THE MUSIC COLLECTOR'S MAGAZINE
VARIOUS ARTISTS WOODY GUTHRIE: THE TRIBUTE CONCERTS Bear Family (3-CD Box Set w/ two Hardbound Books) ***** Writing of the Great Depres-sion's downtrodden, its rest-less wanderers and its Dust
Bowl refugees, and then later of deported Mexican farm workers, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (1912-67] was like a populist poet laureate of America's past and present. "This Land Is Your Land" and "Pastures Of Plenty"— not to mention children's songs such as "Howdido"— stand with his classics. Pete Seeger, young Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle are his heirs. Huntington's chorea — an hereditary degenerative nerve disease — wrecked his mind and body. Mixing Guthrie's songs and prose, these con-certs at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1968 and The Holly-wood Bowl in Los Angeles in 1970 were fundraisers to fight the disease.
Back then, they were pruned down and for some reason mixed together on two separately packaged LPs. Now we get them in their original song sequences in to-tality except for eight numbers on a missing Carnegie tape. Seeger, son Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (who played Sancho Panza to Woody's Don Quixote) were among the singers. The LA show rocked. The New York show was acoustic except for Dylan in his first public perfor-mance since his motorcycle accident. Backed by The Band (whose debut LP was soon to come), his three songs included an elegy to New Deal era President Franklin D. Roo-sevelt. Odetta's ebony mag-nificence shone on "Ramblin' Round" written in the voice of a hungry migrant worker.
On Carnegie's stage, Judy Collins powerfully delivered Woody's account of his sister Clara's fiery death when he was six (Baez and Peter Fonda shared the passage at The Hollywood Bowl). Country Joe McDon-ald's metaphorically sexual "Woman At Home"— the song's first performance ever — followed Fonda's recitation of Woody's gorgeous erotica. Among the box's superb books' quotes — some quite critical of the shows — Richard Goldstein wrote in a review in Vogue, "Like Woody, Dylan solders the bits and pieces of his time into musical sculpture." The books are a treasure trove of Depression-era photos, prolific Woody's cartoons, an ode to him by Dylan and original dated lyrics — some typed, some written in his tight, orderly script. Based on outlaw folk ballad "Jesse James," Woody's 1943 "Jesus Christ" has different lines than Arlo sang in L.A. We see from a 1940 draft that "This Land Is Your Land" started out titled "God Blessed America." Penned merely as an adver-tising jingle for hydroelectric power, "Roll On Columbia" has become a timeless anthem for the Pacific Northwest. And when, in "Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done (The Great Historical Bum)," Woody — himself a great historical bum — glided in just two lines from the Garden Of Eden to modern-day apple pickers unionizing, we witness how he wrote not only for his own time but for all time. — Bruce Sylvester