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Today in Music – 1912 – Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born!

Woody GuthrieToday in 1912 an American treasure, Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, a small town in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, the son of Nora Belle (née Sherman) and Charles Edward Guthrie. His parents named him after Woodrow Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey and the Democratic candidate soon to be elected President of the United States. From Wikipedia Woody’s…..

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.[1] Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Childers and Tom Paxton have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence.

Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression when Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned their traditional folk and blues songs, earning him the nickname the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”[2] Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States Communist groups, though he was seemingly not a member of any.[3]

I know that we all learned Woody’s song “This Land is Your Land” in school, but it really wasn’t until later in my life that I really learned what he stood for, the fight for justice and the disenfranchised that was the spirit that drove him on. You know my wife always said that a teacher of hers in school always said that what this country needed was another Woodrow Wilson and maybe just maybe, what this country needs now is a another Woody Guthrie…. whose side do you think Woody would be on in the Trayvon Martin case, or the Texas abortion battle, gay marriage, union busting, voting rights….. yeah the list could go on an on!!

Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.
John Steinbeck; as quoted in Woody Guthrie: A Life (1981) by Joe Klein, p. 160.

Phil Ochs I think sums it up pretty well in his song “Bound for Glory

And its Pastures of Plenty wrote the dustbowl balladeer
And This Land is Your Land, he wanted us to hear
And the risin’ of the unions will be sung about again
And the Deportees live on through the power of his pen

And now he’s bound for a glory all his own
And now he is bound for glory

Now they sing out his praises on every distant shore
But so few remember what he was fightin’ for
Oh why sing the songs and forget about the aim?
He wrote them for a reason, why not sing them for the same

So today, I say Happy Birthday, Woody and we can only hope that your spirit, the American Spirit, can rise again and show us the way out of this mess that we seem to have gotten ourselves into. Here’s Jimmy LaFave with one of the best covers of Woody’s song “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)”, that was inspired a  1948 crash of a plane carrying 28 Mexican farm workers from Oakland, California, in deportation back to Mexico. The words and feelings are still relevant today!!

 

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott’ning
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be “Deportees”

My father’s own father he waded that river
They took all the money he made in his life
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border
They chase us like outlaws like rustlers like thieves

Goodbye to my Juan goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be “Deportees”

The skyplane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon
A fireball of lightning and shook all our hills
Who are all these friends all scattered like dry leaves
The radio says “They are just Deportees”

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “Deportees”

Goodbye to my Juan goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be “Deportees”