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Country Joe McDonald Remembers Woody Guthrie's100th Birthday in Sacramento, Saturday, January 7, 2012.
Woody Guthrie was born in July of 1912. My father was born in January of 1911. My dad always reminded me of Woody Guthrie. Both men were short, wiry and grew up poorer than Job's turkey.
My father didn't play the guitar or compose songs and sing them. He worked in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Kansas, not far from where Woody did much of his growing up. My dad kept his job all through the not-so-Great Depression.
Woody WAS the Depression. He lived it. And so, a man who died too soon in 1967 lives on through his astonishing legacy of gritty, honest songs for working people. Why, you might ask. It's because Woodrow Wilson Guthrie's songs, then and now, inform ordinary folks of their importance to the success of this American Experiment that continues.
Country Joe McDonald appears Saturday in a tribute to Guthrie at Sacramento's 24th Street Theater in the Sierra 2 Center for Arts and Community. Tickets are available at http://www.swellproductions.com/pages/countryjoe.html Showtime: 7:30 pm.
This Guthrie remembrance won't be any kind of an experiment, whatsoever. A more recent legend himself, Country Joe has asked Alex Nelson, Sherman Baker and Richard March to be his special guests. Such a roster of musicians indicates lots of experimentation and research has gone before, and what you get is to just sit back and drink-in the musicianship of these talented guys saluting that scrawny but “ten-foot-tall” kid who rode the rails out of Okemah, Oklahoma, knowing so well what land belonged to whom.
On a recent trip back to my adopted hometown of Tulsa, about 65 miles north and a bit east of Okemah, I stopped by the offices of a new periodical (also online) called THIS LAND. The publication is replete with new literature and art that fits that region of the USA. Woody is prominent in the tone of these times there. An old broadcast colleague of mine boasts a son who is the poetry editor at THIS LAND.
The New York Times recently published a lengthy story about big money in Tulsa taking notice of Guthrie's contribution to American folk music, not unlike the recent and also long overdue recognition of Tulsa's own singer/songwriter, Leon Russell. It's always good going back to Tulsa one more time.
The time now is ripe for a boxcar load of Woody's songs to be sung right in front of you and your friends. Country Joe McDonald is the man to do the performance.
The socially consciously Country Joe (and the Fish), as most everyone knows, not only rattled cages back in the Sixties with just about all the other famous bands of those vigorously political days, but did a 1971 movie written by the zaniest heavy comedy group I've ever heard on vinyl, The Firesign Theatre. The film was called “Zachariah,” and starred that adroit Kansas native, Don Johnson. The movie was billed as history's first Electric Western. I saw it in Tulsa and wouldn't have missed it for the world. As I still write film reviews, I recommend you see Country Joe in that nutty Western.
I would be almost as stoked thinking about re-seeing “Zachariah,” as I'm now getting pumped to see Country Joe McDonald doing Woody Guthrie songs this Saturday at Sacramento's 24th Street Theater. Check it out. You never know, one of Woody's most attentive and loyal students, Bob Dylan, might show up.
Unlike Woody with migrant workers, my dad didn't travel West to California in the Dust Bowl Days with two of his brothers from southeast Kansas. They needed a job...bad. Both had long, successful careers with McDonald/Douglas down in Long Beach. Both of my uncles are now at rest up in the foothills near Magalia and Paradise. They, too, were a bit like Woody Guthrie.
Copyright © 2011 by Gary Chew. All Rights Reserved.