Song To Woody

Album: Bob Dylan (1962)

Songfacts®:

  • 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.

    On January 24, 1961, Dylan arrived in New York City, having dropped out of the University of Minnesota. At the top of his to-do list was "find Woody Guthrie" - Dylan had studied Guthrie's songs and used them to develop his own songwriting. He looked up Guthrie and ended up at his house in Brooklyn, where Woody's 13-year-old son, Arlo, explained that Woody had Huntington's disease and was living in Greystone Park Psychiatric hospital in Morris Plains, New Jersey, but every Sunday stayed with a couple in East Orange, which is where friends and family paid their visits.

    That Sunday (January 29), Dylan went to East Orange and met Guthrie for the first time. After the visit, Dylan wrote "Song To Woody."

    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.
  • Dylan based this on Guthrie's song "1913 Massacre," however, it also pays homage to other Guthrie numbers. The song begins with the line: "Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song/'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along." This was influenced by a line from Guthrie's song, "Joe Hillstrom": "Hey, Gurley Flynn, I wrote you a song/To the dove of peace, it's coming along." Dylan also turned the line "We come with the dust and we go with the wind," from Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" into "That come with the dust and are gone with the wind."
  • This features on Dylan's debut album, which contained a mix of traditional songs, covers and originals. He would become one of the most prolific and beloved songwriters in American history, but Dylan wrote just two original songs for this first album: "Song To Woody" and "Talkin' New York."

Comments: 6

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 11th 1961, Bob Dylan made his New York City debut when he was the opening act for John Lee Hooker at Gerde's Folk City...
    He performed a five song set, of which two he had composed, "Song to Woody" and "Talkin' Hava Negeilah Blues"...
    And little over a month later on May 24th he would celebrate his 20th birthday, he was born on May 24th, 1941.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaPeople who like this should seek out Ramblin Jack Elliot's definitive version of "1913 Massacre." I saw Elliot perform "Massacre" live at a small folk club in Philadelphia, the Tin Angel, in the mid 90s. My buddy and I had to prompt Jack to sing it, and given his somewhat unsteady condition that night, we weren't sure he could pull it off - but sure enough, he did it without missing a beat, or, more precisely, a lyric -- of which there are many. Final anecdote: At the end of the show, I brought a copy of my "Woody Guthrie: A Life" book by Joe Klein and asked Jack to sign it. He obliged, but when I looked at the signature in the light, I saw that he signed "John Wayne."
  • Barry from New York, NyDylan's rendition of SONG FOR WOODY at the 1992 tribute show at the Garden was spectacular! Unfortunately it was never released on the 2-cd soundtrack album so many people have forgotten that he actually played it.
  • Andy from New York, NyThere was tribute concert for Bob a few years back and I asked my brother what he thought Dylan might play after all these revered musicians did covers and said nice things about him. He said, Bob'll deflect all this flattery and do Song to Woody...which he did right out of the gate...
  • Jesse from Peterborough, CanadaIn concert Dylan has taken the key down from the orignal Bb (capo III) to G (no capo).
  • Matt from Downey, CaThis song is so raw that if you listen really closely you can hear Bob flipping his notepad and he ends a verse..You can hear the paper rumblings.
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