18. Dusty Old Dust (So Long, It's Been Good To Know You)
19. Babe O' Mine
20. Grand Coulee Dam
21. Ramblin' Round
22. Hard Travelin'
23. This Land Is Your Land
24. Philadelphia Lawyer (& Cisco Houston)
25. I've Got To Know
More than sixty years after a debilitating hereditary illness ended his prolific creative life, Woody Guthrie endures as an icon of the American folk music revival. Guthrie ranks as one of country music's great singer-songwriters, but his politically charged songs brought him a radically different audience.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma, a small agricultural community in the west-central part of the state. His parents lived a comfortable middle-class existence until a family tragedy in May 1919 signaled a turn in the family fortunes. Guthrie's mother was becoming increasingly distant and irrational. His older sister Clara rebelled against her mother's behavior by soaking her dress with coal oil and setting it on fire. She died the next day. Three years later, his father lost his farms as oil boomers moved into Okemah. In late June 1927, his mother poured kerosene on his sleeping father and set him ablaze. Charlie Guthrie painfully recovered while his wife was committed to an asylum for the insane. Doctors explored Nora Guthrie's family history and diagnosed Huntington's chorea, a rare hereditary condition that attacks the central nervous system.
When Charlie Guthrie moved to Pampa, Texas, young Woody chose to live with relatives in Okemah. Dropping out of high school before graduation, the restless youth was determined to educate himself. Guthrie later claimed he read every book in the local library. He also learned harmonica from the black proprietor of Okemah's shoeshine stand.
Eventually moving to Pampa, Guthrie landed a job in a drug store. The owner kept a guitar in a back room, and Guthrie taught himself the basics of the instrument. By 1932 he was proficient enough to play in a string band. The Corn Cob Trio made frequent appearances on Pampa radio, often performing topical lyrics Guthrie penned to traditional and popular songs. He also began courting Mary Jennings, the sister of one of his band members. They married in October 1933.
The great April 14, 1935, dust storm devastated Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, leaving the area economically depressed. Guthrie remained in Pampa until his first child was born in November, then he took to the road, searching for jobs painting signs or playing music. Hoboing through the Southwest, he listened to embittered displaced men who blamed the Great Depression on greedy bosses and politicians. Guthrie found their arguments convincing.
By spring 1937 he and his cousin Jack Guthrie were singing over KFVD, a low-power Los Angeles radio station. Maxine 'Lefty Lou' Crissman joined the duo and continued singing with Woody after Jack left that September. Their show appealed to displaced Okies who appreciated Guthrie's folksy drawl, Will Rogers-inspired patter and endless stream of new songs. Do Re Mi was among his earliest Dust Bowl Ballads. A newspaper story about a cowboy being shot over a woman in Reno, Nevada, inspired Reno Blues. The Maddox Brothers and Rose, an Alabama country band working the same Los Angeles tavern circuit as Guthrie and Crissman, added both songs to their repertoire. A decade later the Maddoxes had a regional hit with Reno Blues, now titled Philadelphia Lawyer. Tennessee Ernie Ford made his record debut with a cover version for Capitol. To their credit, the Maddoxes always cited Guthrie as the song's composer. (By contrast, when Jack Guthrie recorded Oklahoma Hills for Capitol, he claimed sole ownership. When his record became a juke-box hit, Woody took legal action to reclaim his authorship.)
Will Geer and Gilbert 'Cisco' Houston, two actors in a Los Angeles theater group, were loyal listeners to the KFVD show. In fact, Houston knew many of the old songs that Guthrie performed. Eager to meet Guthrie, they drove to the station and invited him to join their tour of local migrant camps. Geer, whose wife was the daughter of American Communist activist Mother Bloor, educated the politically-sensitive Guthrie about class struggles and the migrant workers' plight. Although he never formally joined the Communist Party, Guthrie sympathized with many of its aims.
Mary Guthrie, now with three children and eager for a stable life, insisted the family return to Pampa. However, Geer, who was taking the role of Uncle Jeter in the long-running Broadway play 'Tobacco Road,' encouraged him to come to New York instead. Mary won the argument, and the family returned to Texas in November 1939. Jobs in Pampa remained scarce, and within three months Guthrie headed to New York. While living in the Geers' apartment, Guthrie penned his most enduring song, This Land Is Your Land subtitled God Blessed America For Me, it was his response to the ubiquitous Irving Berlin song popularized by Kate Smith.
Guthrie arrived in New York as John Ford's film of John Steinbeck's novel 'The Grapes Of Wrath' brought national attention to the Okies' plight. The sympathetic Geer started organizing a concert benefitting migrant workers, to be held at midnight, March 3rd, in the theater where 'Tobacco Road' was playing. Besides Guthrie, the concert would feature most of Alan Lomax's radio performers, including Aunt Molly Jackson, Lead Belly, Burl Ives, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Richard Dyer-Bennet and a young Pete Seeger. Lomax later cited 'The Grapes Of Wrath Evening' as the moment the American folk revival began.
Less than a week before that landmark concert, Lomax met Guthrie at a benefit for Spanish loyalist refugees. When the singer introduced his ballad about the outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, the folklorist was captivated. Not only did he personify all the anonymous balladeers that created American folk song, he shared Lomax's progressive political vision. Lomax invited Guthrie to the Library of Congress to record his songs and stories of life in Oklahoma and Texas. Lomax also persuaded Victor Records to record and release two Dust Bowl-themed albums. Although Guthrie penned several of his celebrated 'Dust Bowl Ballads' in Los Angeles, most were written shortly before the April 26, 1940 session. The new songs included I Ain't Got No Home and Dusty Old Dust, a song he later reworked for the Weavers.
Guthrie's fine-tuned persona led to numerous radio offers, including his own CBS network radio show. CBS launched Guthrie's show in November. His family moved east to join him, but Guthrie couldn't handle the unexpected fame, wealth and pressure. Within months he packed the family into his new Hudson and headed west for an uncertain future.
Various - Troubadours Troubadours -
Folk And The Roots Of American Music Vol. 1 (3-CD)