5 Songs You Didn’t Know Woody Guthrie Wrote For Other Artists

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Few artists so aptly dictated their era as well as Woody Guthrie. When you hear his music, immediately images of the American west circa 1930 are conjured up through his Depression-era ballads. More than a hundred years after his death, Guthrie’s influence on the folk world is still very much alive and well. Though the themes that folk artists touch on nowadays are a far cry from tales about the Dust Bowl, Guthrie’s simple arrangements and poignant lyricism are still hallmarks of the genre.

Without Guthrie, we wouldn’t have the work of legends like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Jerry Garcia, and countless other musicians that have marked the icon as a major influence on their careers. Because his work is so seminal, his songs have been covered and reworked countless times. Below, we’re going through a few songs penned by Guthrie that found their way to other artists before and after his death. Find five songs you didn’t know Guthrie wrote for other artists below.

1. “All Work Together,” Jack Elliot (1961)

Written by Woody Guthrie

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot marked Guthrie as a hero and a mentor from his very first studio release, Woody Guthrie’s Blues. Five years and seven albums later, Elliot took on Guthrie’s words once again with Songs to Grow On in 1961. Elliot was the first to formally release one song on the record, “All Work Together”—a children’s song in the vein of “This Land is Your Land.” Elliot’s version adds to his long history of proliferating songs penned by Guthrie with a classic folk charm that was undoubtedly inspired by the Dust Bowl Troubadour.

My mommy told me an’ the teacher told me, too,
There’s all kinds of work that I can do:
Dry my dishes, sweep my floor,
But if we all work together it won’t take very long.
We all work together with a wiggle and a giggle,
We all work together with a giggle and a grin.
We all work together with a wiggle and a giggle,
We all work together with a giggle and a grin.

2. “Birds and Ships,” Billy Bragg & Wilco with Natalie Merchant (1998)

Written by Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg

On the 1998 album Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg and Wilco unveiled a host of previously unheard Guthrie lyrics with new arrangments. Organized by his daughter Nora Guthrie, the album was one of many projects that made use of thousands of completed lyrics spanning from 1939 to 1967. Bragg wrote the musical composition for “Birds and Ships” and brought Natalie Marchant along to sing the lulling melody. Though Guthrie wasn’t able to record this tender ode himself, Bragg’s interpretation of the lyrics gives them a somber air, tapping into both American folk styles and tinges of traditional Irish lilts.

The birds are singing
In your eyes today
Sweet flowers blossom in your smile
The wind and sun
Are in the words you say
“Where might your lonesome lover be?”
Birds may be singing
In my eyes this day

3. “Dear Mr. Roosevelt,” Bob Dylan (1972)

Written by Woody Guthrie

“Dear Mr. Roosevelt” is known as Guthrie’s last complete composition. Bob Dylan brought the track out of obscurity nearly 20 years later at a Guthrie tribute concert at Carnegie Hall in 1968 alongside The Band (or the Hawks, as they were known then). Dylan has never revisited this tribute to FDR since that night, but it played well during that era when the former president was heavily feted in folk music.

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t hang your head and cry;
His mortal clay is laid away, but his good work fills the sky;
This world was lucky to see him born.

He’s born in a money family on that Hudson’s rocky shore;
Outrun every kid a-growin’ up ’round Hyde Park just for fun;
This world was lucky to see him born.

He went away to grade school and wrote back to his folks;
He drew such funny pictures and always pulling a joke;
This world was lucky to see him born.

4. “Forsaken Lover,” Kate Wolf (1978)

Written by Woody Guthrie

Though Kate Wolf’s stint in folk music was relatively short-lived, she did pen a number of classics for the genre like “Across the Great Divide.” In addition to writing her own material, she often lent her vocals to songs by other artists, including Guthrie. “Forsaken Lover” was first formally recorded by Wolf from a 1978 performance in Berkeley, California. It wasn’t released until 1996 on her album Carry It On.

I will tell a sad sad story
I will tell a story so true
about an old forsaken lover
and a heart so sad and blue
It was all once on a summer’s evening
it was on an evening so clear
You sailed across that lonesome ocean
yes, you sailed you left me here

5. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” Dropkick Murphys (2004)

Written by Woody Guthrie and Dropkick Murphys

Dropkick Murphys co-opted lyrics from Guthrie for “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in 2004. The lyrics tell the tale of a sailor who lost a prosthetic leg while climbing the topsail. He then makes his way to Boston to “find my wooden leg.” The lyrics were taken from a piece of paper from Guthrie’s archives. The band then came up with a musical arrangement for the previously unheard lines. The track gained popularity through its use in the Leonard DiCaprio-helmed film The Departed. It remains the group’s best-selling single to date.

I’m a sailor peg
And I lost my leg
Climbing up the topsails
I lost my leg!
I’m shipping up to Boston (whoa)
I’m shipping up to Boston (whoa)
I’m shipping up to Boston (whoa)
I’m shipping off
To find my wooden leg

Photo by: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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