Grapes of Route 66

[l1]I[/l1] love Woody Guthrie. My father wanted to be Woody Guthrie. If he’d been a few years older, he would have been Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie was an honest man, trying to tell the truth in a dishonest world. There are places and times in the past where men like him were hunted and killed for what they did. It tells me something about the advance of civilization, about which I worry just a bit, that Woody Guthrie wasn’t put away by the government or lynched.

His songs are wry, dry, and witty. His songs were simple statements of fact about simple ugly facts no one else was talking about. I honestly don’t know how much impact his music had on the course of events, or what its value will be perceived as somewhere down the road, but every once in a while it makes me stop and think, and that’s enough.

As much as I enjoy listening to Woody himself (my father sounded so much like him, it’s like listening to the recordings of him that don’t exist) there’s one cover of a Woody Guthrie tune that transcends musical boundaries: Odetta, singing “Ramblin’ Round” on the 1972 “Tribute to Woody Guthrie” album. Backed by Arlo Guthrie and a group of remarkable musicians not yet known as The Band, Odetta swings this simple folk tune into a rollicking blues rock paean to the man himself. It’s one of those tracks that I just have to listen to more than once (on the tape I play in my car, I have Arlo singing “Oklahoma Hills”, a childhood favorite, and Odetta’s cover alternating, repeated three times so I don’t have to rewind it.)

Just discovered that Joel Rafael will be performing at this year’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Ah, to be in Oklahoma in June.

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