Jimmy LaFave keeps ‘Walking Woody’s Road,’ playing Woody Guthrie centennial concert Saturday in Tulsa
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. To read my recent story about tonight’s Red Dirt Hootenanny in Woody Guthrie’s honor, click here.
Jimmy LaFave keeps ‘Walking Woody’s Road’
The red-dirt singer-songwriter is part of the impressive lineup for Saturday’s “This Land Is Your Land: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert,” a Tulsa tribute concert also featuring Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Del McCoury Band with Tim O’Brien, Rosanne Cash, The Flaming Lips, Hanson and Old Crow Medicine Show.
For years, Jimmy LaFave has been championing the legacy of the late, great singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie.
The red dirt musician is thrilled to be in good company in 2012, which marks the centennial of Guthrie’s birth.
“I think the more the merrier. Even if it’s somebody that has just discovered Woody recently, I’m glad that they’re jumping on the bandwagon. When you really discover Woody Guthrie and get into him, he becomes a really great influence on your life and your music,” said the former Stillwater denizen by phone last week from his home in Austin, Texas.
“And I think all these people eventually tie back to Woody and Oklahoma, so it’s good for the state of Oklahoma. I think it’s a real positive thing.”
On Saturday night, LaFave will be part of the impressive lineup of “This Land Is Your Land: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert” at the Brady Theater also featuring Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Del McCoury Band with Tim O’Brien, Rosanne Cash, The Flaming Lips, Hanson and Old Crow Medicine Show.
“I think it’s fantastic. I think the lineup with the Flaming Lips and Hanson and all shows all the musical boundaries he crossed,” LaFave said.
“Woody has inspired all those musicians in some way: Blues musicians, folks musicians, punk-rock musicians, alternative rock musicians. Jimi Hendrix carried Woody Guthrie lyrics in his wallet. … There’s no Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie.” he added.
“It’s the thing that can’t be whitewashed and blacklisted because these people know Woody and they all know his music.”
The concert is part of this week’s grand celebration of the Okemah native’s legacy in Tulsa, the future home of the Woody Guthrie Archives. The Grammy Museum, in conjunction with Woody Guthrie Publications Inc. and the Woody Guthrie Archives, is commemorating the life and career of the Oklahoma folk legend with several Tulsa events, including a hootenanny, symposium and jazz tribute show.
In addition, the George Kaiser Family Foundation has bought the comprehensive Woody Guthrie archives and plans to open a downtown Tulsa space to display the collection by the end of the music icon’s centennial year.
“I think it’s great. If you think about it in terms of Woody and his legacy in the state of Oklahoma, it’ll probably be the biggest celebration Oklahoma has ever given to the most famous Oklahoman in the world,” LaFave said.
“I think Woody Guthrie being acknowledged and his archives coming back to Tulsa where students and universities can study them, what a generous thing George Kaiser has done, which speaks a lot to Woody’s magic.”
Throughout 2012, dozens of events honoring the singer, songwriter, musician, poet and artist are planned across the country and even in Austria, Germany and Canada. To LaFave, the global centennial celebration only cements Guthrie’s place as the world’s most famous Oklahoman, eclipsing even Will Rogers, a personal idol of Guthrie’s.
“Will Rogers has kind of faded into obscurity since he was such a film star in the 1930s and all, but Woody Guthrie is more valid today than ever. I mean, there’s been such a renaissance of his writings and music and art,” LaFave said.
For instance, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger performed Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at President Obama’s 2009 inaugural celebration. The Dropkick Murphys set a Guthrie poem to original music for “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which was played at the World Series and included in the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning film “The Departed.” Billy Bragg and Wilco, Jonatha Brooke, The Klezmatics and the supergroup of Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Yim Yames and Anders Parker have all recorded albums putting Guthrie’s lyrics to their instrumentations.
“It’s just out of control that Woody is still right in the middle of all these new records that are coming out. There are so many contemporary artists that still love his music,” LaFave said.
Along with organizing a new tribute tour called “Walking Woody’s Road,” the red dirt singer-songwriter is putting music to about 20 Guthrie songs, and he plans to get into the studio this spring to record his own album paying homage to Guthrie. LaFave hopes to finish the album in time for Okemah’s 15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July; he has made the pilgrimage to Guthrie’s hometown for every WoodyFest.
“He loved Oklahoma. I mean, ‘Oklahoma Hills’ alone is a great tribute to the state,” said LaFave, who is well-known for his rendition of “Oklahoma Hills” that restores some of the original verses.
While some still want to label Guthrie as an evil communist or godless atheist, LaFave said he believes that the prolific writer’s vindication lies in his own words.
“I’ve stumbled upon all kinds of great things and Woody’s own words about what he was trying to do and how he felt about things. … Once you’re able to see behind the curtain, you see what was done to the poor guy back in his time. He was just kind of blacklisted. It was just easy to put a scarlet letter on somebody back in those days. It’s just so fantastic to see everyone getting into the spirit of it and all the bad feeling being gone except for, you know, two or three radicals,” LaFave said.
“It’s almost ridiculous the way he was blacklisted because it’s right there in black and white if you just look through his writings and his drawings and his artwork that the man was a genius. The first multimedia artist. And I think George Kaiser saw that … and realized the legacy Woody Guthrie left to this state,” LaFave continued.
“A lot of the things he has to say are very helpful today,” he added. “I think people are drawn to his words because he speaks the truth.”
“This Land is Your Land: A Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert”
Featuring: Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, The Flaming Lips, Hanson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Tim O’Brien, Jimmy LaFave and more.
When: Doors open 6:30 p.m., showtime 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Brady Theater, 105 W. Brady St., Tulsa.
Tickets: All ages. Tickets are $45-$250, plus fees, available at Reasor’s locations, Starship, Buy for Less, by calling 1-866-977-6849 and online at www.bradytheater.com.