Category: Sarah Lee Guthrie

Folk Family Double Feature: The Guthries

November 24th, 2010 — 10:11 pm

We’re long overdue for a comprehensive look at the Guthrie legacy here on these pages. And with Arlo’s infamous long-form Thanksgiving narrative Alice’s Restaurant Massacree riding the airwaves this weekend in anticipation of next week’s inevitable all-Christmas-all-day switch-over, it seems there’s no time like the present.

Thinking more deeply, though, Woody’s songbook also bears out well as a soundtrack for giving thanks. So many of his narratives point to the dustbowl world, with its depression-era desperation for that which we take for granted today, from freedoms to support structures, from our pastures of plenty to the homes we share. To listen to Woody Guthrie in this time and place is to recognize that, though we have come so far, and have much to give thanks for, there are still those whose lives are defined by what they lack. To play out these songs as a soundtrack of thanksgiving is to honor those who have no gatherings to attend, no families with which to break bread, little resources for travel or table.

Today, then, as a companion piece to the testament to Woody’s poetics posted today over at Star Maker Machine, we offer a relatively short holiday-ready exploration of three generations of Guthries – Grandpa Woody, dad Arlo, daughter Sarah Lee, and more – followed by our biggest weekday song-set yet, a true double-feature, with both Guthries covering and Guthries covered.

May the songs, and the story behind them, serve as soundtrack for the heavy heart and the light spirit alike on this Thanksgiving weekend.

There’s little debate over the significance of Woody Guthrie. Arguably the most important singer-songwriter in history, the man’s influence on and in American folk music is unparalleled, his impact on Western culture profound. From his anti-fascist guitar to the recently-cast songs, previously unrecorded, which both Billy Bragg and Wilco and the Klezmatics have brought to marvelous musical fruition in recent years, thanks to the excellent curative work of daughter and Woody Guthrie Foundation overseer Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s stature continues on larger than life – which is saying a lot, given his presence in the early labor and folk movements, and the strength which he lent to culture in his years on this earth.

Of course, Woody’s legacy continues through his family as much as it does through his iconic stature and songbook. While the fine work of preservationist Nora nurtures that legacy, son Arlo Guthrie, himself an inheritor and continued chronicler of his father’s work, had a powerful career of his own in the heady revival days, hitting the charts with Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans and several strong originals, including the well-covered minor hit Coming Into Los Angeles. And though he’s better known for his talking blues style of performance than for the more traditional fare which his father made famous, like his father before him, Arlo’s life and work are steeped in social justice, featuring common themes of protest, unionization, and inequality throughout.

More recently, graddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion have cut several solid albums, as solo artists and as a collaborating duo, including the recent kindie-folk album Go Waggaloo, spearheaded by Sarah and with various family members, which continues a family-friendly trend started by Woody and continued by Arlo. Another of Arlo’s daughters, Cathy Guthrie, has teamed up with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy; the duo, who call themselves Folk Uke, are a bit more punk and a lot more obscene than the rest of their kin, but the music is fine indeed, and firmly grounded in the folk tradition.

And in the last several years, the trio of Arlo, Sarah, and Johnny, along with Arlo’s son Abe, sisters Cathy and Annie, and various and sundry friends and relations, have gone on tour as the Guthrie Family Legacy Band, performing songs performed and penned by Woody himself along with their own work and the occasional folk standard, proving that the strength of the Guthrie bloodstream remains undiluted even as its progeny branch out into the brave new world of modern singer-songwriter folk.

We’ve posted our share of Woody Guthrie covers in our three years and then some on the web – not surprising, given the rich presence of those songs in the hands and hearts of his peers and his musical progeny. Some remain live, or have been reposted since; as evidence of the man’s legacy, you’ll find links to many of those original posts below.

But much of our earliest Woody Guthrie coverage is worth revisiting, especially in the context of today’s broader lens. And there’s more to share, too, from half a century of tributaries both inside and out of the folkworld. So here’s a doubled set to tide you over until Sunday, with some covers from each Guthrie generation followed by a long set of favorite folkcovers of the Woody Guthrie songbook, in tribute and in thanks.

Set 1: Selected Guthrie Family covers

See also: The Guthrie Family Legacy Band in concert, a full-sized 2007 Mountain Stage concert of Woody’s originals and other songs performed by Sarah, Arlo, Abe, Johnny, and others.

Set 2: Woody Guthrie, Covered In Folk

A favorite Arlo cover, as a bonus:

And more Woody Guthrie coverage, previously on Cover Lay Down:

Cover Lay Down is thankful for music and musicians, independent labels and small-scale concert venues, coverage and content … and you.

935 comments » | Arlo Guthrie, Folk Family Friday, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Woody Guthrie