The July 4, 2012, edition of Democracy Now! is dedicated to Woody Guthrie’s upcoming 100th birthday (July 14).  Will Kaufman, author of the recent University of Illinois Press book Woody Guthrie, American Radical, performs Woody Guthrie songs and speaks with host Amy Goodman for an extended portion of the hour-long segment.  Musicians Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg are also prominently featured.

One Response to Woody Guthrie, American Radical featured on Democracy Now!

  1. Todd Durnil says:

    Few artists have had the impact and sustaining influence over music and the American culture as America’s roaming troubadour, Woody Guthrie. As the voice of the people during the depression and World War II, Guthrie’s music represented the struggles of the common man, from the Dust-Bowl migrants of the Southwest, to the Union laborers striking for benefits and better wages, to the soldiers marching off to war, Guthrie traveled the country, hopping freight trains like a hobo, spreading his music and support for many causes, becoming a true hero and legend.

    Born into an upper middle-class family on July, 14, 1912, Guthrie’s early years were filled with much turmoil. As a young teen, his mother began the early stages of Huntington’s Chorea, a disease affecting the brain and central nervous system. The disease would lead to much frustration for his mother, and the family was torn apart from two major fires that she accidentally set, with one fire fatally wounding Guthrie’s sister. The family also lost much of it’s affluence when the depression hit. Guthrie would escape these pressures by spending his time in the local library, absorbing all the knowledge he could, in fear that his mother’s condition would also affect him. The family turmoil also led to his need to always be on the move, to absorb as much of the countryside as he could, and to constantly write. Guthrie’s writing was so prolific that there are literally thousands of unpublished lyrics, stories, and drawings in the vaults.

    While on the move, Guthrie took odd jobs as a sign painter to help pay for his expenses. One night, after his brushes were stolen, Guthrie found himself singing for his supper. He soon learned that busking paid better than the odd paint job, and quickly became quite well known for his moving songs, which touched on the struggles of the people he met on his travels. Guthrie was there with the Okie migrants, he was there on the picket lines with the union laborers, he was there protesting for peace but supporting the troops as they marched off to war. Guthrie’s influence in this time was immense, and he became a major radio personality and recording artist. His first major album, “Dust Bowl Ballads” (1940), told the stories of the Dust Bowl migrants, and is the precursor of what is now known as the “concept album.”

    Along with contemporaries Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and others, Guthrie became a large contributing factor to the rise in American popular song and the folk and protest music movement that became such a sustaining force in American culture throughout the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict. Unfortunately, Guthrie’s early fears of developing his mother’s condition came true, as Guthrie was also stricken with Huntington’s Disease in his late 30s. While he was ill, Guthrie was often visited in the hospital by and became a mentor to the up-and-coming musicians of the day, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs. Many in the folk movement of the 60′s saw Woody as their hero, and several released moving tributes to him (including Ochs’ classic “Bound for Glory,” Elliott’s debut album “Woody Guthrie’s Blues,” and Dylan’s “Song to Woody” from his debut album). Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 at the age of 55.

    Guthrie’s influence on popular music is immeasurable. His songs inspired every generation that has followed, from Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, to Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, to Wilco and Billy Bragg and beyond. His classics include “Tom Joad,” “Talkin’ Dust Bowl Blues,” “Do Re Mi,” “Slipknot,” “Deportee,” “1913 Massacre,” “All You Fascists Bound to Lose,” “Ramblin’ Round,” “I Ain’t Got No Home In this World Anymore,” “Hard Travellin’,” “The Car Car Song,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya’,” and his greatest triumph, the American standard “This Land Is Your Land.”

    The Champaign/Urbana Folk & Roots Festival, Nightjar Promotions, and Smile Politely, along with the time and talents of dozens of local musicians, are pleased to present a Centennial Celebration on what would have been Woody’s 100th Birthday, Saturday, July 14th, 2012, at Mike & Molly’s, 105 N. Market St., in downtown Champaign. The show starts at 8pm and admission is $8. All proceeds from the event will help support the annual Folk & Roots Festival held November 2nd and 3rd this year. More information on the event can be found on the Facebook events page at, or you can contact the show organizer, Todd Durnil, at or by phone at (217) 607-1307.

    Musicians scheduled to appear include:


    …and others!!!