CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: WOODY GUTHRIE – ‘Dust Can’t Kill Me’

With the release of the new Woody Guthrie themed Dropkick Murphys album due in a couple of days we thought we would take a look at the life of this amazing artist and offer up the opportunity to download a great album of his for free. 

“A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be
who’s hungry and where their mouth is or
who’s out of work and where the job is or
who’s broke and where the money is or
who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is.” – Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was the most important American folk music artist of the first half of the 20th century, in part because he turned out to be such a major influence on the popular music of the second half of the 20th century, a period when he himself was largely inactive. His greatest significance lies in his songwriting, beginning with the standard ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and including such much-covered works as ‘Deportee’, ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘Grand Coulee Dam’, ‘Hard, Ain’t It Hard’, ‘Hard Travelin’, ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’, ‘1913 Massacre’, ‘Oklahoma Hills’, ‘Pastures of Plenty’, ‘Philadelphia Lawyer’, ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’, ‘Ramblin’ Round’, ‘So Long It’s Been Good to Know Yuh’, ‘Talking Dust Bowl’ and ‘Vigilante Man’. These and other songs have been performed and recorded by a wide range of artists.


With his guitar and harmonica, Guthrie sang in the hobo and migrant camps, developing into a musical spokesman for labour and other left-wing causes. These hardscrabble experiences would provide the bedrock for Guthrie’s songs and stories, as well as fodder for his future autobiography, “Bound for Glory.” It was also during these years that Guthrie developed a taste for the road that would never quite leave him.

This land is your land and this land is my landFrom California to the New York islandFrom the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream watersThis land was made for you and me
*
As I went walking that ribbon of highwayI saw above me that endless skywaySaw below me that golden valleyThis land was made for you and me
*
I roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footstepsTo the sparkling sands of her diamond desertsAll around me a voice was soundingThis land was made for you and me
*
When the sun come shining, then I was strollingAnd the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rollingThe voice was chanting as the fog was liftingThis land was made for you and me
*
This land is your land and this land is my landFrom California to the New York islandFrom the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream watersThis land was made for you and me
*
When the sun come shining, then I was strollingAnd the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rollingThe voice come a-chanting and the fog was liftingThis land was made for you and me

*

In 1937, Guthrie arrived in California, where he landed a job with partner Maxine ‘Lefty Lou’ Crissman as a radio performer of traditional folk music on KFVD in Los Angeles. The duo soon garnered a loyal following from the disenfranchised ‘Okies’ living in migrant camps across California and it wasn’t long before Guthrie’s populist sentiments found their way into his songs.

In 1940, Guthrie’s wanderlust led him to New York City, where he was warmly embraced by leftist artists, union organisers and folk musicians. Through fruitful collaboration with the likes of Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and Will Geer, Guthrie’s career blossomed. He took up social causes and helped establish folk music not only as a force for change, but also as a viable new commercial genre within the music business. Guthrie’s success as a songwriter with the Almanac Singers helped launch him into the popular consciousness, garnering him even greater critical acclaim. The ensuing fame and hardships of the road led to the end of Guthrie’s marriage in 1943. A year later, he would go on to record his most famous song, ‘This Land is Your Land’, an iconic populist anthem which remains popular today and is regarded by many as a kind of alternative national anthem.

That old dust storm killed my baby,But it can’t kill me, LordAnd it can’t kill me
*
That old dust storm killed my family,But it can’t kill me, LordAnd it can’t kill me
*
That old landlord got my homestead,But he can’t get me, Lord,And he can’t get me
*
That old dry spell killed my crop, boys,But it can’t kill me, LordAnd it can’t kill me
*
That old tractor got my home, boys,But it can’t get me, LordAnd it can’t get me
*
That old tractor run my house down,But it can’t get me down,And it can’t get me
*
That old pawn shop got my furniture,But it can’t get me, Lord,And it can’t get me
*
That old highway’s got my relatives,But it can’t get me, Lord,And it can’t get me
*
That old dust might kill my wheat, boys,But it can’t kill me, LordAnd it can’t kill me
*
I have weathered a-many a dust storm,But it can’t get me, boys,And it can’t kill me
*
That old dust storm, well, it blowed my barn down,But it can’t blow me down,And it can’t blow me down
*
That old wind might blow this world down,But it can’t blow me down,It can’t kill me
*
That old dust storm’s killed my baby,But it can’t kill me, LordAnd it can’t kill me
*
By the late 1940s, Guthrie began to show symptoms of the rare neurological disease Huntington’s Chorea, which had killed his mother. The extremely unpredictable physical and emotional symptoms Guthrie experienced shook him deeply, so he decided to leave his family to hit the road with his protégé, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Guthrie arrived in California, and began living in a compound owned by activist and actor Will Geer, populated largely by performers who had been blacklisted during the Red Scare of the early Cold War years. Soon, Guthrie met and married his third wife, Anneke Van Kirk, with whom he would have his eighth child, Lorina Lynn.
Woody’s health continued to deteriorate in the late 1950’s, and he was hospitalised until his death in 1967. His marriage to Van Kirk collapsed under the weight of his disease, and the couple eventually divorced. During the last years of his life, Guthrie’s second wife, Marjorie, and their children would visit him in the hospital regularly, as would Guthrie’s most famous heir in the world of folk music, Bob Dylan. Dylan moved to New York City to seek out his idol and eventually Guthrie warmed to the young singer, who would later say of Guthrie’s music,
“The songs themselves were really beyond category. They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them.”
While Guthrie passed away of complications from his Huntington’s Chorea on October 3, 1967, his musical legacy remains firmly cemented in American history. A generation of folk singers inspired by Guthrie in the 1950s and 1960s went on to fuel some of the most dramatic social change of the century. Despite his folk hero status, Guthrie was modest, and was known for playing down his own creative genius.
“I like to write about wherever I happen to be, I just happened to be in the Dust Bowl, and because I was there and the dust was there, I thought, well, I’ll write a song about it.”
Today’s free download is the compilation album Dust Can’t Kill Me. It comes with one link but features two discs of 23 and 25 songs. Disc 1 showcases Woody Guthrie as a solo artist while disc 2 features him in collaboration with his contemporaries such as the blues harp player Sonny Terry and fellow Folk rebel Pete Seeger, as well as tracks recorded with the Almanac Singers and many others. American Folk music wasn’t invented by Woody Guthrie. It’s been around for 100’s of years but he did invent modern American Folk music and everything since can be traced straight back to him and these songs.

DUST CAN’T KILL ME FREE DOWNLOAD

This is no bandwagon for London Celtic Punks and our interest and love for the music of Woody Guthrie pre-dates the start of this zine and you can find a wealth of more music by Woody and indeed his contempories and those he inspired over on the Steppin’ Stones page. Just click below to be redirected.

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