Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie


The groundbreaking biography, available for the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth in July 2012.
A patriot and a political radical, Woody Guthrie captured the spirit of his times in his enduring songs. Ed Cray, the first biographer to be granted access to the Woody Guthrie Archive, has created a haunting portrait.

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Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie

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The groundbreaking biography, available for the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth in July 2012.
A patriot and a political radical, Woody Guthrie captured the spirit of his times in his enduring songs. Ed Cray, the first biographer to be granted access to the Woody Guthrie Archive, has created a haunting portrait.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Rolling Stone
A welcome and important work.— Robert Santelli
Robert Santelli - Rolling Stone
“A welcome and important work.”
The New York Times
Guthrie's prose was usually impulsive, sometimes affected and so word-drunk that it didn't necessarily connect up very well. But in the well-organized context Cray provides, it makes sense as further proof of a genius who meant to poke holes in the facade of received culture, and succeeded better than the genius in question was lucky enough to see. — Robert Christgau
Publishers Weekly
The biographer of Gen. George C. Marshall (General of the Army) turns his prodigious skills to view another complex American hero with an equally complex story-folk singer and political activist Woody Guthrie. Cray's access to thousands of pages from the Woody Guthrie Archives (including previously unpublished letters, diaries and journals) allows him to present a comprehensive picture, although sometimes the detail keeps Cray from moving the story along. However, this is the definitive biography of a songwriter whose legendary image for the past half-century has been "the banty, brilliant songwriter who had stood up for the underdog and downtrodden." Cray provides a superb look at Guthrie's background as a real estate agent's son. He carefully details how Guthrie moved from a fairly conventional career in country music to a recreation of his image through remarkable songs, like his "Dust Bowl Ballads,'' and gained a whole new Depression-era audience: "The Okies and Arkies, the Texicans and Jayhawkers, had become Woody's people." Cray also expertly observes how the "writerly discipline" of these works was missing in his post-WWII songs. While Guthrie's folk hero status is a given today, Cray shows just how much effort it actually took for a new generation of folk singers such as Bob Dylan to raise awareness of Guthrie's importance as the man himself fell victim to Huntington's disease. Finally, Cray fully explores one of the real heroes in this story, Guthrie's second wife, Marjorie, who stuck with the singer during and after their stormy marriage. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his song "Christmas in Washington," Steve Earle issues a call for Woody Guthrie's return because our times require his unflinchingly honest and prophetic voice. Cray (Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren) answers with this vivid portrait of the peripatetic Okie bard's life, music, and hard times. Drawing on materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives and interviews with Guthrie's friends, the author chronicles the songwriter's birth and youth in Oklahoma and Texas, marked by his sister's death, his mother's committal to an insane asylum, and his father's tumble from wealth to poverty during the Depression. His days in New York City's Greenwich Village and his death in 1967 from Huntington's chorea are also covered. To boot, Cray tells the stories behind some of Guthrie's best-known songs (e.g., "This Land Is Your Land") and provides detailed information about his Communist ties. Guthrie has deeply influenced the likes of Earle, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Ani DeFranco; Cray eloquently bears witness to his tremendous significance in this definitive biography. All libraries will want to own a copy. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lively, graphic portrait of the balladeer and activist who made ants-in-his-pants into an art form. Woody Guthrie (1912-67) doesn't emerge here as any sort of icon, but he does shine through as a force of nature, a deep-running reservoir of disobedient energy applied to music, politics, and writing. Cray (Chief Justice, 1997, etc.) makes few assumptions; rather, he follows close on Guthrie's heels, letting the acts speak for themselves. In terms of number and content, they are a hell's-afire riot. The author aptly characterizes his subject's music as simple, idiomatic, and direct, rich in symbolism, steeped in old oral traditions, yet, amazingly, crafted in mere minutes or hours. Guthrie's politics, on the other hand, took shape more gradually over a couple of years-a near-geological amount of time for this itchy soul. Cray neatly couples the singer's musical and political evolution, showing how they fed upon one another: a black man fired his first interest in music, and thus fired his questioning of racism. But Guthrie was never as ingenuous as he made it sound when he said, "Left wing, right wing, chicken wing-it's the same thing to me. I sing my songs wherever I can sing 'em"; this prairie socialist evolved into a "full blood Marxican," though seldom a dogmatic one. Guthrie had "to do a little something different . . . learn a little something different every day," which didn't make him much of a husband or father, though it kept him curious. His biographer shrewdly charts his passage through radio programs and the Almanac Singers, his stint as a leftist columnist and the writing of Bound for Glory, his patriotic socialism during the war years and the sad days of increasingly crazybehavior that led to his institutionalization. Guthrie's last years were dark, shadowed by the horrible death of his daughter, FBI probes, and his drastic physical decline from Huntington's chorea. A jam-packed life, unfolded with an artful blend of perspective and admiration. (16 photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327366
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/13/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 979,363
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ed Cray is a professor at the University of Southern California. He lives in Santa Monica.

Born in 1912, Studs Terkel is the bestselling author of twelve books of oral history, including Working, Hard Times, and the Pulitzer Prize–winning “The Good War” (all available from The New Press). He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Presidential National Humanities Medal and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii
Acknowledgments xv
Foreword xvii
Introduction: Feathers from a Pillow xix
Chapter 1 The Guthries of Okemah 3
Chapter 2 Jig Dance in a Minor Key 20
Chapter 3 The Oil Patch 37
Chapter 4 Starting the Panther 48
Chapter 5 Black Blizzard 64
Chapter 6 On the Jericho Road 78
Chapter 7 West of the West 90
Chapter 8 Old Familiar Songs 103
Chapter 9 Guthrie's People 117
Chapter 10 The Workhunters 130
Chapter 11 Radical with a Twang 143
Chapter 12 Talking Socialism 160
Chapter 13 Some Kind of Electricity 173
Chapter 14 Sleeping under Money 185
Chapter 15 The Leakingest Roof 200
Chapter 16 Erratic Stew 215
Chapter 17 A Desperate Little Man 228
Chapter 18 Marjorie 242
Chapter 19 Breaking New Land 255
Chapter 20 Seamen Three 268
Chapter 21 Shackled 282
Chapter 22 The Running Man 293
Chapter 23 Worried Man Blues 309
Chapter 24 The Noise of Roaches 321
Chapter 25 The Compass-Pointer Man 335
Chapter 26 Anneke Anni 354
Chapter 27 Adversity Guthrie 371
Chapter 28 I Ain't Dead Yet 386
Chapter 29 Woody's Children 393
Afterword 404
Notes 407
Selected Bibliography 459
Selected Discography 465
Permissions 467
Index 471
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