Dropkick Murphys Put Music to the Words of Woody Guthrie
By Sabrina Hornung
Photo by Dave Stauble
With the release of 2022’s “This Machine Still Kills Fascists” and 2023’s “Okemah Rising.” The Dropkick Murphys have been focusing on acoustic shows for the past couple of years. Now they’re plugging back in for their latest tour.
“We've kind of gone back to the electric thing and you know what's been fun about that is a lot of those three songs we played for the first time on that acoustic tour, so when we went back to not acoustic stuff, we had to sort of figure out how to play some of those songs in a more lively setting.” said Dropkick Murphys lead guitarist Tim Brennan.
Wait! Why did the Dropkick Murphys, who are known for their dynamic high-energy Celtic-tinged punk rock performances, unplug?
They chose the acoustic route with these albums because they felt it best suited the new material.
In fact, for their acoustic tours, they actually played in sit-down theatres.
The aforementioned albums were a collaboration between The Dropkick Murphys and Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie and founder of the Woody Guthrie archive.
Woody Guthrie is easily considered one of America’s most compelling folk music figures and was known for his stance against fascism in the 1930s along with working class issues.
The songs on these albums consist of Guthrie’s lyrics combined with Dropkick Murphys’ instrumentation.
So how did Nora Guthrie kickstart a collaboration with Dropkick?
“She was in the process of finding people to put music to lyrics that Woody had written that had never seen the light of day, that he never really had a chance to put to music,” Tim Brennan said.
Ken Casey, the band’s primary songwriter and lead vocalist, checked out the archives and wound up finding two songs right off the bat, “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight” on the “Blackout” album that was released in 2023. And “I’m Shipping up to Boston” which was released in 2005 and was featured in Martin Scorsese's film "The Departed" in 2008.
“That was the first time that we worked with them, knowing that I think in the back of our heads, knowing that at some point we would like to do more. And I mean, it wasn't until almost 20 years later that we got to it, but you know, we got to go through so much stuff. And then, you know, try to come up with music for it, it was a fun project to do, that’s for sure,” Brennan said.
Nora’s son Cole, grandson of Woody Guthrie, is also a dobro player and had the opportunity to join the band for a number of the songs on both albums, and even hopped on stage with them at two different tour stops.
“It was so great and wonderful to have that sort of direct connection, you know?” said Brennan. “He's actually the reason that Nora became aware of us in the first place– because he was a fan of ours as a teenager. He went to his mom and was like, I think these guys would be perfect to do some of Woody’s songs. Ultimately, it's thanks to him that we got the opportunity.”
Interestingly enough, the Sirius XM Outlaw Country Station had even picked up Dropkick’s latest material. Who would ever have anticipated hearing the Dropkick Murphys on an outlaw country station? Then again, upon listening to the acoustic version of “I’m shipping up to Boston,” it tracks on both ends.
Dropkick Murphys made their mark as a punk band known for incorporating traditional Celtic instrumentation; one shouldn’t doubt their ability to blend musical genres.
They are also no strangers to singing the songs of the working class, and it only makes sense that they’d catch the eye and ear of Guthrie’s descendents and possibly pave the way for a new generation of Woody Guthrie fans.
“It wasn’t until I heard Ken start doing his vocal tracks that I listened to the lyrics and with this Guthrie stuff, I was sitting in the control room and our producer Tad and I started hearing the words and I was like…these could have been written yesterday, and they were written in the 30s,” Brennan went on to say. “It's scary how relevant they are, you know? It's unfortunate how relevant they are…if we've learned anything over the last however long is that all this bullshit is cyclical. Unfortunately, it all seems to rear its head again, despite what we've learned in the past.”
IF YOU GO:
Dropkick Murphys, The Interrupters and opener Jesse Ahern.
Saturday, October 14, 7pm
Scheels Arena, 5225 31st Ave S, Fargo
December 5th 2023
August 24th 2023
June 20th 2023
May 27th 2023
May 21st 2023
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