by Robert Wilkinson
Today we honor the memory of one of the greatest musical voices of the 20th century, the legendary Woody Guthrie. Today would have been his 102nd birthday.
If Walt Whitman was America's first great poet, and Bob Dylan the third, then we must grant the amazing Woody Guthrie the position of the second Poet Laureate America ever had. The voice of the working person, the underdog, the "common man," Woody gave us tunes not just for the unions, not just for the field laborers, but for us all.
Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was a rambling man, a poet, itinerant drifter, and ultimately a tragic figure who died way too young. His life is that of legend, and he left us with a treasure trove of songs giving hope to all who have labored wondering when they would be delivered to a better life. Perhaps his attitude is best summed up by what he had painted on his guitar: "This machine kills fascists." That's Woody Guthrie in a nutshell.
During the main part of his life there was no television, so much that we have are recordings off the radio and the session work he did in the studio in the 40s and 50s. For your enjoyment, songs for working people as written and performed by the legendary Woody Guthrie!
First, a real treat! Here's a documentary featuring Woody, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and other pioneers in the genre. For your enjoyment, a 16 minute piece from 1947 called "To Hear Your Banjo Play"
The original! Here's Woody doing his ode to a better America, "This Land Is Your Land."
From an early radio broadcast, "All You Fascists Bound To Lose"
This has great pictures from 1941, reminding us what it was like back then. "Do Re Mi" (Let it buffer a few so it doesn't stop from time to time.)
Speaking of popular songs made famous through their rock and roll versions, the next four, after some changes, became the basis of a couple of major early rock and roll hits! For your enjoyment, the originals of
(I also found the oldest recorded version of the song. From 1933, performed by Appalachian artists Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, the original “House of the Rising Sun”)
"Goin Down The Road Feelin Bad" (Astute readers will remember this was our Saturday Night Attitude Tune back in January 2014. So if you want a lot of versions of this song, when you’re done here please check out Saturday Night Attitude Dancing Down the Road Feelin’ What We All Feel Sometime
Here are a few traditional numbers sung by Woody!
An amazing find! Woody with his friends Leadbelly (vocal-guitar) Sonny Terry (Harmonica-wooos! and vocals), and Cisco Houston(guitar and vocals) doing "We Shall Be Free"
Here's a piece from the documentary "Woody Guthrie -- Voice of the Common Man." From the video, it's a documentary written and produced by Melissa Mergner in 2006, a 14-year-old high school student. "It's about how the folk singer-songwriter overcame personal hardship and tragedy to become a spokesman for those Americans affected by the Great Depression and the dust storms. Although neither a politician nor activist, Guthrie brought attention to the plight of Okies, migrant workers and other disenfranchised people. He gave music a social conscience and influenced several generations of singer-songwriters...."
Along similar lines, here's "Vigilante Man" from the 1975 documentary: "Brother Can You Spare a Dime." I believe this is a similar clip to the one last year which had footage from Bonus Riots of 1932, San Francisco General Strike of 1934, Republic Steel Strike of 1937, General Motors Labor Strike of 1937, and others. (Seems like the capitalists have had opposition for quite a while!)
Here’s Woody live in July 1944! Woody Guthrie Live on the BBC “Children’s Hour” in 1944
Here’s the original studio version of the 1945 number 1 hit written by Woody and performed by Woody’s cousin Jack Guthrie, “Oklahoma Hills”
Here’s a great live performance by Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie family of this great classic tune written by Woody, “Oklahoma Hills”
Here’s the entire 55 minute album Woody Guthrie Library of Congress Recordings Pt.1
Here's a couple of songs to close this birthday tribute to one of America's greatest songwriters:
Happy Birthday Woody! Your songs have made millions sit up and take notice. May the working people again rise up and throw off the chains of their masters, and may all come to know that the fascists cannot hold the power once the people band together.
On a (literally) related note, I couldn’t do a birthday tribute to Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie this year due to medical problems. But I do want to acknowledge his great talent, and so here’s last year’s tribute Happy 2013 Video Birthday to the Amazing Arlo Guthrie. And all the links work! I have some amazing performances by this American treasure in that tribute, so please go check it out. Especially “Comin’ Into Los Angeles” with the Boston Pops. Pure magic and great good fun!!
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson