Saturday would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday (thanks to Carl for blogging about this already). Woody Guthrie is one of my favourite singers, and surely one of the greatest ever songwriters as well as a great American radical. As a wordsmith, he is up there with Bob Dylan (whose whole oeuvre is un-imaginable without Guthrie’s influence), with John Steinbeck or Kenneth Patchen.
My mother brought me up on Woody, and I believe her parents brought her up on him. I’ve passed him on to my sons, who sing songs like “Pretty Boy Floyd” and the Car Song.
A number of blogs have featured nice tributes to him: my comrade Jim Denham at Shiraz Socialist, Ernie at 27 Leggies, and Boyhowdy at Cover Lay Down. That last one is covers, of which Jeffrey Foucault’s “Philadelphia Lawyer“, John McCutcheon’ “1913 Massacre“, Pierce Pettis’ “Pastures Of Plenty” and Slaid Cleaves‘ “This Morning I Am Born Again” are particularly good. Beck is not up there with them, but is surprisingly good.
I’ve written a fair amount on Woody before, at BobFromBrockley and Poumista. Here’s some links: “Folk music”, folk music, trad jazz, and the trad left; This Land Is Our Land; Good and bad versions of Deportees; Our Humanly Race; Stalinist songs of the Spanish Civil War (scroll down); Jesus Christ; We Shall Be Free; Vigilante Man; Hobo’s Lullaby.
Like Jim, I have reservations about a hagiographic approach to Woody Guthrie, who was at the very least a close fellow traveller of the Communist Party at a time when the Stalinist regime was committing some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century. (Jim recommends Scott Borchert’s very interesting “Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered” from Monthly Review.) But that does not diminish him as an artist in my eyes.
I’ve had a hard time choosing which song to accompany with post with, but I think “Jesus Christ”, which Carl’s post featured, is the right one: