Woody Guthrie was America’s greatest balladeer. He lived during the part of America’s history most susceptible to his particular brand of genius. The country was still rooted in it’s rough-hewn agrarian past, rapidly changing towards an industrial future. His songs tell the stories of tough, self-reliant people pursuing “life, liberty and happiness” through hard times and painful struggle, with hope, humor and determination.
From his wayward childhood playing the harmonica on sidewalks in Okemah, Oklahoma (Indian Territory only a few years before he was born) to the end of his errant career in the 1950’s, he was himself a melting pot of poetic influences. Just as the United States over its entire history has assimilated cultures and peoples from around the world, so Woody Guthrie took in what he heard and experienced, and “made up new words to the old songs.”
His influence surpasses his fame in modern music. A founding father of the folk movement of the 50’s and 60’s, Guthrie’s disciples include Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen, as well as his own son Arlo, granddaughter Sara Lee, and countless others. Even Bing Crosby recorded a sanitized version of “This Land…” in 1964.
He was a hobo poet, a product of his time. His poetry is often political, but his greatest works transcend politics. Woody found a way to speak and to sing for the common man. —DML
For more information about Woody, visit www.WoodyGuthrie.org