During the American Great Depression era, Woody Guthrie was a well rounded self taught folk acoustic guitarist of unique skill struggling to survive among the people of the Dust Bowl. His story reminds me of myself with his ability to create songs on the fly right from his imagination and real life.
Guthrie also reminds me of me in the fact that he literally bucked the music business of the time. Once taking to the road in 1936 working and singing his way west, Woody Guthrie finally landed a studio job in California at KRVD radio in 1937 while he remained active in lobbying for the upstart of the crop pickers labor unions. Hollywood has its own version put to the film Bound For Glory starring David Carradine.
While Guthrie loved having his own half hour radio show, he hated appeasing the sponsors since he wanted to share his own brand of musical statement to the people. Woody loved the common folk as much as his music and he loved singing for them, both among them and on the air. Too bad the studio kept insisting that he play only specific sponsor approved tunes. The sponsors of the show didn’t want to hear his music as it was considered controversial. Mostly his music embraced the hard lives of the poor and struggling along with the cruelties of such times. Like me, the man followed his heart.
A Mind of His Own
Woody’s heart was with the people, the common man, the lowly unappreciated worker, those enduring the very real hardships everyday. He couldn’t picture himself standing pretty in a radio studio singing “happy go life’s all good” tunes. It was an illusion which he could not accept being fresh out of common reality into good fortune.
Woody Guthrie had a mind of his own. No radio man nor music business was going to dictate to him what he’d do with his music and certainly not what he’d play. He walked out of the studio and walked right back across the country to where he came from. “Enough of this” he summed to himself and departed with a CBS television nationwide broadcast offer on his plate. “You can’t just separate yourself from the people.” He felt insulted and betrayed by the whole process, returned to his roots, and was better for it.
There are a few kinds of musicians out there. We have the ones who spend their life dreaming of stardom fame and fortune but never make a move toward a real audition. There’s musicians who just want to play and have fun with it and those who prefer to make their living performing gigs and shows where they can land them. Some hire an agent, some self promote. Others might have friends in the right places making it easier for them. While another may be content just singing in the local church choir.
Guthrie found his fame, in his music, his friends, and the places he traveled. Woodie became widely known for his unique brand of Folk guitar and the stories behind it. Truth be told, he was loved by people as much as he loved them.
How do you feel about it? Should we share music honestly or should we play only what certain people want to hear? What is music to you? Is it a form of entertainment, simple fun to share? Is it your career goal? Either way, you’ll have to accommodate someone else, the listeners in the least. If you play for business, you’ll have to accommodate them. Music is for sharing and sending messages. Some use it for purpose, others for mood. In closing, I’ll add this much: Music carries this mysterious realm of control or effect over both man and nature. Use it wisely. You are wielding powers not yet fully discerned.