Will Kaufman’s WOODY GUTHRIE: HARD TIMES AND HARD TRAVELLIN’
A University Professor’s gig is keeping alive the memory of Woody Guthrie, an American singer-songwriter and folk musician whose radical legacy includes hundreds of traditional, political songs. Top of which is ‘This Land is Your Land.’
In 2006, seeing George Bush in the White House embarrassed Will Kaufman, who is originally from New York but now works at the University of Central Lancashire. Determined to demonstrate “there is another America”, Kaufman decided to combine his passions for history, teaching and music by showcasing Woody Guthrie’s works, many of which remain relevant today.
Guthrie was born in Oklahoma on July 14 1912. At aged 19 he joined thousands of ‘Okies’ as they migrated in search of work to California after the land they farmed was destroyed by severe Dust Bowl storms. Many of his ballad songs are concerned about what he witnessed, including how the Californian police and landowners ruthlessly exploited for profit the desperate and needy, many of who were starving. Guthrie later played benefit gigs to raise money for these migrant workers. At one of these he met folksinger Peter Seeger, and the pair became good friends and starred together in the Almanac Singers folk music group.
From 1937 to 1939, Woody Guthrie broadcasted regular shows from the Californian KFVD radio station before moving to New York to make his first music recordings.
In 1940, sick of listening to Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’, Guthrie wrote his most famous work, ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Kaufman completes his ‘live documentary’ show with the song but his own personal favourite is Vigilante Man, originally recorded in 1940. “It is about the courage of working people combining together on union picket lines to stand up to the hired thugs of the American bosses,” says Will.
Guthrie was no idle observer of the class struggle and he took his songs out onto the picket lines and joined with the workers in their struggles for better pay and conditions. The employers hated him for his actions, but his songs subsequently influenced songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Joe Strummer. To commemorate the centenary of his birth, Billy Bragg last year released to universal acclaim Mermaid Avenue, a box set album featuring some of the 3,000 plus lyrics written by Guthrie, who after a long illness died of Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967.
Although Guthrie’s birthplace of Oklahoma was the only US state that failed to return a single district in favour of Barack Obama at the 2012 Presidential election that does not, says Kaufman make “Guthrie’s legacy a lost one. We are in the middle of the second depression in which the bankers are fleecing working people and the growing gap between rich and poor is being fuelled by repression of workers’ organisations. Woody sang about all this and also showed that American people are like workers the world over.
He was also dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and his songs were an anthem call to reject apathy in favour of action. That’s what I try and capture in my show.”
Hard times and hard travellin’ combines songs and political commentary with contemporary photographs, cartoons and drawings. It is highly recommended by singer-songwriter Ralph McTell who says: “Will performs Woody’s songs with great skill and understanding, playing the guitar with enviable panache and brio. I was deeply moved by the whole show.”
Will Kaufman is happy to perform his show right across the UK. He can be contacted on 07412176995 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
More details at www.willkaufman.com