Lyman Woodard is the organist and electric pianist whose album Saturday Night Special is one of the cornerstones of the Strata legacy. Woodard began playing piano at an early age, initially receiving instruction from the organist at the First Congregational Church in his hometown of Owosso, Michigan. While attending Parochial School in St. Louis, Woodward had the occasion to see an Atlantic Records Revue, which showcased the talents of Joe Turner and Ray Charles. He later commented, “It was after seeing that show that I said, ‘I know what I want to do in life.’”

A milestone of equal importance was hearing Jimmy Smith on the Hammond organ. While driving down the interstate, he heard the influential organist on a low-wattage frequency being emitted from the campus of Flint Junior College. As the sparse signal began to weaken, Woodard executed an abrupt U-turn, crossing the median, driving back into the station’s reach. “I kind of liken the experience to St. Paul being blinded by the truth of Christ.”

Arriving in Detroit in the early ’60s, he began working with the group of musicians we’ve come to associate with the Strata imprint. Although he served industrious tenures with the 8th Day, Undisputed Truth, and Motown legend Martha Reeves, he is best remembered for his own adventurous combos, which brought a free-jazz spirit to the often-restrictive confines of the organ trio. Woodard passed away in February of 2009. He was 66 years old.

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