Woody Guthrie's L.A. Years Leads to Album Project

Posted on June 12, 2014 | by Jason Walsh

Call it: Woody Guthrie, the lost years. That’s the focus of a new album project by Americana musician and folk-music scholar Darryl Holter, who is examining the influence of Los Angeles on the music and legacy of Woody Guthrie.

The album is being produced in Los Angeles and will feature such guest musicians as Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek and saxophonist Ben Wendell.

Holter, the author of multiple books on U.S. labor history, is recording the album as part of his project, “Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles, 1937-1941,” which will examine the importance of the folk singer’s years in LA, and how they shaped his music, politics, and links to the labor movement. 

Funding for the project is coming from the Woody Guthrie Fellowship, which promotes research projects through the extensive holdings in the Woody Guthrie Archive in New York City.

Guthrie, an Oklahoma native, spent much of his time in LA hosting a radio show in which he sang rural roots music and talked politics. Only a handful of recordings exist from this period of Guthrie’s life; in 1941 he relocated to New York where he recorded his legendary Dust Bowl Ballads for which he became known.

In a 1941 letter to friend Alan Lomax, Guthrie described Los Angeles as, “full of people that work and talk a working man's lingo, no matter what tongue or color."

Holter sees the project as a peak into a period of Guthrie’s life that’s gone largely unreported in the media.

“I’ve been reading about Woody Guthrie and playing his songs for years, but I never had the chance to do historical research on him,” says Holter. “This fellowship provides a great opportunity to explore Guthrie’s formative years in Los Angeles.” 

 For a taste of Guthrie, check out the above clip of rare Guthrie footage from 1945, edited to "This Land Is Your Land." 

Receive lessons, songs, advice, and news like this straight to your inbox

Join the Woody Guthrie's L.A. Years Leads to Album Project discussion