“Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any
other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a
people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and
nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing
sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who still listen.
There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression.
I think we call this the American spirit.” - John Steinbeck
The following excerpt of biographical material was borrowed from
and can be found in its entirity at www.woodyguthrie.org.
WOODY GUTHRIE was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. He was the second-born son of Charles and Nora Belle Guthrie. His father – a cowboy, land speculator, and local politician – taught Woody Western songs, Indian songs, and Scottish folk tunes. His Kansas-born mother, also musically inclined, had an equally profound effect on Woody.
Slightly built, with an extremely full and curly head of hair, Woody was a precocious and unconventional boy from the start. Always a keen observer of the world around him, the people, music and landscape he was exposed to made lasting impressions on him.
During his early years in Oklahoma, Woody experienced the first of a series of immensely tragic personal losses. With the accidental death of his older sister Clara, the family's financial ruin, and the institutionalization and eventual loss of his mother, Woody's family and home life was forever devastated.
In 1920, oil was discovered nearby and overnight Okemah was transformed into an "oil boom" town, bringing thousands of workers, gamblers and hustlers to the once sleepy farm town. Within a few years, the oil flow suddenly stopped and Okemah suffered a severe economic turnaround, leaving the town and its inhabitants "busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted."
From his experiences in Okemah, Woody’s uniquely wry outlook on life, as well as his abiding interest in rambling around the country, was formed. And so, he took to the open road.
In 1931, when Okemah's boomtown period went bust, Woody left for Texas. In the panhandle town of Pampa, he fell in love with Mary Jennings, the younger sister of a friend and musician named Matt Jennings. Woody and Mary were married in 1933, and together had three children, Gwen, Sue and Bill.
It was with Matt Jennings and Cluster Baker that Woody made his first attempt at a musical career, forming The Corn Cob Trio and later the Pampa Junior Chamber of Commerce Band. It was also in Pampa that Woody first discovered a love and talent for drawing and painting, an interest he would pursue throughout his life.
If the Great Depression made it hard for Woody to support his family, the onslaught of the Great Dust Storm period, which hit the Great Plains in 1935, made it impossible. Drought and dust forced thousands of desperate farmers and unemployed workers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee, and Georgia to head west in search of work. Woody, like hundreds of “dustbowl refugees,” hit Route 66, also looking for a way to support his family, who remained back in Pampa.
Moneyless and hungry, Woody hitchhiked, rode freight trains, and even walked his way to California, taking whatever small jobs he could. In exchange for bed and board, Woody painted signs and played guitar and sang in saloons along the way, developing a love for traveling the open road—a lifelong habit he would often repeat. . . . . click here to go to Woody Guthrie Publications and continue the story.