changed the world.” And he said, “When I was younger I went to one of his shows and I waited in the back for him to come out and I said, “Andy! Andy! How do I do it? I want to be just like you. I want to be a rock star.” And Andy said, “Don’t let anybody change you. Just be who you are.” Just be who you are. Don’t let anybody change you. And he shook his hand and gave him a hug. And he said, “That guy could have changed the world.”

I was here in Seattle in 2016 and Candlebox played a show at Neptune Theater. The last song was ‘Bone China’.

I love that one too! ‘Bone China’ is a great song.

They played it very well and Kevin Martin sang it very well. I think Kevin knows what Andy felt about music, life and everything.

I want to hear that.

I can show you.

[After the first row:] Oh, my God. It’s amazing. Kevin Martin’s voice is totally same like Andy’s… Thank you for showed it.

There were a lot of amazing singers here in Seattle like Layne Staley, Chris Cornell and unfortunately they all passed away but did Andy have a relationship with these other singers?

Oh yeah! He knew all of them. In fact, he sang with them. You know, they would jam together sometimes. He knew all of them. I don’t know if he jammed with the guy from Nirvana, what was his name?

Kurt Cobain.

Kurt, yeah! I don’t know if he actually jammed with him but they knew one another.

Kurt Cobain wasn’t too respectful to Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament but he respected Andy.

There wasn’t many people who didn’t, you know. I wasn’t familiar with his music though. There was a guy down on the dock the other day and I was down there with my dog, Cooper. He was fixing something on the dock and he a little portable stereo, and he was playing music and I said, “Oooh, Who is that?”And he said, “God! You don’t even know who Nirvana is?” And I said, “No! I’ve never listened to it but they’re great, aren’t they?” And he said, “Duh!” It was funny. It is kind of a dark sound but still it’s really compelling.

 “There’s my Mom!” (Photo credit: Miklós Pintér)

Andy and the President

Andy had a lot of friends in the music scene. And what about other friends?

He had a bunch of shady friends. You know, the guys from high school. They were criminals. I mean, I called them criminals. They’d say, “Good evening, Mrs. Wood” and I’d think, “Yeah, right.” And I’d say, “Why are you hanging around with criminals?” And Andy would just laugh. But you know, in the movie, there was that guy Mark… and he said, “If you ever went to 7-Eleven to get a slurpee with Andy you would never forget it. The store guy would never forget it, the customers would never forget it, you just…he made even getting a slurpee absolutely unforgettable. It was really the sweetest thing that I heard because it was just like that. You could just go and do simple things with him and just have the greatest time.

Andy had another great friend here in high school, a girl named Mara. A total beautiful friendship. Later, when Andy was living with his girlfriend, Xana in the city, up in Magnolia, Mara came to town. And Andy said, “Come and stay at my house.” They had a big couch, and it was just a studio apartment, no separate bedroom, so their bed, Xana and Andy’s bed was over there on the wall and the couch was over on the other side of the room. And she said, she could hardly sleep because she was so excited to be with him again. Because they loved one another, totally loved one another. She said to me once, “We should have gotten married. And he’d still be here because I would have taken care of him and there wouldn’t have been so much pain in his life.” But, should have, would have, could have. But, she’s a great girl, little Mara. And she’s almost as funny as he was! Oh, they were a pair! Oh my Gosh! She said, “I could just laugh my ass off with Andy.” Oh, she just adored being with him!

Andy and Chris Cornell were great friends.

Yeah. They didn’t have such a long time together, no, but they were of the same mind and heart. Chris was a very kind and compassionate person too. And Chris said that Andy showed him how to be a rock star. Andy said, “Come on! Follow me! I’ll show you!” And he just showed him. And Chris, of course, developed his own style. He was wonderful. Chris was wonderful. They loved one another. Andy used to make Chris, Chris Cornell, just… you know, they’d write songs together. But Andy would write eleven songs to Chris’ one. And then Chris would say, “Most of it was shit but one or two would be diamonds. He would write eleven songs to my one, you know.” They’d be in a competition together. You know, Andy couldn’t… they wouldn’t let him go when he was dying, until Chris got there.

Is there anything else you could tell me about Andy?

This is who he was in a nutshell. This is who he was. He would tell you a dream that he had or something. A goal they had in mind. And I would say to him, because I didn’t want him to be disappointed, “You can’t do that. No, no, no! That’s not going to happen!” And he’d say, “It is! It is going to happen.” And, he’d make it happen. One time, when he was about six or seven years old and we were living in San Antonio, Texas, the president was coming to the Alamo. They were going to have a big rally at the Alamo. And he said, “Come on, Mom! We got to go and see the president! And I said, “You are not going to be able to see the president. They won’t let you get close to him and there’s going to be crowds. Probably won’t even be able to get a parking place!” Well, he just wouldn’t hear it. He said, “Come on! We’re going. Come on!” He went and got in the car. And then, Kevin, Brian and I just got in the car and drove him to the Alamo. We got out of the car and parked out miles away. Walked all the way into the Alamo. We could see the stage and the Alamo, they had a riser there. We could see the reporters but they seemed very small because we were very far.  And then, I saw the president coming. And then, I turned around and Andy was gone. Just gone! And then, I was like, “Oh, my God, I lost him in this crowd!” I saw the crowd rumbling around, wiggling like this, you know with this little guy coming through. And I started to try to follow him and said, “Help! I’m losing my son!  Excuse, excuse me!” And I go up there just in time to see the president reaching his hand out and a little tiny hand comes up grabs it and is shaking the president, like crazy! “I love you, Mr. President! I’ve been campaigning for you! And I’m cold calling all of San Antonio!” And he, President Gerald Ford said, “Thank you son! It’s too bad you can’t vote!” “Don’t worry, Andy answered, I’ll just call everybody!” Oh, my gosh! It was so cute!

What a great story!

And Gerald Ford was kind of an underdog at the time, you know. He would bump his head on Air Force One, or fall down the stairs… and that’s what made Andy love him. It was like, “Oh, my God! This guy is so human. I just love this president.” And he would cold call like half of San Antonio to encourage you to vote for Gerald Ford. And of course, this wouldn’t happen. Texas is mostly a Republican State. And then he lost the election. He lost that year. And Andy wrote him a little letter saying, and he was left-handed, wrote the president a little letter and actually got a letter back from Gerald Ford that said, “Thank you, Andy, for you concern. I think you’re going to grow up to be a fine young man.” That’s who he was! He was like, I want this and I’m going for it. This is what I see. This is going to happen.

I have no words.

I know, I don’t either. He just was, Andy. It was just Andy.

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