NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - What becomes a folk legend most?
In the case of Woody Guthrie, who composed "This Land Is Your
Land" and other pieces of Americana music, it's a monthlong tribute,
including art exhibits, films, musical performances and a seminar at
the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The highlight of the tribute is a concert Wednesday night at the
Ryman Auditorium called "Nashville Sings Woody." The lineup includes
Guthrie's son, Arlo, Marty Stuart, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark,
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Janis Ian.
Guthrie began by singing country music. But his music evolved,
largely because of the hardships he witnessed and experienced, said
Jay Orr of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
During the Great Depression, Guthrie had trouble finding work. He
hitchhiked, rode freight trains and walked to California with
thousands of refugees from America's heartland.
"He began to understand that his music had another kind of
power," Orr said. "More Okies were coming to Southern California
from the Dust Bowl. He saw the hard times they were encountering and
he came to understand that his music had a power to affect and
He also developed a love for the open road that he would revisit
Guthrie drifted to New York where his social activism grew and
his songs became more political. He helped workers form unions and
wrote for the Communist paper The Daily Worker. He played a guitar
with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" pasted on it.
He again headed west, where he composed songs for a documentary
about the building of the Grand Coulee Dam, a collection that
yielded one of his better-known songs, "Roll on Columbia."
Guthrie served in both the Merchant Marine and the Army in World
War II. After the war he returned to New York and wrote a collection
of children's songs.
By the 1960s he suffered from Huntington's chorea, a genetic
neurological disorder that had afflicted his mother. He died Oct. 3,
One of his last visitors was Bob Dylan, part of a new wave of
folk musicians who, with Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and others, embraced
"Woody influenced Dylan and Dylan influenced virtually every
genre of American music that came after him," Orr said. "Woody
showed that a song could make a difference."
Orr cites Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Griffith
as country artists who have either recorded Guthrie's songs or have
been inspired by him.
Griffith said she traveled across the country in a van in the
1970s and '80s partly to experience Guthrie's passion for the road.
"His lifestyle created a whole folklore about what it is to be a
folk musician," she said. "Woody Guthrie taught us all that there
are no confines, that you are free."
Guthrie's daughter, Nora, director of the Woody Guthrie
Foundation and Archives in New York, will speak at some of the
Over the years, she has approached contemporary performers with
some of her father's unrecorded lyrics. Billy Bragg, Natalie
Merchant, Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer are among those who have
recorded Guthrie's songs.
At Wednesday's show, Ian, D.J. Logic, an American Indian band
called Blackfire and a German group called Wenzel will premiere new
Nora Guthrie, who was 17 when her father died, says she works
hard to match the artists to the lyrics.
"I respect their way of thinking and doing the material," she
said. "I never say, 'Woody wouldn't do it that way.' Woody would
have hated me for doing that."
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