Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old tomorrow.
Here is a calendar of centennial events.
Ed Vulliamy describes Woody’s relevance to our times, in the midst of what I have come to call the Second Great Depression.
“You throw a rock in water, and you watch the ripples,” Nora Guthrie said. “I see these people singing these songs, and I’m not responsible for what happens. Each of them sees Woody through their own eyes; no one really knows who Woody was or is. I love it when I see people like Springsteen and Morello or John Fogerty together with those songs, because it all comes together in the big picture.”
Here are a few of my own favorite interpretations of Woody’s music, which also chart the wide arc of folk and protest music, from Pete Seeger to Billy Bragg.
Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, “Union Maid”
And here’s Seeger’s explanation:
“I’m proud to say I was present when ‘Union Maid’ was written in June, 1940, in the plain little office of the Oklahoma City Communist Party. Bob Wood, local organizer, had asked Woody Guthrie and me to sing there the night before for a small group of striking oil workers. Early next morning, Woody got to the typewriter and hammered out the first two verses of ‘Union Maid’ set to a European tune that Robert Schumann arranged for piano (‘The Merry Farmer’) back in the early 1800s. Of course, it’s the chorus that really makes it – its tune, ‘Red Wing,’ was copyrighted early in the 1900s.”
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, “Pretty Boy Floyd”
Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk, “Ride in My Car”
Ry Cooder, “Vigilante Man”
Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
And, last but not least, Billy Bragg and Wilco, “All You Fascists”