Music: Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was an American Folk Music singer, seen as one of the most powerful and influential musicians of his day. He was a major inspiration for a lot of protest singers, among them Bob Dylan, who saw him as his personal hero.

Woody Guthrie sang both traditionals as well as writing his own material. His songs are very left wing in nature and sympathize with the common man suffering under poverty, unemployment, racism, war, dictatorship and not being able to voice his opinions.

His Signature Song, "This Land Is Your Land" is still a standard, though in the original context it was actually a Protest Song instead of a Patriotic Fervor song. He originally wrote it as a Take That to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America"note , responding to the song's nationalist undertones by singing about the importance of America's diversity and sense of inclusiveness. Hell, some early versions of the song are overtly political in nature—and a few of them even mention Guthrie's support of the Communist Party.

Woody Guthrie may also have written the earliest example of a Concept Album, Dust Bowl Ballads (1940), which is a narrative album about the dust storms that caused havoc on the people during The Great Depression.

On his birthday, July 14, his hometown Okemah, Oklahoma still organizes an annual folk festival that carries his name. In 2002 a 1944 recording of "This Land Is Your Land" was inducted in the National Recording Registry.

His son, Arlo Guthrie, became a musician himself and is most famous for his album Alices Restaurant.

Woody Guthrie albums with their own page

Woody Guthrie's work provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Title: "Pastures Of Plenty", "This Land Is Your Land".
  • Answer Song: Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" was written as an answer to Irving Berlin Patriotic Fervor song "God Bless America".
  • Author Tract: wrote an entire album protesting the bias that was shown in the landmark Sacco and Vanzetti trial, which took place about 20 years prior.
  • Badass Boast: His guitar was famously labeled as "This Machine Kills Fascists".
  • Concept Album: Dust Bowl Ballads (1940) may be the earliest example of this genre, followed by In The Wee Small Hours (1955) by Frank Sinatra.
  • Cover Song: He covered a lot of traditionals, like "House of The Risin' Sun", "When The Saints Go Marchin' In", "Polly Wolly Doodle",...
  • Double Entendre:
    • "Hard, Ain't It Hard". The Double Entendre is especially obvious as the first verse ends and the chorus begins:
    And he takes other women right down on his knee
    And he tells them a little tale he won't tell me
    It's a-hard and it's hard, ain't it hard
    To love one who never did love you?
    • "Walt Whitman's Niece", written by Woody Guthrie and recorded by Billy Bragg with Wilco, has several of these in its lyrics.
    And as she read I laid my head
    And I can´t tell which head
    Down in her lap, and I can mention which lap
  • Filk Song: Guthrie wrote a song based on Tom Joad's motivational speech in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Hobos: Guthrie lived the hobo lifestyle in his younger years and referred to it in his work.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: "Jesus Christ" depicts Christ as a socialist rebel killed for speaking truth to power (and notably makes no reference to his resurrection).Guthrie also wrote a song called "Christ for President," later recorded by Wilco as part of Mermaid Avenue. President Christ promises "a job and pension for young and old."
  • Location Song: "This Land Is Your Land" was originally a political song that invoked lovations in the USA. However, its more often performed now as children's music and has been adapted for other countries.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: "This Land Is Your Land", despite being seen as patriotic anthem was in fact written as a critical response to Irving Berlin's 1938 hit "God Bless America", which Guthrie thought ignored a lot of the problems going on in the country. The song includes lyrics talking about bread lines and class warfare. Then the first three verses were included in a school song book, and it spread as a patriotic ballad as a stealth torpedo, which exploded when Pete Seeger sang all the verses, as Woody wrote them, at Barack Obama's inauguration concert in 2009.
  • Pep Talk Song: He believed very much that music should give listeners hope and be uplifting.
  • Protest Song: The majority of Guthrie's songs were left-wing protest songs which sympathized with workers, unions and oppressed people everywhere.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Guthrie's songs reflect the time they were written in. He wrote songs about World War II, the Communist Witch Hunts near the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, the Afro-American civil rights movements, Billy The Kid, Pretty Boy Floyd,... He even wrote a song about the female Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlicenko.
  • Second Verse Curse: "This Land Is Your Land". The first verse is actually very patriotic, but the second verse, which is rarely sang is actually critical of the USA.
    They put a big wall there, to try and stop me
    There was a sign there, said 'Private Property'
    But on the back side, it didn't say nothin'
    That side was made for you and me.
  • Something Blues: "Railroad Blues", "Dust Bowl Blues", "California Blues",...
  • Take This Job And Shove It: Dramatized in the biopic about his life Bound for Glory, after his radio station tries to make him play non-controversial, non-political songs. The fact that it's The Great Depression and the radio job lifted his family out of poverty and got them a house does not bother Woody.
  • To The Tune Of: "This Land Is Your Land" is based on the traditional folk song "Oh, My Loving Brother"
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Famously said:
    If you play more than two chords, you're showing off.
  • Train Song: "This Train is Bound for Glory", sung by Woody in the movie, gave the real Woody Guthrie the title of his autobiography, Bound for Glory, and thus gave a title to this film.

Woody Guthrie in popular culture
  • Bob Dylan's first two albums, Bob Dylan and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan are very influenced by his musical idol. Dylan sings in a similar drawl as Guthrie and "Song For Woody" is a Homage. On Highway 61 Revisited the song "Tombstone Blues" has a line reffering to "Gypsy Davy", a Guthrie song:
    Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he bums out their camps
    • Dylan also wrote the poem "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" (1963), available in "The Bootleg Series, Volume 1-3" (1991).
  • The 1976 film Bound for Glory, directed by Hal Ashby, starring David Carradine, is about Guthrie's career as a folk singer and union activist during The Great Depression. The film opens with Guthrie struggling to survive in the Dust Bowl in Texas in 1936. He struggles to find work as a singer or sign painter, but comes up empty. Needing to support his wife Mary and two children, Guthrie lights out to California, meeting people along the way and seeing the poverty and desperation afflicting so many in America in The Thirties.
  • "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight" and "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by Dropkick Murphys are both based on an unfinished song by Guthrie.
  • Old Crow Medicine Show covered "Union Maid" on their 2006 album Big Iron World).
  • The Pogues covered Guthrie's song "Jesse James" on their album "Run, Sodomy & The Lash".
  • The Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco, which set old unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics to new music.
  • In the odd Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) is a black 11-year old boy traveling across America trying to find his place. He represents Dylan's Mysterious Past and lies.