Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Woody Guthrie Boxed Set to be Released

You don't have to be a fan of folk music to find this interesting:
"Those are the leftovers of my husband's business," Irene Harris ­explained to her neighbor Luria Sutera in 1999, describing the heavy cardboard storage barrels, cordoned off by wood and wire, stacked in her Brooklyn tenement storage space. "He was in the record business. When I die, I am going to leave you my collection of records in the basement, and there is some Woody Guthrie down there that no one has ever heard."

Guthrie, a towering singer and activist whose "Dustbowl Ballads" and ubiquitous "This Land Is Your Land" form the bedrock of modern American songwriting, would have turned 97 this summer. Huntington's disease all but silenced him in the late 1950s, eventually claiming his life in 1967, at age 55.

The barrels, holding some 2,000 nickel-plated copper discs, had stood unperturbed for decades, abandoned by ­Herbert Harris, owner of the long-defunct Stinson Record Co. In 1944 Harris, with partner Moe Asch, bankrolled the holy grail of American folk ­music—a series of Woody Guthrie sessions resulting in hundreds of recorded masters, a cultural watershed that ­reverberates to this day.

It's rare you get a chance to hear musical history preserved.

So, why all the fuss over Guthrie? Besides his being from Oklahoma? Well:
Still, Guthrie was never one to back away from a withering indictment of society's injustices: A compassionate moralism runs through every note he played. "There's a musical legacy that—simply stated—you can write what's on your mind," Ms. Guthrie observes. "Not too many people did that before Woody. So that has branched out, and that's a whole story and a legacy in and of itself. It's a really, really big tree," she says, citing acolytes like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bono and a cast of thousands.

"Now I'm getting email from students in Iran," continues Ms. Guthrie, "saying 'Woody's been a great influence to us, and we're gonna write our own songs, and stand up for what we believe in.' It seeps through, and it takes on new faces and new names and new languages, and just keeps transforming. So in that sense, like [singer/songwriter] Billy Bragg once said, 'Woody's not a link in the chain. Woody's the stake in the ground.'"

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