This was written as a tribute to the folk music legend Woody Guthrie, who was a huge influence on Dylan. Dylan discovered Guthrie in 1960 when he read a copy of his autobiography Bound for Glory
. It was through this book that Dylan became enamored with Guthrie's songwriting and troubadour lifestyle.
In 1961, Dylan visited Guthrie at Greystone Park Psychiatric hospital in New Jersey, where he had spent the last four years suffering from Huntington's disease (Guthrie died at another hospital in 1967 at age 55). Dylan played some of this song for Guthrie, who encouraged the young singer.
Dylan became a champion of Guthrie's work, which had a huge impact on his legacy. Very few recordings of Guthrie exist; his music was disseminated through live performance, and when he could no longer perform, it was the next generation of folk singers who told his story. Dylan used his influence to keep Guthrie's memory alive. Many Dylan disciples traced the roots and discovered Guthrie, and some even ventured into the Guthrie archives and recorded Woody's songs. Guthrie left very little audio behind, but thousands of his songs exist as lyric sheets that have been put to music by many artists over the years. You can learn more about these archives in our interview with Guthrie's granddaughter