WOODY GUTHRIE
My Life (Part II) (1947)

Woody (as a baby) and his sister Clara

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CONTENTS

Discography

Song Lyrics

Some of Woody's Prose...

The Almanac Singers

Tributes

Audio


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Matt Jennings (left), Woody (center) as part of the "Corncob Trio" Pampa, TX, 1930s

In the beginning back in Okemah and then Texas when Woody and I first married, it was a real lark. Woody was a fun person, always on the move and with a thousand things going on in his head. Every day coming around with new ideas and new doings.

I enjoyed his learning the guitar and tinkering with songs and music and all the strange musician people we met and the dances where he played. The moving around from place to place and Woody doing all kinds of odd jobs -- that was an adventure, too, after the small-town sheltered life I had led with my parents.

I didn't mind the being poor and getting along the best we could on the few dollars Woody earned. Everyone else was poor, too, so that didn't matter -- not until the kids came. Then it began to be hard.

We were married in Pampa, Texas in 1933, and it wasn't until early 1937 that Woody moved to California. I went out there to join him later that same year. By then I had two little ones, the two girls, Sue and Gwen.

Mary Guthrie Boyle,
reprinted in Ed Robbin, Woody Guthrie and Me, Berkeley, CA, 1979, p. 87.


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Mary Jo (Woody's sister) remembers Clara's death...
(116 KB)

I will skip a few years and a few songs, and will just say that it did not get any better. My sister, Clara died in the explosion of a coal oil stove. Later on, worried from this and things that added as they went, my mother's nerves gave away like an overloaded bridge. Papa tried to get back into the trading and the swapping game, but never got a new toehold. I heard him sing as he held me on his lap in our older and rottener houses and I could tell by the sounds of his voice that he was not singing to make his own self feel good but to try to make us kids feel better. The time and seasons passed and we saw the car and the Doctor come and take mama away to the State Asylum at Norman, Oklahoma. Then our shack house caught on fire. Dad was hurt in it and they sent him to Texas on a wheat farm where he laid in bed close to eighteen months under the care of his sister.

I hit the road down south to Houston, Galveston, the Gulf, and back, doing all kinds of odd jobs, hoeing figs, orchards, picking grapes, hauling wood, helping carpenters and cement men, working with water well drillers. I was thirteen or fourteen. I carried my harmonica and played in barber shops, at shine stands, in front of shows, around the pool halls, and rattled the bones, done jig dances, sang and played with Negroes, Indians, whites, farmers, town folks, truck drivers, and with every kind of a singer you can think of. I learned all of the tricks of strings and music and all of the songs that I could remember and learn by ear. I struck back up across Texas to the wheat farm where my dad was.

If there was anybody around there that did not play some instrument I did not see them. I heard Jeff, my dad's half brother, play his squawling panther fiddle, and his other fiddle that he called just a wild cat in a Lost Canyon.

Matt Jennings & Mary Guthrie Boyle remember Woody in Pampa, TX (1)
(307 KB)

I went into the oil town of Pampa and got a store job, and the boss had an old busted guitar. Jeff got a deputy job and taught me how to chord on the guitar. After a while I was rattling around with him playing my way at the ranch and farm house dances. We worked our way up to playing inside of the city limits, and then for the banquet thrown by the Chamber of Commerce. We played for rodeos, centennials, carnivals, parades, fairs, just bustdown parties, and played several nights and days a week just to hear our own boards rattle and our strings roar around in the wind. It was along in these days I commenced singing, I guess it was singing.

Matt Jennings & Mary Guthrie Boyle remember Woody in Pampa, TX (2)
(285 KB)

Jeff and Allene decked themselves out in real show clothes and got a magic show together. We done this for several years around at country school houses till the mud on the upper plains clogged in our wheels and caught us with an empty gas tank and a flat pocketbook with a high norther blowing up bringing dust storms down across the oil fields where the big tall derricks waved above the wheat's oceans and where the cattle stood and chewed and tried to figure out how the poor families got stripped of everything and had to hit the old crooked road going west of nowhere. I married a fine Irish girl by the name of Mary Jennings and we lived in the ricketiest of the oil town shacks long enough to have no clothes, no money, no groceries and two children, both girls, Sue and Teeny.


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