Jul 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Woody!

Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the birth date of Woody Guthrie.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Guthrie "was an American singer-songwriter and folk musician whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works.  He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his guitar.  His best-known song is "This Land Is Your Land."  Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress.  Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jeff Tweedy and Tom Paxton have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence.

Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs.  Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour."  Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, though he was seemingly not a member of any.

Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie died from complications of Huntington's disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder.  During his later years, in spite of his illness, Guthrie served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.
Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997."

In 1972, just five years after Woody's death, the Oklahoma chapter of the Huntington's Chorea Foundation decided to have a fundraiser in his memory.  It was held at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds.  Several musicians were invited to participate including a group that I had briefly been playing with.  So early in the program the good folks of OKC got to see John Hadley, Adam Granger, Bob Mead, and Dudley Murphy (on bass) perform together for the first and last time.  The other three went on to successful careers in music as both songwriters and performers.  In fact, just a few weeks ago I heard Adam on A Prairie Home Companion.  I wisely decided that I was not cut out for a musical career.  Can that really have been forty years ago?!?!