Motor City Cribs

A groundhog outside his living room window looks in approvingly as Lyman Woodard sits sipping whiskey and smoking Kools through a cigarette holder. And the Motor City jazz organ legend (yes, that’s legend) doesn’t mince words, either. Woodard knows how to get to get down with a tune as much as he gets to the point on politics, the music biz or those keen to hunt on his property.


And Lyman’s résumé, like his groove, is huge. Here’s a quick drive-by: He was musical director of Martha and the Vandellas and the Undisputed Truth. He was the organist on Dennis Coffey’s heavy debut Hair and Thangs, and he helped saxophonist Kenny Garrett and violinist Regina Carter get their respective starts in the Detroit jazz scene. Woodard released one of the Detroit’s funkiest jazz records ever — 1975’s sadly out-of-print (not available on CD, either) Saturday Night Special (Strata East). Though you can find affordable bootleg vinyl reissues of the record, the much-desired original pressing will set you back at least $200, probably more.


Lyman Woodard retired to his father’s house in his hometown of Owosso back in 1994. Dad, an architect and furniture designer, built the two-story Georgian-style home in 1952. The house sits on 62 acres and is tucked back from the road behind fields of soybean, wheat and corn. There’s a lovely view of the Shiawassee River out the back. It’s a view Woodard’s keen to keep.


"These Ted Nugent wannabes ask me if they can hunt here," Woodard says. "These animals are my family. I’m their father. Would it be OK if I came by and shot your family?"

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