“Woody’s Rag;” Woody Guthrie on mandolin 

Photo credit: unknown 

Irish musician Andy Irvine was inspired to pick up the mandolin from following the life and music of Woody Guthrie.  While Irvine went on to pioneer the use of mandolin in traditional Irish music, there was little ever mentioned about Guthrie’s mandolin playing.  People may remember his guitar that read “This machine kills fascists,” but need to go deeper to know more about this complex individual than what is popularly known (even who he had for a landlord at one time).

On a Mandolin Café discussion forum, members observed Guthrie’s 100th birthday in 2012 by highlighting his mandolin playing.  Guthrie played mandolin, as well as guitar and harmonica, with The Almanac Singers, the left-wing folk singing group of the 1940’s that also had Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, later of The Weavers, as members.  Guthrie also composed an instrumental, “Woody’s Rag,” that is a folk and bluegrass mandolin classic.  Pete Seeger performed it on mandolin in a 1965 episode of the NET series “Rainbow Quest,” accompanied by Rambling Jack Elliot and Malvina Reynolds on guitars.

While Huntington’s* disease ate into his muscularity, it was rather an accidental burning of his arm during a campfire (gasoline used to start the fire caused an explosion) that finished Guthrie as an instrumentalist.  He continued to write lyrics when he could no longer play music.  By the late 1950’s, the disease took most of what was left of him, and Guthrie remained hospitalized (transferring to three different hospitals over the years) until his death in 1967.

(*In the previous blog posting about Andy Irvine, Woody Guthrie’s illness was misidentified as Hodgkin’s disease. )





The Springfield Mandolin Orchestra is always looking for new members.  If you play mandolin, or any other instrument in the mandolin family, and can read music, you are welcome to join.  Please visit the Web site http://mandolinorchestra.org for more information.

The Springfield Mandolin Orchestra is a 501(c) 3 non-profit dedicated to providing educational performances and events throughout the Metro Springfield area.


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