Thinking Of Woody Guthrie Country Joe McDonald


Catalogue Id:
VMD 6546

In 1969, when this first solo album from Joe McDonald was issued, knowledge of Woody Guthrie was variable with few being able to appreciate his importance within American music. Country Joe was one of the first to issue a body of work that underlined clearly that Woody should have a place of honour within musical history. During the preceding few years, while working as the leader of the Fish, Joe had on occasion let his country roots show musically, so the choice to cut country songs was one obvious option. Joe’s father had grown up in Sallisaw, a small Oklahoma town some hundred miles from Woody Guthrie's own birthplace. There were distinct parallels between Joe's father's life and Woody's, which added to the feeling that Joe had developed for the songs that he had been aware of since listening to them on 78 rpm records in his childhood.


Joe McDonald had been offered a solo contract by Vanguard to run alongside his Fish group contract, but his impromptu, unplanned but most successful appearance as a soloist at the Woodstock festival solidified his future as a solo act. Along with other Vanguard acts at the time, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joan Baez, he was pointed towards recording in Nashville where the plan was that he would cut a set of country standards as a first issue. Meeting the first-call Nashville session players, Joe was quickly aware of the speed with which they could work, and they found themselves with studio time to spare. Joe grabbed the opportunity to cut an extra set of the Woody Guthrie songs he knew so well, and although the session players did not know them so well, they were still able to lay down the ten tracks in a single day. The results were so good that “Thinking Of Woody Guthrie” became the first solo album, with “Tonight I'm Singing Just For You” becoming the second issue later the same year. The session guys, including Grady Martin, Norbert Putnam, Hal Rugg and Hargus Robbins, had begun to catch people’s notice since around 1967/68 when their names appeared on album back covers in the small print. With country rock becoming a major genre, they introduced country instrumentation to an audience often previously unaware of dobro, fiddle and steel guitar, and played with the professionalism and speed that had been so well described in John Sebastian's lyrics of The Lovin' Spoonful's ‘Nashville Cats’. From ‘Pastures Of Plenty’ and ‘Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues’, the album kicks off at a pace, with the long story song of Tom Joad originally closing side one. Thematically the plight of the rural working class was balanced by appreciation of the huge American landscape with songs like ‘Roll On, Columbia’. The album was a smooth and cohesive whole, with the players giving Joe's voice just the right cushion to enable to pass on Woody's baton, as he explains so eloquently on the intro to the closing track  ‘This Land Is Your Land’.


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