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Woody's Style

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From "Woody Sez" in The People’s World:

I never stopped to think of it before, but you know -- a policeman will jest stand there an let a banker rob a farmer, or a finance man rob a workin man. But if a farmer robs a banker -- you wood have a hole dern army of cops out a shooting at him. Robbery is a chapter in etiquette.

From oral interviews conducted by Alan Lomax:

I was born in western Oklahoma and drug up in the Texas Panhandle. That’s where the wheat grows, where the oil flows, where the dust flows and the farmer owes -- where you hunt for wood and dig for water -- where you can look farther and see less -- where there’s more weather and less climate, more crops and less groceries than any other dadburned place in the universe.

Then the dust storm comes. Dust was so thick you sometimes found yourself runnin’ your tractor and plough upside down. The buzzards had to wear goggles and fly backwards. You could easy lose your wife and wake up huggin’ your mother-in-law. Sometimes the dust would settle, but the debts wouldn’t.

I decided it would be better in California, so I kissed the family goodbye and swung into a Santa Fe cattle car and whistled down the line. For the last few years I’ve been a rambling man. From Oklahoma to California and back, by freight train and thumb -- I’ve been stranded and disbanded, busted and disgusted with people of all sorts, shapes, sizes and calibres -- folks that wandered all over the country, looking for work, down and outers, and hungry half the time...

Walking down the big road, no money, no job, no home, no nothing, nights I slept in jails, and the cells were piled high with young boys, strong men and old men. They talked and they sung and they told the story of their lives -- how it used to be, how it got to be, how the home went to pieces, how the young wife died or left, how Dad tried to kill himself, how the banks sent out tractors and tractored down the houses. So somehow I picked up an old rusty guitar and started to picking and playing the songs I heard and making up new ones about what folks said.

Woody’s Performance Method:

Dance choreographer Sophia Maslow was trying to work with Guthrie on a dance routine to one of this songs. As she was trying to work out the steps, Maslow noticed that Guthrie almost never played the song the same way twice in a row. Finally, in her frustration, she asked Guthrie "Why do you have to stop all the time? Why can’t you just sing it like you do on the record? Dancers can’t work like that. They have to do it exactly the same way every time."  Guthrie replied "Well, if I want to take a breath between verses, I play a few extra chords. And if I forget the lines and want to remember them, I play a few extra chords. And if I want to get up and leave town, I get up and leave town."


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