Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Woody Guthrie & That Famous Song

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Woody Guthrie 1943
Loretta reports:

Some years ago, I visited an exhibition about Woody Guthrie. I hadn't high expectations. My folk-singing days were (luckily for the listening public) centuries behind me, and I thought I knew as much about him as I needed to: He was a folk music hero, he was Arlo Guthrie’s father, he was a strong early influence on Bob Dylan, and he wrote “This Land Is Your Land.”

The show was an eye-opener. Woody Guthrie turned out to be vastly more interesting than I’d supposed. But I won’t attempt to summarize his short, extremely creative life in a blog post. There’s abundant material in this Wikipedia entry, and this New Yorker review offers some insights and anecdotes.

Today, on his birthday, I just want to talk about the famous song. If you don’t know it, you can find all kinds of versions on YouTube.

What you probably won’t find easily is a version of “This Land is Your Land”containing the lyrics he originally wrote. It wasn't quite the paean to the U.S.A most of us assume it is.

One version of the last stanza is:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.

Here’s an article on the subject. You can read other versions of the lyrics here, and here’s what seems to be the first draft.

As to the copyright, here's what he wrote: "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do."

You can hear Woody Guthrie singing it here (minus that last stanza):

Image: Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie, 1943 courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Anonymous said...

One of my very best friends works for The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.

Anonymous said...

Woodie must be turning over in his grave that his son is a registered Republican.

Hels said...

I imagine Woody was not as rosy and dewy eyed about American history as you expected because he grew up in very grim circumstances. Later he shared other displaced farmers' misery during the Great Depression when Guthrie was on the road from Oklahoma and hunger. What a brave man he must have been.

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