A Woody Triple Play: Guthrie, Mann, and Allen

Portrait of folk singer Woody Guthrie smoking cigarette. (Photo by Eric Schaal//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Portrait of folk singer Woody Guthrie smoking cigarette. (Photo by Eric Schaal//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Today I’ve got several threads running through my brain, and I’m going to throw them into a Yahtzee cup and see what spills out. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. And if the Woodys I’m here to talk to you about today aren’t of interest to you, you can click this link and watch Ted Danson talk about the time he took mushrooms with Woody Harrelson. I aim to please.

But, to one of my points: Woody Guthrie has been a prominent figure in the last hundred pages of a dense and detailed book I’ve been reading for what seems like months now, that was published back in 1998 by Peter D. Goldsmith. Making People’s Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records reads more like a history book than a biography. Should you be interested in learning about how roots music from Texas to Ethiopia was recorded and distributed in the 20th century, this one is for you. It’s available from the Smithsonian people but can also be found used on Amazon, starting at the steep price of 53 cents.

At times you can’t tell if its a narrative or an oral history, as Goldsmith brilliantly weaves the words of others around the theme of how a European immigrant came to New York, got interested in radio and recording, and went from releasing Yiddish records to building a catalog of essential folk, jazz, spoken word, gospel, and world music. Guthrie, Leadbelly, Josh White, Pete Seeger, the Harry Smith Anthology, Jazz at the Philharmonic — it’s an amazing American legacy.

You’ve likely been hearing a lot about the new the Del McCoury Band album of Guthrie tunes that came out last week, and it’s a fine project. I love how Nora Guthrie manages her father’s extensive archive and keeps the music alive with unique collaborations such as this one. Here’s a track to give you a taste of how McCoury does what he does.

My friends Mark and Beth, who front the smokin’ New York-based blues-infused roots band Spuyten Duyvil, have been running a concert series for the past seven years called Urban H2O. Last week they closed it out with an intimate performance from master guitarist Woody Mann. A student of the late Reverend Gary Davis and co-producer of the documentary Harlem Street Singerthis Woody has eight solo albums, tours around the world, and is currently a visiting artist at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he teaches Davis’ artistry to a new generation of young musicians. If you haven’t seen the film, track it down.

Woody Allen will be releasing a new film in August titled Cafe Society, and next year there will likely be a lot of press coverage on him and his wife Soon-Yi Previn, as they celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. It’s quite a story how they came together, and I know a lot of people still have a hard time separating the man’s work from his actions and choices. Putting that aside for now, though, I happened to see Broadway Danny Rose again recently and it reminded me of Nick Apollo Forte.

A lounge singer from Connecticut who worked at Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson motels, Forte had zero acting experience when he was chosen to play Lou Canova in the 1984 comedy classic that starred Mia Farrow along with Allen. It is my all-time favorite film and there was never an official soundtrack released. I wish I could track down a clip of him singing his signature tune “Agita” in that film, but this is the best I was able to come up with:

And with that…I’m out of here.

This was originally posted as an Easy Ed Broadside column on the No Depression website.