Roll Columbia on Smithsonian Folkways!
Update: Smithsonian Folkways has agreed to release the new album, “Roll Columbia” on their label January 27th, 2017! Joe Seamons and Bill Murlin are the executive producers, and Ben & Joe recorded “Hard Travelin” and “Ramblin’ Blues (Portland Town)” for inclusion on the release. Read about the process of making this album below, and go pre-order your copy now:
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s amazing month writing songs along the Columbia River for the Bonneville Power Administration. Joe Seamons has partnered with musician & former BPA employee Bill Murlin – who gathered and published the songs in a songbook 27 years ago – to record and release the 1st album to ever include all of the songs!
You can pre-order your copy now by supporting our Kickstarter campaign or making a tax-deductible donation of $30 or more to the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission! Go here to contribute.
Read more about the project at the bottom of this post, but first see the list of celebratory concert & book events about Woody songs that are kicking off in May and continuing throughout 2016 all around the Pacific Northwest! After reserving tickets, please order your copy of the new book, “26 Songs in 30 Days” by Greg Vandy.
In the spirit of Woody’s activism and passion for wise, progressive policy we have partnered with Columbia River Keepers to contribute to the fight for a clean and sustainable future for the Columbia River. Please contribute to this wonderful non-profit however you are able by visiting their website and fighting for the betterment of environmental policies!
Contribute to our project now by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission!
October 1st – Woody Guthrie Concert at Key City Theater!
Join Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons for a special concert in Port Townsend, WA with guitarist George Rezendes!
October 22 – Concert at the Old Church in Portland, OR
The Old Church in Portland, OR will host an array of musicians from the ‘Roll Columbia’ album recording project. Stay tuned here for full details!
Tax deductible donations to our folklore and album project can now be made to the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.
Ruralite Magazine featured our project in their May 2016 Issue:
The following essay by Joe Seamons is published here in anticipation of the 75th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s contribution to Pacific Northwest folk tradition through his songwriting efforts for the Bonneville Power Administration in 1941.
Greg Vandy’s new book on this topic will be the first that has ever focused entirely on Woody’s month-long stint writing songs to promote the WPA projects in Washington and Oregon. An insert in that book will explore the songs in depth (Murlin and Seamons are two of the experts quoted therein), while the book itself will lay out the historical context in which one of the most creative periods in Guthrie’s life came about.
In the winter of 1941 Woody Guthrie was living in a broke down house in Northern California with his wife and three children. Due to his restless nature and antipathy for phony commercialism, Woody had recently left a high-paying job as an radio personality and live entertainer in New York City and hit the road–once again–with his family. When they reached California they had very little money, and few opportunities. At this time, unbeknownst to Woody, his name was being bandied about up in Oregon among Bonneville Power Administration executives. They learned of Woody after contacting Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress in search of a recommendation for a talented, folksy musician who could compose traditional-style ballads and appear as an on-camera narrator for a documentary film about the dam building projects on the Columbia River. The goal was to tell the story of the work being done to create jobs, irrigate land, and deliver cheap, public electricity to people across the Northwest. When asked who could tell that story though song, Lomax had one answer: Woody Guthrie.
The BPA proceeded to contact a photographer named Gunther Von Fritsch, who traveled to the Guthrie’s broken down house in Northern California, and took photos of the folk dynamo with his young family. It is unclear whether an actual job offer was given to Guthrie at this time, but in any case he was so excited about the prospect of the work that he loaded up the family and their belongings in their beat up (though relatively new) car and drove to Portland in short order.
When he arrived on the BPA’s doorstep Woody was a seasoned traveler, experienced performer, and prolific songwriter. One of his notebooks already contained the first draft of the iconic “This Land is Your Land” – though Woody had yet to record, or probably even perform the song. The BPA was less concerned about his credentials and more worried about his communist affiliations. There was no way that officials in Washington, DC would approve the hiring of someone who had recently been a regular columnist for the People’s Daily World. So, they gave Woody a month-long appointment as a temporary employee, paying him $266.66 for 26 days work.
What followed was undoubtedly one of the most productive months of Woody’s astoundingly prolific life as a creative adapter of traditional song. In his words, he took the old songs and “brought them up to streamline.” You can hear many of his compositions from that incredible month right here:
Many of these songs have entered the popular consciousness, but too many of them remain quite obscure. For this reason, we have undertaken a new collaboration with musician and folklorist Bill Murlin–the former BPA official who collected and published all 26 songs at the behest of his employer back in the mid 1980s–and Portland-based musician Jon Neufeld, as well a host of other Northwest-based musicians. In March of 2015, we will record all 26 songs and put out a double-album that interprets the body of work produced during Guthrie’s incredible month in the Pacific Northwest. We will release the album in October of 2016, the 75th anniversary of Woody’s work for the BPA.
In 2009, I was awarded a “Woody Guthrie Fellowship” by the BMI Foundation, making it possible for me to travel to NYC and explore the Woody Guthrie Archives (which have since moved to Tulsa, OK). Hopefully, the current stewards of the Guthrie legacy will allow me to bring my findings to bear on this project–I discovered two letters that Woody wrote while in Portland, as well as a lyrical draft of a Colubmia River song that’s never been published. In any case, in between performing my interpretations of these songs with Ben Hunter and with our folk group, Timberbound, I have spent years studying Woody’s letters, manuscripts, writings, and reflections on the place that I grew up. For these reasons, I hope to be worthy of the task of forming a team of musicians and artists who can present Woody’s creations with a distinctive Northwest perspective. It’s a thrilling prospect!
– Joe Seamons, June 4, 2015
Please scroll down to learn more, and stay tuned here to learn more!
If you would like to help back this project–either as a grant-writer, a publicist, a producer, or source of funding–please feel free to contact: josephseamons (at) gmail (dot) com
May 20 – The Dalles, OR – The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
Bill Murlin of the Wanderers and Joe Seamons present a special presentation of Woody Guthrie’s northwest folk songs. The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a Chicken Florentine dinner, followed by the concert at 7 p.m. Order your tickets here:
This is a free event featuring a host of performers and author Greg Vandy. Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons as well as Bill Murlin are the featured musicians who will also be included on the “Roll Columbia” album.
Go here to learn more and invite your friends via Facebook!
May 30 – Seattle, WA – Northwest Folklife Festival
3:00 – 4:30, all ages, Free!
Artists from the new “Roll Columbia” album will perform on the Fisher Green Stage for the 26 Songs in 30 Days Showcase, hosted by author Greg Vandy! Join us at the Seattle Center on Memorial Day for a memorable concert and party on the lawn.
June 8th through June 29 – Dusty Strings Music School Class!
Weekly workshop taught by Joe Seamons at Dusty Strings School of Music all about Woody’s northwest folk songs! Musicians of all levels are welcome, we will learn to play 8 of Woody’s songs over the course of 4 class periods.
June 24th – Woody Guthrie Concert in Seattle!
The Rainier Arts Center in South Seattle will host Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons, Caitlin Belem, and author Greg Vandy for a night of music and stories celebrating Woody Guthrie’s northwest folk songs! Our Rhapsody Stringband students will perform some of Woody and Leadbelly’s songs with us as well, it’s a night of stories and songs for all ages–please help us spread the word:
Tickets available here: http://woodyconcert.bpt.me
Our first fundraising video: