Perhaps the most seminal American folk singer, Woody Guthrie inspired generations of singer-songwriters, like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Tweedy. Guthrie had a natural ability to write social protest songs. These diatribes often have an ephemeral quality to them, but some of Guthrie’s sound as pointed today as they were when he recorded them.
On Friday, Feb. 9, a collaboration of Milwaukee musicians led by Johanna Rose (whose upright bass sports the same phrase — “This Machine Kills Facists” — that Guthrie wrote on his guitar) will offer an evening of Woody Guthrie interpretations. GuthrieUNCOVERED features performances by Nickel&Rose, Painted Caves, Klassik, Peter Mulvey, Abby Jeanne, Jordan Davis of Space Raft and more.
In advance of the show, Fatty Acids’ frontman Josh Evert gives an early listen to his take on the Guthrie classic, “Jolly Banker,” that he will be performing at GuthrieUNCOVERED. Evert also discusses the song, Guthrie’s timelessness and what’s in store this Friday.[bandcamp width=100% height=120 track=1771097131 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Do you remember first hearing Woody Guthrie?
I remember singing “This Land” in elementary school, in a patriotic context. I don’t recall Guthrie’s name being mentioned. Nor the fact that he wrote the song as a critical response to “God Bless America” being overplayed in 1940. We also left out the more radical verses. I’m so excited to hear Klassik’s version.
Why did you pick “Jolly Banker” to cover for the GuthrieUNCOVERED ?
I actually didn’t pick “Jolly Banker”; Johanna assigned it to me. At the time, I was fighting with my landlords to get heat in our studio so our instruments and human bodies didn’t freeze. Johanna was like, “Oh shit, ‘Jolly Banker’ really is a fitting song for you.”
When did you first come across this song?
I listened to Guthrie’s version and Wilco’s version shortly after being assigned. Being in my post-Wilco years, and also not having a whole lot of interest in waltzes, I decided to make the song 4/4. I chopped up the Guthrie version and put it on a 4/4 grid, then recorded everything over that. I actually left some of Guthrie’s vocals in from the original draft. You can vaguely hear them during the solo.
Many of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics seem to transcend his era (For instance, “Jolly Banker” sounds perhaps as relevant today as it was recorded in the ’40s.) Do you think that’s what makes his songs so enduring?
Yeah, absolutely. He was involved in, and singing about, the struggle for social justice in America. None of these problems have gone away. Some have been exacerbated. Some have disguised themselves and come back anew.
This (forgotten) line from “This Land” is possibly the most relevant it’s ever been:
“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me/ Sign was painted/ it said private property/ But on the back side it didn’t say nothing/ This land was made for you and me.”
Also, Guthrie wrote a song about Fred Trump (the president’s father) being a discriminatory landlord.
“I suppose/ Old Man Trump knows/ Just how much/ Racial Hate/ he stirred up/ In the bloodpot of human hearts/ When he drawed /That color line/ Here at his/ Eighteen hundred family project”
What can we expect from the GuthrieUNCOVERED performance?
Some of the most important folk songs ever written, performed by some of the best musicians in Milwaukee. I’ve only witnessed a couple of practices, but I’ve been blown away so far.