Jimmy LaFave is Walking Woody’s Road in 2012
Folk hero and Okemah, Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie would be turning 100 this year. This weekend, Tulsa will host a number of centennial festivities, including a Red Dirt Hootenanny at the Cain’s Ballroom on Friday, March 9, a Guthrie symposium at the University of Tulsa on Saturday the 10th and a star-studded musical performance at the Brady Theater Saturday evening. Among those performing Saturday night are Jackson Browne, John Mellancamp, and Austin based musician, Jimmy LaFave. Although born in Texas, LaFave finished high school in Stillwater and is strongly associated with Oklahoma’s Red Dirt music scene. It was during his time in the Sooner State that LaFave first began to feel Guthrie’s influence.
“Growing up in Stillwater, we started hearing about Woody,” LaFave told me in a recent interview. “I was such a Dylan fan and I knew Woody was the main inspiration for Dylan…I mean I really kind of went backwards from Dylan right into Woody.”
LaFave’s interest in Guthrie’s legacy made him a natural choice for the first Woody Guthrie Folk Festival held in Guthrie’s hometown in 1998, and he’s been an integral part of that festival ever since. “Fifteen years ago the festival started in Okemah,” LaFave recalled. “We’ve had fifteen years of great celebrations there.”
LaFave’s connection to the Guthrie family has continued to evolve over time. “Through the years I’ve done a lot of stuff with (Woody Guthrie’s daughter) Nora,” LaFave commented. “I got to be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with Nora in Cleveland when they put Woody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” Nora Guthrie also asked LaFave to speak and perform at Woody Guthrie’s induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1997.
For ten years, in addition to playing his own music, LaFave toured with a Woody Guthrie tribute project he called “Ribbon of Highway-Endless Skyway”. The show included readings from Guthrie’s extensive writings and performances of his songs by a rotating cast of musicians like Slaid Cleaves, Ellis Paul and Eliza Gilkyson. “I have a new one that I call ‘Walking Woody’s Road’…a different version of ‘Ribbon of Highway’ without the narrator and a little smaller cast,” LaFave told me. “(It’s) more of a conversational hootenanny cause we set up there and talk about the influence of Woody and every once in a while we do a song.”
“The other thing I’m doing with Woody stuff is that Nora gave me about twenty Woody Guthrie songs that I’m writing the music for,” LaFave continued. ”I tell you there’s so many things going on. We’re going to have a whole year of really great Woody stuff to do.”
LaFave reflected on Guthrie’s continued legacy. “If you talk to Nora, she’ll tell you that people like Hendrix carried (Guthrie’s) lyrics in his wallet. I think he influenced a lot more musicians than you think. I think people want to paint him in this kind of dust bowl hobo motif and say he wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’, but they don’t really realize all the other things he did…all the other musicians that are really into his music.”
For more information on the Woody Guthrie centennial activites, visit www.woody100.com
-with permission from The Current