Well done! I'm glad to see the historical Woody is finally coming to light. Far more interesting than the mythical figure we've created over the years.
By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
KFVD station owner and Democratic activist Frank Burke allowed for increasingly leftist and populist content to be broadcast on his station, even giving Guthrie his own show in 1938, called Woody, The Lone Wolf. He'd become more than just a "hillbilly act" — he had a show with the creative freedom to say what was on his mind.
That these four songs were made during Guthrie's L.A. years makes perfect sense — they are an intersection of traditional song structures and disarmingly political lyrics. Having reappropriated the jangly Delmore Brothers rhythm in "Skid Row Serenade," he sings about the hardships of the homeless on Fifth Street, crooning in an exaggerated Okie twang: "My senator sent me down on the Skid Row. I thought he was tops but he's rotten as the crops and as filthy as the flops on the Skid Row."
The lyrics of "Big City Ways" would still resonate today: "The banker got his furniture/Got him a job on the WPA but got laid off the other day/Momma mops a rich man's floor." Guthrie would have been right at home singing this at an Occupy rally.
"There is that little bit of politics that comes through. It's the seed," La Chapelle says. "Perhaps we're hearing the gestation process."
Guthrie left for New York in 1940 and went on to record the classic Dust Bowl Ballads there, which would influence generations of musicians and was revived in the 1960s by Bob Dylan and others. But Los Angeles made a deep impression on him. In 1941, Guthrie wrote in a letter to archivist Alan Lomax that Los Angeles "is full of people that work and talk a working man's lingo, no matter what tongue or color."
Guthrie's greatest gift was to put into words emotions that everyone could understand and feel deeply, and it seems likely Los Angeles helped him evolve as an artist.