Woody’s legend lives
Bucky Halker is too tall — and too healthy — to appear as Woody Guthrie while presenting his acclaimed touring tribute show. “I do the show as a musical tribute, I don’t do the first person thing. Partly the physicality of it, he was a short guy, and I’m already older than he was after entering the hospital (where Guthrie died of complications from Huntington’s Disease),” said Halker, talking via cell phone after finishing a show in New York. Along with noted session player John Rice on mandolin, fiddle and dobro, Halker will present his “Tribute to Woody Guthrie” on Saturday. The show has been ongoing for almost fifteen years. Guthrie (1912-1967), the iconic folksinger, writer, labor and social justice advocate, continues to fascinate people everywhere. Almost everyone has heard — and likely sung — his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land.
“Roots” doctor Halker has a Ph.D. in history frm the University of Minnesota and is on the board of theWoody Guthrie Foundation. Halker sings and writes roots music and recently released “Wisconsin2.13.63 Volume One” on Revolting Records. He also has produced a series of recordings, “Folk Songs of Illinois,” in conjunction with the Illinois Humanities Council. Halker believes that the songs of Woody Guthrie are still important and entertaining. “The issues he talked about are still relevant,” he said. “For example, his song ‘Deportee’ was about illegal aliens, and is still a current issue, even though he wrote it in 1947. And “I Ain’t Got No Home” was about homelessness during the Depression, another issue we’re in the middle of right now. Halker thinks Guthrie would be disappointed by our lack of progress in these social issues. “Yes, he would be disappointed. He was radical, but a very American radical who really believed in the country. We have a lot of social issues that we’ll start to deal with, then we back off, so they stay with us,” said Halker. Lapsed hero worship Asked if he personally idolizes Guthrie as a mythical hero, Halker answered thoughtfully: “As a teenager, I had a romantic vision of him as a rebel. But Guthrie had short-comings as a human being. He was notorious for being away from home, being in debt, and not always being frank with people, including his friends. Most heroes, when you scratch the surface, are [far from perfect]. Woody Guthrie is mythic, he was a real poetic voice in. But I put him in a more honest perspective now than when I was, say, 21. “If he were alive today”, Halker said Guthrie would “probably be involved in international issues, like labor conditions in places like China And he would be complaining about economic justice in the country.” Notably, Halker has a connection to the Guthrie family, having recently completed a European tour with Woody’s son, Arlo Guthrie. Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, has called Halker one of her father’s “torchbearers.” “I definitely feel it’s important to keep spreading his music,” said Halker.
Lilli Kuzma, contributor.