CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: BOB DYLAN – ‘The Ghost Of Woody Guthrie’ (1961)

Today is the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan so in celebration here’s a set of live recordings from 1961 the year before his debut album. None are original songs and as the name suggests, the legendary American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s influence hangs like a specter over much of the material here.

The latest addition to our Classic Album Review series where we re-discover hidden gems from a bygone. Lost and sometimes forgotten songs from legends and unknowns that have inspired Folk music and musicians right up to modern Celtic-Punk music. These records are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

29 January 1961:

Number 19 In The Series Of The 50 Key Events In The History Of World And Folk Music

In September 1960, Bob Dylan borrowed a copy of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory from a college classmate and became obsessed. Written with the encouragement of Alan Lomax and published in 1943, it rendered its protagonist an almost mythical figure. Dylan started mimicking his hero’s speech patterns and even told the crowd at the Cafe Wha? when he arrived in New York for the first time the following January:

“I been travellin’ around the country, followin’ in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps.”

The “dust bowl troubadour” – author of this This Land is Your Land, whose guitar bore the legend “this machine kills fascists” – had himself almost reached the end of the road: he was now in his fourth year at the Greystone Park Psychiatric hospital in New Jersey, suffering from Huntingdon’s disease, which finally led to his death in 1967. But Dylan hunted him out there, and the two men met – Guthrie apparently giving Dylan a card after their first meeting saying: “I ain’t dead yet.” Dylan wrote, and played to his idol, a new piece of his own called Song to Woody. It met with the older man’s approval and was one of only two original compositions that made Dylan’s 1962 debut.

Caspar Llewellyn Smith June 2011

Surprisingly Bob Dylan has barely featured on these pages much. He has been name checked along the years but this is the first time we have highlighted some of Dylan’s recordings. Woody Guthrie on the other hand has appeared numerous times with various tribute albums and biographies dedicated to him. The recordings here are among Dylan’s earliest known with him beginning his journey towards musical stardom. Starting off shyly the later recordings show a Dylan more confident in himself cracking jokes and entertaining the audience between songs. Unsurprisingly given it’s age, sound quality at times does go in and out but mostly it is perfectly listenable however none of the recording quality detracts from the songs. Only a cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’ made it onto Dylan’s self-titled debut LP, though ‘1913 Massacre’ would become ‘Song To Woody’.

Track Listing

01. 1913 Massacre – November 4, 1961 (Live at Carnegie Chapter Hall)
02. Ain’t Got No Home – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
03. Baby Please Don’t Go – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
04. Car, Car – September 6, 1961 (Live at The Gaslight Cafe)
05. Cocaine Blues – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
06. Don’t Push Me Down – May 1961 (Minnesota Party Tape)
07. Gypsy Davy – Early 1961 (Gleason Tape)
08. Handsome Molly – July 29, 1961 (Riverside Church Tape)
09. How’d You Do – May 1961 (Minnesota Party Tape)
10. In The Evening – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
11. In The Pines – November 4, 1961 (Live at Carnegie Chapter Hall)
12. It’s Hard To Be Blind – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
13. Omie Wise – July 29, 1961 (Riverside Church Tape)
14. Pastures Of Plenty – Early 1961 (Gleason Tape)
15. Poor Lazarus – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
16. Railroad Bill – May 1961 (Minnesota Party Tape)
16. Railroad Boy – May 1961 (Minnesota Party Tape)
18. Remember Me – Early 1961 (Gleason Tape)
19. Stealin’ – December 22, 1961 (Minnesota Hotel Tape)
20. Talking Merchant Marine – November 4, 1961 (Live at Carnegie Chapter Hall)
21. This Train Is Bound For Glory – May 1961 (Minnesota Party Tape)
22. Young But Daily Growing – November 4, 1961 (Live at Carnegie Chapter Hall)

LINK1   LINK2   LINK3   LINK4*

( * file including artwork, notes, bonus tracks )

WOODROW WILSON ‘Woody’ GUTHRIE (1912-1967)

Woody Guthrie is the most influential American folk musician of the first half of the 20th century. Best known for his Folk ballads, traditional and children’s songs, and improvised works, often incorporating political commentary. He was closely identified with the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s and his songs from that time earned him the nickname ‘Dust Bowl Troubadour’.

Born in 1912 in Okema, Oklahoma, Woody moved at 18 to Pampa, Texas, a small town in the hardest-hit area of the Dust Bowl. It was in Pampa that he experienced the fury of Black Sunday—a severe dust storm that swept across the Midwestern states on April 14, 1935, and inspired Guthrie to write the song, ‘So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You’. After Black Sunday, Guthrie joined the ranks of Okies migrating to California in search of work. Many of his works – ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’, ‘Talking Dust Bowl’ and others – chronicle the conditions faced by working class Okies in their new home. At the close of the 1930s, he left California for New York City and it was there that he wrote his best-known song, ‘This Land Is Your Land’. In the often-omitted fourth and sixth verses of the song, Guthrie rails against class inequality.

Guthrie died in 1967. Despite his decline, he had a major impact on American popular music in the second half of the 20th century and the rise of the Folk movement, and many of Woody Guthrie’s recordings have been archived in the Library of Congress.

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, it said “Private Property.”
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple,
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

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