If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews

10/07 M.E. Browning, Shadow Ridge

10/14 Alexia Gordon

10/21 Adam Meyer

10/28 Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door

October Guest Bloggers

10/03 Kathleen Kalb

10/17 S. Lee Manning

10/31 Sharon Dean

WWK Weekend Bloggers

10/10 Jennifer J. Chow

10/24 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Woody Guthrie, Folk Singer

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”

                                                                        - Woody Guthrie on songwriting.

On July 3rd it was 239 years since the Declaration of Independence was written. It’s the time of the year when patriotic songs like “The Star Spangled Bannerby Francis Scott Key, “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” by George M. Cohan, “America” by Samuel Francis Smith, “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates, and “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin are sung, as well as one of my favorites, “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie. Almost everyone knows the chorus and maybe the first three verses, but many song books left out the last three verses because Guthrie wrote it as a protest song, a parody of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” It’s not until verse four and beyond that you realize it’s a protest song. In the original song which he wrote in 1940, the last line was “God blessed America for me,” but when he started performing it in 1944, he changed that last line to “this land was made for you and me”as his love song to America. At one time he was thought to be a communist, but it was never proven. Probably it was because of his protest songs striking out against the wealthy, who ignored the poverty around them, and probably even more so because he was a strong supporter of the unions all his life and wrote hundreds of union songs. My father, his siblings, and his six children have all been strong union supporters, too. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why I love folk music so much.
Picture taken years later when it was unoccupied.
Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie was born July 14th, 1912 in Oklahoma. His father was a politician and named him after Woodrow Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey and soon to be elected President of the U.S. During his childhood, his mother was committed to a hospital for the insane. Later it was realized she had Huntington’s disease. In the early years of the Great Depression, his father left his children for a job in Texas. Fourteen year old Woody and his siblings relied on an older brother for support. Woody worked at odd jobs around town, begging meals and sometimes sleeping at the homes of family friends. He befriended an African-American blues harmonica player named George who had a shoe shine booth. He’d watch him play and before long, Guthrie bought a harmonica and began playing along with him. He was a natural musician and played by ear. He dropped out of high school before graduating and started playing at dance halls with his father’s half-brother Jeff Guthrie, a fiddle player.
Not George, but Woody related to the common man.
At age 19, Guthrie married his first wife, Mary Jennings. They had three children. With the advent of the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie left and joined the thousands of Okies migrating to California looking for work. Woody worked and sang to support himself, and in California he sang on the radio and became popular with other people who’d moved away from the Dust Bowl states. His songs carried messages about fairness and justice. Titles such as “I Ain’t Got No Home,” and “Talking Dust Bowl Blues” spoke not only to victims of the Dust Bowl, but about political corruption and spoke to other folk singers. He became known as the Dust Bowl Troubadour. His extensive traveling led to his divorce with his first wife.

During World War II, Woody served in the Merchant Marines and the U.S. Army. He married Marjorie Mazia, a dancer in New York City in 1945 and they had four more children, including Arlo Guthrie, another folk singer.

He was a prolific writer, and wrote thousands of pages of unpublished poems and prose, many written while living in New York City. While recording Woody’s songs, Alan Lomax suggested that he write his autobiography. With his wife’s help, Guthrie wrote Bound for Glory told in the down-home dialect and the imagery of a true storyteller according to one review.

In the late 1940s, his health was declining and his behavior was becoming extremely erratic. In 1952, he was finally diagnosed as having Huntington’s disease. Marjorie believing he might be a danger to their children, suggested he return to California without her. They eventually divorced.

Unable to control his muscles, he was hospitalized in numerous hospitals where he died on Oct. 3rd, 1967. At that time, Huntington’s disease was not understood. His death helped raise awareness of the disease. His two daughters with his first wife developed the disease and both died at age 41. Their son died in a car/train accident.

Woody became an American singer song writer, who wrote hundreds of political, traditional, and children’s songs as well as ballads. In the late 1950s and early 1960s a new generation of young people was inspired by folk singers such as Guthrie. By the time of his death, his work and been discovered by a new audience introduced to them through Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, his ex-wife Marjorie, and other new members of the folk revival like Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, as well as his son, Arlo, and many others. These new folk singers were more politically aware in their music. They focused on the issues of the day such as the civil rights movement, the war in Viet Nam, and  the free speech movement. Dylan wrote of Guthrie’s repertoire: “The songs themselves were really beyond category. They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them.” When Bob Dylan learned where Woody Guthrie was, he regularly visited him in the hospital. His ex-wife Marjorie and their children spent a lot of time with him, and after his death, Marjorie worked to establish a fund to research Huntington’s disease.
The young Bob Dylan 

Woody Guthrie influenced many folk singers like Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton and there were many more who even if they didn’t acknowledge Guthrie as a major influence probably still could trace their love of folk songs back to him.

Although I have no CDs of Woody Guthrie, I am a big fan of folk music and have been for years. I have a huge collection of CDs of folk singers including some of those I mentioned above as well as Joan Baez, Judy Collins, one by Arlo Guthrie in which he sings that long song “Alice’s Restaurant,” and many other and some newer folk singers, who I’m sure were inspired by Woody Guthrie, too. I saw Arlo Guthrie in concert once. He was a great performer as were others I’ve seen in concert like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton and quite a few others.

Do you like folk music?

If so, who are some of your favorite folk singers?


Jim Jackson said...

Woody was an American original for sure. While he sang from the heart and the gut and was for the little man, his personal life was something of a mess. That said, since the time I got my own say in the kind of music I listened to, folk has always been one of my favorites.

I, too, have seen Arlo in concert (Carnegie Hall in NYC) and Joan Baez and Judy Collins and a host of others. There is a connectedness between the audience and the singer that I have not experienced in any other kind of concert.

~ Jim

Anonymous said...

I like to read folk music lyrics, they are powerful and poetic. To have a generation and beyond, use your music for inspiration, what greater gift could a musical artist leave? --- Laura

E. B. Davis said...

I guess Peter, Paul, and Mary were my favorites. I was so sorry to hear that Mary Travers had died. I remember their harmonies well. People with good intentions seem so naive now. To be popular, artists must have criminal, sleazy, or perverse elements. Perhaps those elements reflect our society, but I think popular culture can drive values. The times they are a changing. Most folk-singers wouldn't be taken seriously or even laughed at in popular culture or the press. But during that era, they were revolutionary.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, you are so right about the connections between the audiences and the folk singers. I'm lucky enough to live within less than an hour of Cuyahoga Valley National Park where from September through April they have two or three folk concerts a month at Happy Days Lodge with folk groups coming in from different places in the country and from the British Isles and Canada, too. The singers connect so well with the audience both during the concert and at breaks and afterwards. And at Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio, they bring in more well-known folk singers, but they're concerts are more expensive than Happy Days. As a member of Friends of the Valley, most of my tickets there are between $12.00 and maybe $23.00. You're right about Woody's life. He was actually married three times, but his third marriage was very short.

Laura, someday I'll take you to see a folk concert at Happy Days. I know you'd love it.

Kara Cerise said...

I did not realize that This Land is Your Land was a protest song. I remember singing it in school...but only the first three verses. Your blog has inspired me to listen to folk music!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I wrote recently about Dylan's "House of the Rising Sun", and learned that the song is an Appalachian folk song. Who knew? I enjoy folk songs and hymns and learning about their origins. I've seen Judy Collins perform and have tremendous appreciation for her talents as a pianist as well as a singer.

Grace Topping said...

The connection to the audience is so important--it helps inspire the performer. Have you ever noticed how much more energy a performer has before a live audience and how somewhat flat the same performer is when filmed in a studio without an audience? In the 1970s, I saw Joan Baez perform in London. She tried to get the audience to clap and join in with some of the songs. That was near impossible with the British audience, which then was much more proper. Her performance, although quite good, lacked some of the energy she would have had in front of a different audience.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, I was first aware of that at a Pete Seeger concert in which he told the audience. He was a wonderful performer. I remember him playing the banjo and kicking up his heels when he was in his late 70s or early 80s. For a while he considered not performing anymore because his voice wasn't what it used to be. I'm glad he continued,though, almost to the end. I love folk music because most of it tells a tale. Much of the early folk songs from the Appalachian regent of the country, were take offs on the folk songs from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Margaret, I love the old Appalachian folk songs. Back in the days when I was playing the guitar and the lap dulcimer, they were my favorite songs. The Appalachian area is strong in the folk music field. As for Judy Collins, she has the most incredible voice. I never saw her perform on a piano, though.

Grace, when I saw Joan Baez perform, it was at an outdoor concert and the audience loved her. Audience participation is a big part of the folk scene. Most of the groups I see always have a song or two in which the audience can sing along with at least the chorus. If it happens to be bluegrass, there's a lot of hooting and hollering, too, at least when it's appropriate to do so. Lots and lots of toe tapping and clapping, too.

KM Rockwood said...

Grace, when we were visiting friends in London, we went to a concert given by a local charity (definitely not aimed at tourists.) Since they wanted audience participation, they handed out little flags & cards that listed the program and instructions. Included were "Clap in time" and "Wave flags with vigor." That worked well. I suspect Joan Baez was not aware that she needed to hand out formal instructions to the audience if she wanted a response from them.

In my callow youth, I often went to blues bars in south Chicago. The intimate settings and proximity to the musicians made for a moving experience.

Gloria Alden said...

KM, I think proximity to musicians is one of the things I like about going to folk concerts. The ones I go to are never big venues with thousands of people. A sell out crowd at Happy Days is 280 people, and since my friends and I are always there before the doors open, we usually get seats if not in the front row then very close to it. There are no reserved seats with different prices.

Kait said...

I loved the folk music of the 1960s and 1970s it really spoke to me. I knew of Woody only through Arlo. But my, what a huge heritage. I still like to listen to folk music when I do my monthly drive to Miami. Judy Collins and friends. I saw the Peter Paul and Mary at oh, dear, it escapes me, it was in Ohio. I can't remember the name of the venue. It was outdoors and wonderful. The folk singers truly captured the spirit of the times. It was a loss when Pete Seeger died.

Gloria Alden said...

Kait, I felt the same way when Pete Seeger died. Northeast Ohio has a big following of folk music - not as much as in North Carolina. Every year Kent State has a big folk festival that goes on for two or three days. It used to be on the campus of KSU, but now it's spread around the town where fans walk to different venues and the bigger names are at Kent Stage, an old movie theater that brings in the bigger name folk singers all year round.Unfortunately, when Jim Bloom, a big folk music advocate retired from WKSU, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night folk music program was taken off the air. He was a big promoter of folk music and I think he had a lot to do with making it so popular in our area. Now WKSU is more talk radio than anything else so I switched my station to WYSU, which has more music - classical and folk on Sunday night.

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