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What Oogum Boogum Means To Soul Man Brenton Wood On His 82nd Birthday

A Black man in a blue suit wears a wide-brim gat as he sings into a mic. He has sunglasses on.
Soul singer Brenton Wood performs on stage in 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Steve Snowden
Getty Images
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If Southern California had a soundtrack, Brenton Wood's music would be all over it.

From backyard BBQs to car shows to just cruisin' around town, you know good times are on tap when his hits like The Oogum Boogum Song, Gimme Little Sign, or I Like The Way You Love Me are on the playlist.

Now 82 years young on Wednesday, Wood has enjoyed the kind of career and timelessness most musicians only dream of achieving. What motivated him to reach such heights? Hunger, according to the man himself.

"I just needed a hit,” Wood told LAist recently. “I needed some money."

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Where he came from

Wood grew up in San Pedro, one of 11 kids. Food was scarce. "My father would bring home rabbits sometimes with the buckshot still in them," he said.

The Brief

Wood closely studied music trends. When his earliest recordings, a collection of doo-wop-style tunes didn’t take off, Wood went back to the drawing board, studying the hits and weaving the best parts into his own writing.

He also found inspiration in his own love life. "Whatever changes I went through, it [was] me learning that I could express my feelings to the person standing in front of me," he said.

A decade later, in 1967, when he released The Oogum Boogum Song, it was clear all that note-taking had paid off. It went on to peak at #34 on the Billboard Top 100.

Album cover has a Black man in sunglasses that reflect a person dancing. Cover reads: Brenton Wood Oogum Boogum
Oogum Boogum album, released in 1967.
Courtesy Amazon

What does Oogum Boogum even mean?

Wood told us: "It was [Abracadabra] because they were casting a spell on me."

He didn’t even like the song when the label first presented it to him. Then, he spent six weeks reworking it. As he recorded that reworked version, he said he knew it was something special.

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"I was laughing all the way through,” he recalled. “I thought, boy, this is gonna be catchy."

His hunch proved true. Shortly after the record debuted, he brought the new 45 to the historic Dolphins of Hollywood and had the in-house DJ play it.

"Before I got out of the record shop, people lined up ready to buy it. I thought, 'Maybe I'm onto something.'"

What came next

He sure was. His subsequent album, Baby You Got It, gave us faves like Gimme Little Sign and the low-rider deep cut Catch You On The Rebound.

The songs not only made him a mainstay on radio stations at the time but also continued to resonate in the subsequent decades on oldies radio, including The Art Laboe Connection Show.

An older Black man with gray hair wears a long-sleeved black shirt and stands in a hallway.
Brenton Wood visiting the LAist offices.
Austin Cross

Wood’s songs became particularly beloved in Latino communities — where they were immensely popular.

“Mr. Wood's music is part of the fabric of Chicano & Lowriding culture,” explains Julie Vasquez, president of Joyas Musicales, who’s been listening to Wood “since birth.” “His music connected with the culture and for decades has been handed down from generation to generation.”

Vasquez and her colleague, Edward "E-Dub" Rios, produce music that captures the oldies sound.

“It would be bigger than hitting the lotto to have an eternal impact through music like Mr. Wood has done,” Rios said.

There is a special place in Wood's heart for his Latino fans and his embrace by the communities.

"It makes me feel like I'm being accepted," Wood said.

Brenton Wood, one of the last living legends of "Oldies but Goodies," still performs and will appear at the Greek on October 7.


Happy Birthday, Brenton Wood! Full interview on #soul #lowriders #music #blm #brentonwood #lasvegas

♬ original sound - Austin

Listen to the interview

Listen 13:41
Brenton Wood On His Career And Legacy

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