The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

April 22, 2009

Jim Bailey: Woody Wright finds new life in Indiana

Quick, what gospel singer-songwriter with more than three decades in the business lives in Alexandria? Hint: It isn’t Bill Gaither.

It’s Woodrow Wilson Wright Jr., better known as Woody.

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Woody was surrounded by music, chiefly of the gospel and bluegrass genre. While he was still in high school he started his own group, the Woody Wright Singers. They recorded three albums, two produced by Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Eventually Wright had the opportunity to play and sing with one of his idols, former Oak Ridge Boy Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans. “We sang with all the popular groups at the time,” he recalls. “I was traveling with my heroes.”

Time on the road in those days wasn’t always pleasant. “We traveled in firetraps held together with duct tape with exhaust coming through the floor,” he said.

Later he sang with some country groups, including Matthews, Wright and King, which toured with Reba McEntire and other big-name country stars and recorded on the Columbia label, and with Ponder, Sykes and Wright. Somewhere along the line his marriage broke up. “I’d like to blame it on the road, but I’m not sure that’s the real reason,” he confessed.

When Matthews, Wright and King broke up, he was approached by Michael Sykes and Michael English, who were forming a new record company. They put him in touch with Bill Gaither, and that was the start of a new direction.

Gaither not only helped Wright earn a paycheck, but he played matchmaker, with help from singer Lynda Randle. “We were having breakfast, and he asked me if I knew Vonnie and if I’d like to have coffee with her sometime,” Woody explained. Vonnie was recently widowed from Bill’s brother, Danny Gaither. “I came up to Alexandria to visit her, we hit it off and in 2003 we were married,” Wright recalled.

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