Stu­art Ryan trav­els back in time to look at a pi­o­neer­ing singer-song­writer and in­cal­cu­la­bly in­flu­en­tial man of the peo­ple, Woody Guthrie.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Stu­art Ryan un­cov­ers the work of a man whose Gib­son bore the leg­end “This ma­chine kills fascists”, Amer­i­can folk hero Woodie Guthrie.

The fore­fa­ther of acous­tic folk gui­tar style, Woody Guthrie lived through some of the most tem­pes­tu­ous episodes of the 20th cen­tury – the Great De­pres­sion, World War II, the rise of Com­mu­nism and the Cold War cer­tainly shaped Guthrie into the artist he be­came. He was born in Okemah, Ok­la­homa in July 1914 and grew up in a fam­ily where singing was a well-prac­tised tra­di­tion, from Scot­tish folk to Amer­i­can tra­di­tional songs. His first stab at a mu­si­cal ca­reer came in the early 1930s when he moved to Texas, but the on­set of the Great De­pres­sion meant that he was soon on the road and look­ing for work, gui­tar in hand, and it was singing and play­ing that helped him pay his way.

In 1937 he ar­rived in Cal­i­for­nia and started to per­form on a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion singing tra­di­tional songs along with some of his own. Things started to pick up pace from here as the ra­dio show also gave him a plat­form to air his po­lit­i­cal views and shaped him as the so­cial com­men­ta­tor we think of to­day. Ever the rest­less wan­derer Woody moved to New York in 1940 and be­friended those artists we now think of as form­ing the great folk canon – Pete Seeger, Lead­belly, Sonny Terry, Josh White and many more. To­gether they made mu­sic but just as im­por­tantly cam­paigned for the com­mon man and his causes, thus com­ing to de­fine the real mean­ing of the folk move­ment as we know it to­day.

Woody was a par­tic­u­larly pro­lific artist; he not only sang and wrote his own songs but drew, wrote po­etry and nov­els and was also a prom­i­nent ac­tivist. He en­listed in the army dur­ing World War II and wrote many anti-Hitler songs and pro-war pieces, all of which served to rally the troops.

Re­turn­ing from the war his health started to suf­fer and he was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed with Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease. How­ever, while in hos­pi­tal a whole new gen­er­a­tion (in­clud­ing Bob Dy­lan and Joan Baez, lead­ers of the next wave of protest singers) were tak­ing an in­ter­est in folk mu­sic and its fore­fa­thers, and in this way Woody was able to pass the torch onto the next gen­er­a­tion.

His gui­tar style is well worth check­ing out - it serves as an ac­com­pa­ni­ment to his voice but is also never side­lined; in­deed his play­ing is lively and in­fec­tious and, as with many of the great blues artists, fea­tures an in­ter­est­ing level of com­plex­tity as bass lines weave against strummed chords to cre­ate a sound that is full and rich at all times.

His gui­tar play­ing is lively and in­fec­tious and, as with many great blues artists, fea­tures in­ter­est and com­plex­ity

Woody Guthrie: in­flu­enced the great Bob Dy­lan

Any kind of acous­tic will be suit­able for this from a small par­lour to a large dread­nought – the most im­por­tant fac­tors are hav­ing a strong sound­ing low end and a clear top end so the chords and bass don’t muddy up – in essence a good, bal­anced acous­tic. Woody is best known for play­ing a 1945 Gib­son South­ern Jumbo. A sig­na­ture model Gib­son is avail­able!

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