Woody Guthrie was the third child of Charley and Nora Belle Guthrie. His father dabbled in real estate and politics, while his mother, the daughter of a Kansas City schoolteacher, was known for her horseback-riding skills and love of music. Charley and Nora Belle had five children: Clara, Roy, Woody, George, and Mary Jo.
Woody Guthrie with his parents, Nora Belle and Charley Guthrie, and brother George on the porch of their home in Okemah, Oklahoma, 1926
Woody Guthrie: Well, I was born and raised in the state of Oklahoma, called the land of the five civilized tribes; Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. At that time I was born, the year 1912, my father was a sort of a hard, fistfighting Woodrow Wilson Democrat.
Well, in them days, it was a little town of about 1,500. And then 2,000 and a few years later it got up to about 5,000. They struck some pretty rich oil pools all around there; Garrison City and Slick City and Cromwell and Seminole and Bowlegs and Sand Springs and Spring Hill and all up and down the whole country there, they got oil. They got some pretty nice oil fields around Okemah there.
Alan Lomax: Did any of the oil come in your family?
Woody Guthrie: Nope, nope. We got the grease. Didn’t get no oil.
Steve Earle: Woody followed his father to another boom-to-bust oil town on the Texas Panhandle, Pampa, where he worked at a ramshackle boarding house and behind the counter at Shorty Harris’s Drug Store, selling bootleg moonshine and teaching himself the guitar in the back room. Soon he started a band, “The Corn Cob Trio,” with his friends Matt Jennings and Cluster Baker. He played on Amarillo radio with his Uncle Jeff and his Aunt Allene. He married Matt’s sister Mary, became a sign painter, and his first two children were born. Then they all waited through the years that carried the black blizzards of dust out and across the Great Plains.