Articles from Focus Magazine

Bobbye and Joel Combs put out the Focus Magazine every Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It covers all things Pampa, Texas related. It is really a loving tribute to the people of Pampa and I an honored to be a small part of it. They have been kind enough to let us submit articles pertaining to our endeavors at The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center. I have decided to post a few of them here as they pretty well report on the status of the ‘Center’ and give a snapshot of what we were up to at the time. Thanks Bobbey and Joel for all you do!

Winter 2016

As 2016 comes to a close we are thankful for the year we have had at The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center (WGFMC). October marked our 24th Annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie and we did it up in grand style. America’s greatest cowboy singer and yodeler, Don Edwards joined us for a spectacular evening of sharing stories and songs with us that I will never forget. We had a great turnout from around our area that helped to make it so special. Many thanks to our sponsors and volunteers and the folks of Pampa that helped us spread the word and cover the expenses.
Don’s tradition of keeping that genre of music alive fits right in with our mission. Common music for the common man, the stories of the cowboys, the stories of our country. One man and a guitar evokes the image of the lone troubadour entertaining his companions, quieting the cattle, telling stories handed down from one to another, generation after generation. The very essence of folk music. Let us hope the tradition continues. Let us encourage the new troubadours of tomorrow to carry that torch brightly into the future and carry that cowboy code of conduct that Don exhibits so modestly. What a gentleman, Don took time with everyone who stopped him to take a photo, listen to a story, share a memory with patience and humility. My favorite part of his time with us was at our ‘Center’ on S. Cuyler when he visited with everyone there. He listened to some of our music, played us a few songs, but mostly he was just one of us for awhile. The great entertainer does not just share his gift with his audience, he shares himself. That is what Don did with us so generously. Thank you, Don.

On the heels of that well attended and highly successful show we had another treat in store for us the following week. Let me introduce to you, Chad Elliott, with a direct quote from his press release.
“Like the dark earth of his Iowa origins, Chad Elliott’s life has served as fertile ground for music. Elliott has turned love, loss, fatherhood, divorce and homelessness into lyrics. He performs more than 200 shows each year, has cultivated more than 1,000 songs and released his 20th album in October of 2015. In this latest album, “Wreck and Ruin”, Elliott dives into his love of roots-rock, soul and blues music with a rocking band behind his artfully crafted songs. Producer and drummer, Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo) lined up the best rhythm and lead players in Nashville to create Elliott’s greatest album to date. Guitarist and bassist Kenny Vaughan and Dave Roe, legendary Nashville players, add the needed touches to rocket Elliott’s songs into a new arena of hard driving Americana.”

Chad visited our place last February while on tour with Tommy Lewis, another accomplished singer/songwriter. As we don’t have the funding to be open full time, we come when called to show our place. I am always happy to get these calls because I get to meet amazing people like Chad and Tommy and Shaun Kober who was doing videography for them on that tour. Chad picked up an old guitar that was hanging on the wall and Tommy found my old resonator guitar sitting there and I heard the magic start. They played a song, ‘Same Old Way’ which had won Chad the songwriting contest at the 2009 WoodyFest in Okemah, Oklahoma. I knew our folks would want to hear more of this, and we talked about the possibility of a show sometime. October 27th, we were able to make that happen with a full house and full heart. That is the way I like to see our place, full of people and full of music. A living legacy to Woody and songsters and songwriters. Just the kind of guys to carry on the tradition. Thanks guys for your hard work and dedication to the craft.

Just like Tommy and Chad you can call or send an email anytime for a tour of The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center. We will be glad to come and show the place. We recently received some new exhibits from Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter in New York. They really perked the place up and give a thorough view of Woody’s time in Pampa. Our heartfelt thanks to Nora and her daughter, Ana Canoni for supporting our efforts here.

We still have our Friday Night Music from about 6:30 until 9:00. Anyone is welcome to sit in and play and sing. Our Woody Guthrie House Band is available for local events and bookings. Contact: Michael Sinks, michaelsinks@hotmail.com or 806 664 0824 or see our website at woodyguthriepampatx.com for upcoming events and Woody’s Story.
Michael Sinks

Visiting the Woody Guthrie Center-Tulsa April 2015

If you live in Pampa, I hope you are aware of the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center located at 320 S Cuyler, in the old Harris Drug Store. Woody lived here from 1929 until 1936 and worked for a time there. It is where he got his first guitar from Shorty Harris. You are welcome to come and visit any time and learn the whole story. It is also on our web site at woodyguthriepampatx.com. Our place is a modest legacy to ‘America’s Dust Bowl Troubadour’ and a place where local and area musicians gather on Friday evenings to play music and folks stop by to listen and visit with each other. We’ve been doing this since about 2001 at this location thanks to the efforts of Thelma Bray, Glenna Lea Miller, John Farrister and many, many others over the years. I should also mention that we are a non-profit organization and we survive with donations from different community minded groups that would like to promote tourism and Pampa in general to the area and the world. We feel privileged for the opportunity to do just that.
Three years ago, (April 27th, 2013) another Woody Guthrie Center opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The George Kaiser Foundation acquired the archives from the Woody Guthrie Foundation in New York and moved everything back to Woody’s home state. There they have gathered 10,000+ items ranging from original manuscripts and correspondence to musical instruments and historical memorabilia to illustrate Woody’s life, music and political activities. A stunning 12,000 ft. space full of state of the art interactive exhibits, pictures, displays and a theatre, this place is amazing. I was fortunate enough to have been invited by Nora Guthrie and Anna Canoni (Woody’s daughter and granddaughter) to come and visit for their third annual celebration. Woody wrote over three thousand songs and most of them have never been seen outside of the archives; however, some are being brought to life today by artists such as Del McCoury who just released an album titled, ‘Del and Woody’.
A hot little band called the Black Lillies opened the show for Del on that perfect Thursday night. Then Del and his band went to work performing all the songs off the new release at the world famous Cain’s Ballroom, still known as the home of Bob Wills. Del breathed life into these songs like they were his own and the result was nothing short of spectacular. Then Del went on to ask for requests and did another hour or more of his own music. I could have gone home after that and been well satisfied, but the week-end had just begun. (A side note on one of these songs, Californy Gold. If you watch the video for this song on YouTube, it shows snippets of the original manuscript Woody wrote. At the bottom of the page it says, 316 S Russell St, Pampa,Tx, Feb. 1935.)
The next day I spent going through the Woody Guthrie Center located at 102 E Mathew B. Brady St. in beautiful downtown Tulsa. An area full of shops, restaurants, music venues and the Guthrie Green, an amazing outdoor music venue across from the center. You need to allot a full day to fully appreciate this museum. I was at once struck by the number of children visiting in groups. A young man with a banjo was instructing children on the art of songwriting. They were engaged in the process by helping put words to paper on a large easel. Outside this theatre was a digital display that contained verses written by children over the years. Very touching! One display where you sit on a stool in front of a touch screen and wear headphones was devoted to Woody’s time in Pampa. Another whole room was dedicated to the Dust Bowl. I won’t go into any more detail about the displays and exhibits except to say that they also have a section dedicated to a guest artist. At the time of my visit this exhibit was on Texas blues legend, Stevie Rae Vaughn. Perfect for me!
Saturday a symposium was held at the University of Tulsa featuring more than a dozen artists and scholars including Will Kaufman, author of Woody Guthrie, American Radical and Grammy Museum Director, Robert Santelli. One of my favorites was David Amram, a noted conductor, pianist, composer and an expert on Native American instruments. David met Woody in New York and regaled me with tales of that visit and other stories of his life. A fascinating man and at 85 years young, a hard man to keep up with. Later that night he appeared on stage at Guthrie Green with Austin musician, Jimmy LaFave and did an outstanding job.
On Sunday morning Anna Canoni presented ‘Live Wire’ in the theatre at the Center. How they got this recording is a pretty amazing story. In 2001, The Woody Guthrie Archives received 2 spools of wire recordings from a live Woody Guthrie performance. With the help of many talented recording engineers, the Woody Guthrie Foundation transferred this rare live performance from a delicate wire recording to digital audio, and, with state-of-the-art technology, restored it to near-perfection. This is one of the most significant recent finds in folk music history.
The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949 is a recording of a concert by Woody Guthrie in Newark, New Jersey, one of a small number of surviving live recordings of the folksinger. The program consists of Guthrie answering questions from his wife Marjorie about his life, and singing songs. The recording was made on an inexpensive wire recorder by Paul Braverman. In 2008 the album won a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. So 34 years after his death an anonymous delivery results in this wonderful surprise.
This is all important to Pampa because of Woody’s heritage here and the visitors that brings to our area. Many of the travelers that visit The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center are on their way to or from Tulsa and The Woody Guthrie Center there or maybe to Okemah, Woody’s home on I-40, 60 miles east of Oklahoma City. They have a big festival there the second week-end in July every year, commemorating his birthday, July 14th, 1912.
I’d like to remind everyone that we also have an annual event to honor Woody. Ours is usually held the first week-end in October around the time of his death, October 3rd,1967. This year we are celebrating on October 22nd because that’s when ‘America’s Cowboy Balladeer, Don Edwards’, will be here at The MK Brown Civic Center, in the Heritage Room. Tickets are on sale at PanhandleTickets.com and area United Grocery stores. Save the date and lets all celebrate our Western Heritage with Don that Saturday evening next fall. More information on Don Edwards and his show will be coming as the time draws nearer.
Thanks all, for your continued support, and when you visit Tulsa and The Woody Guthrie Center there, say hello to Deanna McCloud and her friendly staff and tell ’em Mike from Pampa says hi!
You can plan your trip at woodyguthriecenter.org and see who’s at Cain’s at http://www.cainsballroom.com/.
Michael Sinks

Autumn 2015

Pampa’s Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center continues to thrive here in the Texas panhandle, due to the efforts of a few diligent people. My sincere thanks to the Board members and the regular musicians and visitors who continue to show up week after week and make our little tribute to Woody a success. We survive as a non-profit due to the generosity of a few groups and individual donations. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you of my appreciation to you folks as well.
I did not make it to the annual Woodyfest in Okemah, OK. this year. I hear the campground {where I usually stay} was a muddy bog due to 10 inches of rain in the first two days of the festival. So I suppose it was a good year to miss if I had to miss one. Still, I believe they were glad for the rain just like us, and the spirit of the goers was not dampened with the weather. I met a fellow from Glasgow, Scotland, who showed up at the ‘Center’ the week after the celebration. Gerry assured me the event went off very well and he should know, he’s attended the last fifteen years. Mary Jo, Woody’s younger sister, was still a big hit there and continues to be Woody’s biggest fan. I hope to visit with her and the other friends I have made there next year.
We continue to have our own celebration during the first week -end of October. This year we will start as usual with our weekly jam session Friday evening October 2nd and continue with an open house Saturday, starting at noon and lasting until about 5pm. After that at the Heritage Room in MK Brown we will have a dance/concert starting at 7pm and featuring local talent, the Justin Lee Band. Classic and contemporary country music will be the fare of the evening with a Woody song or two thrown in I’m sure. Admission will be a donation at the door. If you can’t afford a donation, that’s ok, just come and join us for some fun and fellowship. That is the spirit of Woody Guthrie. Making music available and relevant to the common man and woman. That remains our goal at the ‘Center’ and I do hope you will visit us there some Friday evening if you’ve never been. We remain one of the best kept secrets in town.
Before closing I would like to recognize our founder and most tireless worker, Thelma Bray. Thelma’s twin sister Velma Lard passed away recently and our deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends. Velma was a regular listener at our jam sessions and we miss her smiling face ever so much.

Thanks Pampa for your continued support and donations can be made at our web site, www.woodyguthriepampatx.com.
Michael Sinks

From The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center – July 2014

This is kind of getting to be an annual report on our little ‘Center’ on S Cuyler St. in Pampa,Tx., so first of all I’d like to report that we are still playing music every Friday night at 6:30. We continue to have good local support from our regular visitors and players (you know who you are) and we love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Having said that I’m really excited to announce that we are also welcoming new folks all the time and adding to our extensive lists of friends in the area and around the world.
I bet you or a family member pulls out a guitar or sits down at the piano when you have a get together. Well, bring that person and yourself and become a part of our family get togethers. People tell me all the time that ‘ I would come but I don’t play folk music’ or ‘I don’t know any Woody Guthrie songs’. That is no excuse at all because in essence all music is folk music. I was just at the 2014 Woody Guthrie Folk Music Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma and I heard rock, country, gospel, bluegrass, rap, and even ‘crabgrass’ music. Now, I had never heard of crabgrass music and Paul Foreman and Jo Long from Fair Grove, Missouri informed me that it was not as good as bluegrass, but it was better than dirt! Speaking of dirt, I also heard ‘Red Dirt’ music which is considered Oklahoma’s own special blend. I have even heard heavy metal played with fiddles and mandolins and acoustic guitars. So, the message is, your kind of music is welcome.

In addition we have been featuring guest performers from the area once a month. In May we had Alex Henderson from Amarillo, in June we were lucky to get Mike Fuller and his wife, Christy to join us. These shows were well attended and greatly enjoyed by all. July featured local talent, the H C B and B band. Herb, Carolyn, Ben and Bob whom you can hear at the Pampa Senior Citizens on most Mondays at noon. We have only scratched the surface of the talent available to us. Watch the newspaper for our next guest artist and thanks for your support.

On a sad note we lost two very special friends of the WGFMC in the last year. Pete Seeger passed just after our last article appeared in Focus, he was the subject of the article and much adored by people all over the world. We were better folks for having known him. More recently, Ann Guthrie, who was wife of Roy Guthrie (brother to Woody) passed away in Oklahoma. Ann came to Pampa to attend our annual events often with her daughter and grandchildren and great grandchildren. She will be missed dearly.

Now, Woody once said that ‘a folk song was whats wrong about something and how to fix it’, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes it takes many people coming together in a variety of different ways over many years to make that happen. Such is the story of a song with two names, ‘Plane wreck at Los Gatos ‘ or simply ‘Deportee’. On January 28th,1948 a plane went down over southern California and all 32 people on board were killed. The plane was carrying 28 migrant workers and 4 Americans. Woody read the article in New York City and it’s not surprising that they did not list all the names, but Woody took this as a thoughtless and callous indignity to the workers. They were referred to only as ‘deportees’. In the song Woody also protests the practice of poisoning excess fruit in creosote dumps while so many were going hungry. But, that is another story.
While the names were probably listed in a California newspaper the real indignity was that these people were buried in a mass grave with no names on the marker and no attempt was made to notify the families, even though these workers were part of the Braceros program sponsored by the federal government to help with labor shortages due to the war effort.
Ten years after Woody put the story in a poem, schoolteacher Martin Hoffman put music and a haunting melody to the lyrics and it became a song. Pete Seeger heard the song and started singing it in concerts and his version became popular in the late 50’s. Dozens of artists covered the song and it became a favorite standby with folk singers everywhere.
Tim Z Hernandez is an author and poet who ran across this story while doing research on a book, ‘Manana is Heaven’. He had not realized this event had taken place in his own backyard, so to speak, and he felt obligated to try to give closure to some of the families of the crash victims. How would you feel not knowing where your father or mother or brother was buried. They went to work and never came back. He felt this was unacceptable and took up the cause to correct this situation to the best of his abilities. As a result of his effort, and many others he enlisted along the way, a great thing came to pass. Here is an exert from the Fresno Bee on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 written by Ron Orozco.

On Monday, the right thing was done. More than 500 people attended a Mass under a tent at the cemetery and then walked a short distance to the gravesite, where a 4-by-8-foot granite memorial with the farmworkers’ names was unveiled.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which owns Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, led an effort with author and former Valley resident Tim Z. Hernandez to raise money for the memorial. About $14,000 was raised to cover the cost of the memorial and expenses to stage the Mass and unveiling ceremony.
Carlos Rascon, director of cemeteries for the diocese, told the crowd: “Many of you are here because you wanted to help — you wanted to correct a past wrong. A person asked, ‘Who are these friends?’ Today, we have that answer, because of you.”
Relatives of those who died in the airplane crash expressed gratitude at Monday’s events. Some traveled great distances to Fresno.
Caritina Ramirez came from Charco de Pantoja in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. She wiped away tears as she spoke Spanish through an interpreter about her father, Ramon Paredes Gonzalez, a farmworker who died in the crash. She was 11 at the time.
“I remember when he was going and coming back, ” said Ramirez, now 77. “He was a wonderful man. I have very good memories of him. This day is something that’s amazing. I have happiness and sadness at the same time.”
Anna Cardena of Paso Robles said she felt a sense of family pride. She is the great granddaughter of Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, a farmworker who also died.
“I’m really proud to be here, ” Cardena said. “My grandmother came here to see the gravesite in July 1995. Now, I am able to come here, and to talk with a lot of people. It’s almost as if it’s nostalgic. I’m really happy. I just don’t know how to put it into words.”
Three crew members and an immigration guard also died in the crash. Although they were buried at various cemeteries, their names also were listed on the new memorial.
Connie Mart, of Lagunitas, the niece of pilot Francis C. Atkinson, attended the Mass and unveiling, saying it made her feel good about her family.
“It happened eight months to the day before I was born, ” she said, “My grandmother always talked about him — and tears would come to her eyes. He was always in my life. He was the star of the family.”
After the unveiling, renditions of “Deportee” were performed by John McCutcheon as well as Lance Canales and Jemmy Bluestein.
Hernandez, who is writing a book about the farmworkers, read a poem by Martin Hoffman, who provided the music to Guthrie’s song: “Now we know who these people are — once nameless — and the stories of their families. Share the story. The more we do, the more we correct the past.”
The reporter can be reached at rorozco@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6304.

In Okemah, at The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival 2014, I had the pleasure of hearing Lance Canales and the Flood perform ‘Deportee’ in a very different and wonderful version of the often covered song.

So, 65 years after Woody told us what he thought was wrong, it has been ‘fixed’ with the work of many unrelated people who felt moved to carry the message and to do the right thing. The effort continues today to locate the rest of the victims relatives and give them some peace. Woody would be proud!

Michael H Sinks