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 the Songfacts interview with Guthrie's granddaughter