perform Guthrie songs at a campus dance. (Photo courtesy of Bill Murlin)
Bill Murlin, right, performs with Woody’s son,
Arlo Guthrie, at Portland, Ore.’s BPA Auditorium in
spring 1987. (Photo courtesy of Bill Murlin)
“I never imagined that I would perform with Arlo,” said Murlin. “Yes, I was nervous. I was afraid I’d forget the lyrics to the songs.”
His work belongs to you and me
The Spokane native knew a lot about the prolific songwriter, having performed “This Land is Your Land” and other Guthrie tunes in the early 1960s while in a folk-band trio called “The Wanderers,” first formed at WSU. After graduating, he and college buddy Carl Allen continued to perform, expanding their repertoire of Guthrie songs. All these years later, they still play together.
One discovery led to another. While rummaging through BPA cabinets, Murlin found a folder containing Guthrie’s employment papers.
Carl Allen, left, and Bill Murlin met as WSU
students in 1959 and now travel the Northwest
performing Woody Guthrie tunes. Note the framed
print of Guthrie and the Columbia River behind them.
“They showed that in May 1941, Guthrie was temporarily employed to write folk songs about harnessing energy from the Columbia River and to promote public hydroelectric power,” said Murlin.
Following Woody’s footsteps
Over several years, Murlin tracked down lyrics to the 26 songs and recordings of 17. From one end of the country to the other, some had been stored in people’s houses and others in federal archives. A few Guthrie had commercially recorded.
Ramblin’ man’s son
Topical and timeless
Woody Guthrie, whose songs about hardship and
hope have influenced a generation of musicians,
including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Wilco.
Though Guthrie only spent a month in the Northwest, his influence still resonates, said WSU Vancouver history professor Laurie Mercier. He was a man who loved words and spun them, she said, and his time here represented the zenith of his career.
“I talk about him in my Pacific Northwest history class, in the context of federal projects in the 1930s and wartime industrial expansion in the ‘40s,” she said. “Guthrie supported public projects like dam building for the ‘greater good’ they provided in terms of jobs, flood prevention and cheap public power.”
“I need a progressive woman
I need an awful liberal woman
I need a social conscious woman
To ease my revolutionary mind.”