Top 102 Albums. No 59.
Dustbowl Ballads - Woody Guthrie.
Like many people I first became fully aware of Woody Guthrie through Bob Dylan. But he'd infiltrated my mind long before that! My Daddy Rides a Ship in the Sky was on a children's compilation by skiffle stalwart Wally Whyton that was one of my real first introductions to music. This was one of my favourite songs and its vision of the links that hold society together resonated to me as a little kid and still does.
"Don't be afraid when it gets dark and rains
My Dad'll bring your daddy back home again"
But this vision of a society where everyone form the top to the bottom helped each other get home was not a true vision, and Guthrie new that as well as anyone. Not everyone has a home.
"I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore
Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin' man is rich an' the workin' man is poor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore."
My next meeting with him was his wonderful autobiography Bound for Glory, which I must pull down from the shelves for a reread. I then picked up some compilations which contain great songs but there is a unity to this record which makes it a satisfying album to listen to. When I finally got my hands on it I listened to it obsessively for a while. It's one of those records.
"On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.
You could see that dust storm comin', the cloud looked deathlike black,
And through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track.
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line,
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande,
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom."
You can hear his influence on Dylan, particularly on Talkin Dust Bowl Blues, the similarities to which are so evident in some of Dylan's early talking blues that it goes beyond influence to imitation.
The songs are specific ("14th day of April of 1935"), universal, defiant, despairing, funny, simple and sophisticated. It is heartbreaking and inspiring. Originally recorded in two days back in 1940 it remains an inspiration to generation after generation.
It will never die.
"I have weathered a-many a dust storm,
But it can't get me, boys,
And it can't kill me.
That old dust storm, well, it blowed my barn down,
But it can't blow me down,
And it can't blow me down.
That old wind might blow this world down,
But it can't blow me down,
It can't kill me.
That old dust storm's killed my baby,
But it can't kill me, Lord
And it can't kill me."