Woody’s “Vigilante Man” – From Blues Roots to iPads

I think we’ve all heard versions of his songs probably more than we’ve even heard him doing his own songs…‘This land is land is your land, this land is my land, from California’ … I think that’s probably the one that when we would be singing it, even in school, that I remember thinking that that’s a Woody Guthrie song… But I don’t know. I’m more impressed by his story and what he’s all about.”
Wayne Coyne to NewsOK

In the great American folk tradition, Woody Guthrie based the music of his classic “Vigilante Man” on The Carter Family’s “Sad and Lonesome Day” – which in turn borrowed from Blind Lemon Jefferson’s blues standard “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (aka “One Kind Favor”). The latter was further popularized when a young Bobby Dylan included it on his 1962 début album (it’s also been reworked by Son House’s into “Mississippi County Farm Blues”).

Bringing this deep tradition into the future, The Flaming Lips are reimagining Woody’s standard by setting the familiarity of acoustic guitars to the side to explore how it can be accompanied with iPads. They’ll play their version on March 10th at This Land Is Your Land – A Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert in Tulsa (buy tickets here). Additionally, they’ll be joined by Jackson Brown for another Guthrie cover, “Along the Rain and the Sun.”

Wayne recently explained to Tulsa World‘s Jen Chancellor, “I think we’ll get there and meet people and make friends. The fellows are all such good musicians, I’m hoping we’ll be able to do a couple of things.”

Watch The Flaming Lips work out “Vigilante Man” above and hear a version by Woody (from the 1975 documentary “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”) below, after its two predecessors:

This is far from the first time the Lips have nodded to Woody. Check out a reference to Guthrie in a 1987 Flaming Lips poster drawn by Wayne – plus info on other Guthrie 2012 projects involving Wilco, Jay Farrar, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and others – here.

As for Jackson Browne – a few years back he gave a shout out to the Lips when he played the Oklahoma Zoo, nearby where they live and the site of one of their most legendary concerts.  Scott Booker – the Lips manager and CEO of the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM@ UCO) – befriended Jackson in 2009 and the following year Browne was a guest lecturer at the school.  Along the way Jackson also became friends with the Lips.  So says Wayne Coyne, “Why would Jackson Browne and The Flaming Lips be together? Well, ’cause he’s a cool guy, and that usually is good enough for us. I mean, obviously, we like his music as well, but you don’t really get a say in what circles you get to hang out in all the time. And someone like Jackson Browne, you don’t (often) get to go up and say, ‘Hey, you wanna go out to dinner and get drunk or something?‘”

Read more about the Jackson-Lips connection here.

Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” has been covered by a wide range of artists, from Joe Perry to the Hindu Love Gods. Below are perhaps the three most famous versions – by Ry Cooder, Bruce Springsteen and Nazareth – followed by a performance from ex-X bassist/frontman John Doe (it’s the closing track of his overlooked and undervalued 2006 Yep Roc album For The best of Us).

The most overlooked of the “Vigalante” covers however is Beck’s version – from his rare 1990 folk cassette, Beck And Dava:

Bringing this all full circle, Beck parodied “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” in 1994 on Stereopathetic Soulmanure’s “Crystal Clear (Beer)” and then performed a nameless blues at his 2001 concerts that borrowed a line from the Jefferson classic: “two white horses in a line…take me to my burying ground.” In 2005 the latter was reworked for Guerro into “Farewell Ride.” Hear all three of those Beck songs below – followed by some of the many covers of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (probably the only song that’s been performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, Lou Reed, The Dream Syndicate, Mavis Staples, The Grateful Dead, Chrome Cranks, Blind Boys of Alabama and B.B. King…)

Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
I been hearin’ his name all over the land.

Well, what is a vigilante man?
Tell me, what is a vigilante man?
Has he got a gun and a club in his hand?
Is that is a vigilante man?

Rainy night down in the engine house,
Sleepin’ just as still as a mouse,
Man come along an’ he chased us out in the rain.
Was that a vigilante man?

Stormy days we passed the time away,
Sleepin’ in some good warm place.
Man come along an’ we give him a little race.
Was that a vigilante man?

Preacher Casey was just a workin’ man,
And he said, “Unite all you working men.”
Killed him in the river some strange man.
Was that a vigilante man?

Oh, why does a vigilante man,
Why does a vigilante man
Carry that sawed-off shot-gun in his hand?
Would he shoot his brother and sister down?

I rambled ’round from town to town,
I rambled ’round from town to town,
And they herded us around like a wild herd of cattle.
Was that the vigilante men?

Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
I’ve heard his name all over this land

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