You probably know the story about Nora Guthrie giving Billy Bragg a bunch of her dad’s lyrics that Woody had never put to music, Bragg brought them to Wilco, and together, they created Mermaid Avenue. There’s a whole documentary about it. What you may not know is that she gave lyrics to a bunch of other artists in addition to Bragg, one of whom was folk singer Ellis Paul, which resulted in this:
The story of how Paul ended up with the lyrics to this song of Guthrie’s, as Paul tells it here, is pretty funny. Paul, like pretty much every folk singer, is a big Guthrie fan, so big in fact that he got Woody’s face tattooed on his arm. At some point, Paul was opening for Arlo, whom he’d never met, and he decided it would be a good idea to show him his tattoo. The way Paul tells it, there was a really uncomfortable silence, after which Arlo said “cool,” then walked away. It must have made an impression, however, because he told his sister Nora, who later met Paul by chance at a folk music convention and asked him about the tattoo. Later she called him up and offered him the lyrics to this song. And a really wonderful little song it is. I think Paul’s music does it justice, too. Even as an atheist (No Religion!) I find it uplifting.
I can’t really do a post about Nora Guthrie passing out her father’s songs without at least one from Bragg and Wilco:
That’s my favorite from both of the Bragg-Wilco albums of Guthrie songs (there’s a Mermaid Avenue, Vol II). Here are some Woody songs with music written by other artists:
New Multitudes, which was a project built entirely around music-less Guthrie songs, has some gems, particularly “My Revolutionary Mind.” And a couple other artists have done well by Woody too: