G is for the Guthrie family

Arlo Guthrie was not a singles artist, but did have a modest hit with Steve Goodman’s train song, City of New Orleans.

Arlo Guthrie, and his father Woody

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an iconic American individual – songwriter, musician, political activist. He had a huge effect on Pete Seeger, whose group the Weavers, recorded So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh [LISTEN to Woody’s version]. He also hosted a young Bob Dylan in his hospital room, after he had been diagnosed with the Huntington’s disease that would kill him. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as an early influence.

I saw a video of Michael Feinstein, who tended to Ira Gershwin’s papers the last six years of the lyricist’s life. Feinstein was asked who is missing from the discussion of the Great American Songbook, musical standards written by Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, and the like in the first half of the 20th Century. Feinstein suggested Woody Guthrie, whose This Land Is Your Land is at least as beloved as Someone To Watch Over Me.

I wrote about Woody previously HERE.

One of his sons, with his second wife Marjorie, was Arlo Davy Guthrie, who became noteworthy from his performance of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, a satirical talking blues song about 18 minutes in length [LISTEN], which was the basis of a movie in which he played himself; it’s now a Thanksgiving tradition. He performed at Woodstock; LISTEN to the studio version of Coming Into Los Angeles. He was not a singles artist but did have a modest hit with Steve Goodman’s train song City of New Orleans, #18 in 1972. Here is his version of his father’s Oklahoma Hills. Arlo has toured with Woody’s old chum Pete Seeger. (Arlo on the late Pete Seeger.)

The Guthrie family is musical. Arlo’s “sister is record producer Nora Guthrie.” Arlo’s children “have also become musicians. Annie Guthrie writes songs and performs, and also takes care of family touring details. Sarah Lee performs and records with her husband Johnny Irion. Cathy plays ukulele in Folk Uke, a group she formed with Amy Nelson, the daughter of Willie Nelson. Abe Guthrie was formerly in a folk-rock band called Xavier and now tours with his father. Abe Guthrie’s son, Krishna, is a drummer and toured with Arlo Guthrie on his European tour…”

So music is a Guthrie family affair.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

Woody Guthrie would have been 100

The centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth has turned out to be more significant to me than I would have thought 20 or 30 years ago.

As I have noted, my father was a singer of folk songs when I was growing up in Binghamton, NY. I did not usually know the source of the tunes that he performed, though I have subsequently have been discovered some of this information.

Back around 2002 or 2003, The Wife and I went to see Woody Guthrie’s American Song at Capital Rep Theatre, when this brace of songs, Worried Man and Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way came up. Both of them were in my father’s repertoire, especially the former. This was a couple of years after my father died, and I just lost it. The Car Song was also a Woody tune my dad sang, I’ve come to realize.

Of course, I was a big fan of This Land Is Your Land, mostly the versions by Guthrie’s good friend Pete Seeger. But it wasn’t until later when I learned all those great verses that one didn’t usually hear, such as those about No Trespassing, and the relief office.

But in the 1960s and 1970s, I was probably more a fan of Woody’s son Arlo, of Alice’s Restaurant fame. Woody had died in 1967 and was a remote figure to me.

Woody came alive again for me, though, because of a pair of albums that came out at the end of the last century, Mermaid Avenue, volumes 1 and 2, where Billy Bragg and the band Wilco completed song fragments by Woody. The albums have been re-released with additional material.

The centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth has turned out to be more significant to me than I would have thought 20 or 30 years ago.

Woody singing:
Jesus Christ
Do Re Mi
This Land Is Your Land

Coverville 884: The Woody Guthrie Cover Story

Michael Eck’s Top 10 Woody Guthrie Collaborations

Woody Guthrie at 100 by Jim Hightower

Woody Guthrie at 100: The Return of a Pariah by Billy Bragg. “Woody Guthrie was shunned by his home state. Now Oklahoma can finally embrace the singer-songwriter’s work.”

Where’s Woody when we need him? He’s right there, inside each of us.

Song: Passing Through

Pete Seeger learned ‘Passing Through’ and sang it throughout Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign.

I was listening to my favorite podcast not hosted by Arthur. It is a music podcast, which should be no surprise. The second tune in the set was a song called Passing Through. I went to the website to see to whom it was attributed as the original artist of the song, and it said, Leonard Cohen. I said to myself – I often talk to myself – “There is NO WAY that song was originally done by Leonard Cohen.”

My certitude came from the fact that my late father used to sing that song when he performed in my hometown of Binghamton back in the 1960s. While I didn’t know all of the specific origins, I did know that his song selection was established in the late 1950s and early 1960s from albums by people such as Woody Guthrie, Harry Belafonte, Odetta and Pete Seeger. Cohen came into prominence as a singer/songwriter later in the 1960s.

I thought maybe it was a song by Guthrie, whose Worried Man/Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way medley caught me unawares when I heard the musical Woody Guthrie’s American Song caught me unawares when I heard it at Capital Rep theater a couple of years after my father died.

But in fact, it was Seeger who initially popularized Passing Through. Reading this account about songwriter Dick Blakeslee: “In late 1947 or early 1948, he and Dick Crolley sent a home-cut disc of their compositions to People’s Songs in New York. Blakeslee’s ‘Passing Through’ was chosen for publication. Pete Seeger learned the song and sang it throughout Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign. Today, ‘Passing Through’ remains an enduring folk standard.” You can hear Cisco Houston’s early take and Leonard Cohen’s 1973 version of the song here.

My father did a wicked imitation of FDR as he spoke/sang “One world must come”, then sang “from World War II”. My sister Leslie and I would join my father on the chorus of Passing Through when we performed with him in the latter part of the 1960s. My father did not sing the added-on Lincoln verse.

Passing through, passing through,
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue.
Glad that I ran into you;
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.

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