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Woody Guthrie's 00-17 Martin Guitar for sale

Very Good
Listing Sold
Shipped From
The Star Wisdom Guitar shop
Santa Cruz, CA, United States
Joined Reverb

About This Listing

Last chance on the "the Little Brown Guitar"

—a 00-17 Martin Guitar that belonged to Woody Guthrie and that he used to forge links across Culture and Time

This guitar is legendary. Its history and influence has been multi-cultural, and the wealth of tunes that has flowed across its strings and out of its sound hole is nothing less than awesome, nothing less than a whole swathe of American folk musical history. 

Woody Guthrie  played this all mahogany guitar when he was in the Almanac Singers and it was in use even before that, when he first came to New York City in 1940, after years in Oklahoma and Los Angeles—dusty, legendary places where he created most of the songs that would later appear on his groundbreaking record—the iconic "Dust Bowl Ballads." 

In New York City, Woody surrounded himself with musicians like Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee, all of them struggling together to put social justice on the map through political protest songs.

But his songs interestingly enough also came to the attention of one Sophie Maszlow, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, who took some of these bare-root pieces and used them in her ballet "Folksay," a now legendary suite of dances that were choreographed to American roots music.

And it was through this specific ballet that Woody came in contact with his future wife who turned out to be the mother of Arlo Guthrie—Marjorie Mazia, a dancer with the same Martha Graham troupe. She found out that Woody was in New York and determinedly went to his Greenwich Village apartment with an invitation to accompany the troupe live. One look was all it took—she looked at his hickory features and murmured to herself—“That’s the guy I’m going to marry… and I’m going to have his children!” 

The two eventually tied the knot in 1945—but they had been living together for several years already and had already moved to 3520 Mermaid Avenue, in Coney Island, in 1942.

And it was there, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Jewish community, that he forged a cultural link with that same community through his neighbor across the street—his mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, a prominent and influential Yiddish poet who introduced him to the soul and strivings of Jewish culture and history. Irregardless of any differences in religious upbringing, both Guthrie and Greenblatt shared a hot-blooded passion for social justice, for fighting fascism, and for union organizing—all causes dear to the Jewish community and also to the dustbowl balladeer.

Woody and Greenblatt began spending huge swathes of time together, sharing yarns and folktales, and spinning poems and lyrics. In fact he spent so much time there at his mother-in law's, that he took his prized pre-war Martin 00-17 over to her flat and left it there in the parlor, which became its home for the next 26 years. There, the three of them, Woody, Aliza, and the "little brown guitar" created together a whole wealth of work where Judaism and dust-bowl proletarianism intertwined in coils like the smoke from a lonesome steam engine running through the heart of the Second World War and on into the postwar redefinition of working class America. 

Woody began writing songs that came directly out of this deep and unexpected relationship, songs both personal and political. Woody, bent over the little brown guitar, forged an identification between two diasporas—the noble struggles and wanderings of the Jewish people melding with the dust-bowl displacements of his fellow Okies. And that whirlwind of creativity pulled into its vortex the struggles and triumphs of many other oppressed and disenfranchised peoples the country round and the world round. And he used the little brown guitar to help him frame the struggle and write the songs that his collaboration with his mother-in-law brought into his heart. The strumming of the little brown guitar that had moved to Brooklyn with his wife Marjorie and his new family, intertwined with the insistent, lonely and perpetual sound of the Coney Island sea, and built a new and lonesome and triumphant music all up and down Mermaid Avenue.

With this very guitar Woody composed Hanukkah songs to be performed at parties in local Jewish community centers. He wrote barn burning songs about the heroes and triumphs of Jewish history, and he penned songs of his deeply felt spiritual life, as well as tunes about World War II and the fight in Europe against the swelling terror of Fascism. All of Woody’s Jewish lyrics can be traced to this unique and incredibly deep relationship he had with his mother-in-law.  And to the guitar that they shared.

They discussed their artistic dreams and visions and projects and they also workshopped each others' works, establishing a common country of the soul in their shared love of high and free culture and their ambitious dreams for social justice. And this despite their very different backgrounds. High art collaborated and  flourished in the 1940s Brooklyn seaside, close to the whooping and rollicking sounds of roller coasters and the smoke from Nathan's Hot Dogs.  Jewish culture and dustbowl determination was woven and rewoven with music, with Modern Dance—filled with songs and poetry and anti-totalitarian, ultra-pro-labor activism. 

And the little brown guitar set the tone and provided the musical backing to all this. It was this very instrument that he personally used to write all these songs and poems and lyrics. And the little brown guitar lived in Greenblatt's parlor permanently, over the next 26 years, even long after Woody abandoned it there in 1952.

Sadly, we'll never know whether Woody subsequently remembered what he had left leaning lonely in the corner of the parlor there. Because, by the late 1940s, Guthrie's health was declining, and his behavior became extremely erratic and some thought even scary and menacing—before it was finally determined that he was tragically suffering mortally from Huntington's chorea. His beautiful mind was going away, and behind him he left the little brown guitar that was a treasure house of thousands of his musical creations and memories.

And there the guitar languished, in Greenblatt's parlor, for the next sixteen years, while Woody was hospitalized - first at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County, New Jersey, from 1956 to 1961 - then at Brooklyn State Hospital  in East Flatbush until 1966 (where Bob Dylan used to go and visit him) - and finally at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village, New York where he died tragically and confused in 1967.

Shortly after Woody's passing , Greenblatt found herself unable to live with the little brown treasure house of memories and music, now that her collaborator had passed mysteriously beyond our earthy ken. She sadly and resignedly returned the guitar to her daughter, Marjorie. 

Marjorie was not able to sit and watch the little magical mahogany music box waste away unused, so she took the 00-17 to the Village, and sold it to a young folk singer she had met at a synagogue once. It was her desire that the guitar carry on in the footsteps of the past, and inspire a budding troubadour. 

There was just no heavenly justice in leaving it to sit languishing in a lonely parlor in Coney Island. 

Sadly, during the years of sitting Winter and Summer in Greenblatt's parlor, the guitar had developed a severe crack in the headstock right next to the nut. The new owner took it to Matt Umanov's shop in the Village, and Matt steered him to The Fretted Instruments Store, on Sixth Avenue, and eventually to a gentleman named Eddie Diehl, who specialized in fixing neck problems on guitars. Diehl replaced the broken neck with the neck from a 1958 00-17, one with an ebony fingerboard. At some later point the tuning pegs were replaced as well.

But the body is still Woody's prewar 00-17, full of his songs and his Love for Humankind, and stuffed to the braces with the tunes that flowed from his great Soul and his inspiration. And so the "little brown guitar" moved on, with a new neck and new stories to tell and ballads to play.

I bought the guitar from the second owner in 1993. He had fallen into hard times (don't we all know them from time to time?) and had it hanging on the wall on consignment in a Santa Cruz music store way down among the rustling sycamores on lower Laurel Street. That music store is gone now, ironically replaced by tract homes. But the little brown guitar now lives and is cherished in a beautiful Reunion Blues tooled leather guitar case. And it is still full of songs and Woody's soul and inspiration…

You may ask why I am selling this treasure house of American and European folk history? Well I have a twenty year old daughter who is the apple of my eye and who wants to be a schoolteacher. And the school where she needs to go to follow the footsteps of HER dreams is an out-of-state school. And so her Dad is willing to part with Woody's "little brown guitar" to help his young dreamer forge the links in a chain of new dreams.

Woody himself would totally say—the future is with the children, and the children need an inspired teacher like this young girl. 

I like to think that the little brown guitar that my daughter first learned to pick and strum on has communicated some of that Coney Island dustbowl Jewish star wisdom to her soul and to her heart, and that this wisdom will be passed on in the schoolrooms that she will grace in the future, and move on and on in the souls of her students and her student's students, like the waves of Coney Island, washing and rolling on and on into future generation after generation.

Please someone give our "little brown guitar" a new home in its endless and restless heartworn wanderings.

"This may be the guitar Woody got from Herta Geer. If so then it may be the guitar This Land Is Your Land may have been composed on."
-says Rick Schmidlin

Product Specs

Listed5 years ago
ConditionVery Good (Used)
Very Good items may show a few slight marks or scratches but are fully functional and in overall great shape.learn more

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