Saturday, 14 July 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Woody Guthrie

by Dave Allen

Woody Guthrie
Here's to you, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, born this day (a Sunday), one hundred years ago in Okemah, Oklahoma. According to Joe Klein's interesting biography, it was a blazing hot and sunny day --- and "Woody" was named after the man the Democrats had nominated for President the previous week.

As for music, Klein records how Nora, Woody's mum, "sang him the songs her mother had brought from Tennessee, songs that had come over on the boats from England and Ireland and had been passed from mother to daughter ever since. She sang of murders and jealous lovers and natural disasters. She sang about the woman who left her family to run off with a dashing outlaw, about the town that had been crushed by a cyclone, about families wrecked by bad luck. She sang lullabies to put the children to sleep and nonsense songs to cheer them up."

One reason Woody is still important is that he brought that tradition (and tradition really is the word) into a modern world of recordings and radios. However, now we're in danger of losing sight of it in the era of X Factor, the Voice, etc.

Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston
(Woody's guitar is labelled 
"This Machine Kills Fascists")
I'd also like to imagine him writing and singing songs about Bob Diamond and Barclays, G48, John Terry --- even Kanu and Bel Haim. Lots of contemporary musicians get credit for keeping Woody alive (rather like Joe Hill) including Bob, Springsteen, Billy Bragg and Cerys Matthews, but one with a strong Pompey link who gets overlooked is Country Joe McDonald.

Throughout the world, there will be celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth, the most central being this one in Oklahoma, the place of his birth and the place most associated with his work.

Read Ed Vulliamy's article on why Woody Guthrie continues to inspire today.

Listen to Cerys Matthews play a range of Woody Guthrie songs on her radio show.

Dave Allen is an Old Portmuthian.

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