Woody Guthrie - Pretty Boy Floyd

First performance: 21/03/2006


Coverinfo

Bruce performed the song only once:
 
2006-03-21 - PARAMOUNT THEATRE, ASBURY PARK
 
Private tour rehearsals with The Sessions Band.
 
 

Songinfo

Pretty Boy Floyd: In March 1939, five years after Floyd's death, Woody Guthrie, a native of Oklahoma, wrote this protest song romanticizing Floyd's life, called simply "Pretty Boy Floyd." The song has the form of a Broadside "come-all-ye" ballad opening with the lines: 
 
"If you'll gather 'round me, children, a story I will tell 'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an Outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well."
 
The lyrics recount Floyd's supposed generosity to the poor, and contain the famous lines comparing foreclosing bankers to outlaws:

As through this world you travel, you'll meet some funny men:
Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.
And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.
 
 
 

Other cover versions

Bruce on the artist

During the the keynote speech 
 
" I covered a lot of ground, but there was still something missing. So, somewhere in my late twenties I picked up Joe Klein’s "Woody Guthrie, A Life." And as I read that book, a world of possibilities that predated Dylan’s, that had inspired him, and lead to some of his greatest work, opened up for me. Woody’s gaze was – it was set on today’s hard times. But also, somewhere over the horizon, there was something. Woody’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn’t futile, whatever its outcome. Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on, never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena, never got his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. But he’s a ghost in the machine – big, big ghost in the machine. And I believe it’s because Woody’s songs, his body of work, tried to answer Hank Williams’ question: why your bucket has a whole in it. And that’s a question that’s eaten at me for a long time. So, in my early 30s, his voice spoke to me very, very deeply. And we began to cover “This Land is Your Land” in concert. And I knew I was never gonna be Woody Guthrie. I liked Elvis, and I liked the Pink Cadillac too much. I like the simplicity, and the tossed–off temporary feeling of pop hits. I liked big, fucking noise. And in my own way, I like the luxuries and the comforts of being a star. I had already gone a long way down a pretty different road. So four years ago, I found myself in an unusual situation. It was a cold winter day, and I was standing alongside of Pete Seeger, and it was 25 degrees. Pete had come to Washington. Pete carries a banjo everywhere he goes – the subway, the bus – and comes out in his shirt. I said, “Man, Pete, put on a jacket, man, it’s freezing out here.” He’s ninety years old, a living embodiment of Woody’s legacy. And there were several hundred thousand of our fellow citizens in front of us. We had the Lincoln Memorial behind us and a newly–elected president to our right. And we were going to sing, “This Land is Your Land” in front of all these Americans. And Pete insisted, “We have to sing all the verses. We have to sing all the verses, man. You can’t leave any of them out.” I said, I don’t know, Pete, there’s only – we had, like, a crowd of six year old school kids behind us. He says, “No, we’re all gonna sing all the verses – all the verses. And, so we got to it."
 
A Vision Shared - A Tribute To Woody Guthrie And Leadbelly is a various artists benefit documentary and home video in support of Folkways Records and the Woody Guthrie Archives. Narrated by Robbie Robertson, it features interviews with and performances by leading folk, rock, and country recording artists including Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Little Richard, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and others. The documentary premiered on Showtime on 17 Sep 1988 and was released as a home video by Columbia Records later that year. It was originally issued on VHS and Laserdisc and in October 2000 it was reissued on DVD
 
This land is your land recorded in 2009. It was used in the 2009 documentary The People Speak, closing the film before the credits roll. The documentary was released on home video the following year. Released on 09 Feb 2010. Bruce Springsteen was inspired by the works of historian and activist Howard Zinn. In an interview published in the 15 Nov 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, he told Joe Levy: "Howard Zinn's A People's History Of The United States had an enormous impact on me. It set me down in a place that I recognized and felt I had a claim to. It made me feel that I was a player in this moment in history, as we all are, and that this moment in history was mine, somehow, to do with whatever I could. It gave me a sense of myself in the context of this huge American experience and empowered me to feel that in my small way, I had something to say, I could do something. It made me feel a part of history, and gave me life as a participant." The People Speak is a 2009 documentary narrated by historian Howard Zinn and is based on his books A People's History Of The United States and, with Anthony Arnove, Voices Of A People's History Of The United States. It premiered on History on 13 Dec 2009. The film weaves archival footage and interviews with musical performances and dramatic readings of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans throughout the country's history. Most of the movie was shot on location in front of a live audiences at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, in January 2008 and at the Malibu Performing Arts Center in Malibu, CA, in 2008. Other performances from around the country filmed in 2008 and 2009 were also used. For the film, Bruce Springsteen recorded two new solo acoustic renditions (guitar and harmonica) of The ghost of Tom Joad and Woody Guthrie's This land is your land.
The performances were filmed live at his home studio in New Jersey probably around early 2009. Interestingly, promotional footage for The People Speak shows that Howard Zinn was present at Springsteen's home when the two songs were recorded. This land is your land  was used in the documentary, closing the film before the credits roll, while The ghost of Tom Joad was posted on Bruce Springsteen's official website in January 2010. Later in 2009 a new version of The ghost of Tom Joad was recorded (in the same arrangement) and released exclusively on The People Speak soundtrack album.

 
 
The influence of Guthrie on Bruce is been well-documented.  He covered his signature song "This Land Is Your Land" all throughout the 1980s, and was directly inspired to record The Ghost of Tom Joad by Guthrie's work, especially "Tom Joad Blues." "There was always some spiritual center amid Woody's songs," Springsteen said in 1996. "He always projected a sense of good times in the face of it all. He always got you thinking about the next guy, he took you out of yourself. I guess his idea was salvation isn't individual. Maybe we don't rise and fall on our own." (source)
 
The ghost of Tom Joad was first of all inspired by John Ford's 1940 film adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1939 classic novel The Grapes Of Wrath. The references at the end of The Ghost Of Tom Joad album's credits list some of the source materials, including "John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, written by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by John Steinbeck, a Twentieth Century-Fox film." Springsteen's song, however, is set in the 80's or 90's, with contemporary times being likened to Dust Bowl images. The song also takes inspiration from Woody Guthrie's 1940 song Tom Joad, which explores the novel's protagonist's life. In 1995, Springsteen got in touch with John Steinbeck's widow Elaine Steinbeck to ask permission to use the name of the character from The Grapes of Wrath.

In 2006 he recorded an acoustic version as a duet with Pete Seeger.
 
 
  

Lyrics

If you'll gather 'round me, children,
A story I will tell
'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw,
Oklahoma knew him well.
It was in the town of Shawnee,
A Saturday afternoon,
His wife beside him in his wagon
As into town they rode.
There a deputy sheriff approached him
In a manner rather rude,
Vulgar words of anger,
An' his wife she overheard.
Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,
And the deputy grabbed his gun;
In the fight that followed
He laid that deputy down.
Then he took to the trees and timber
To live a life of shame;
Every crime in Oklahoma
Was added to his name.
But a many a starving farmer
The same old story told
How the outlaw paid their mortgage
And saved their little homes.
Others tell you 'bout a stranger
That come to beg a meal,
Underneath his napkin
Left a thousand dollar bill.
It was in Oklahoma City,
It was on a Christmas Day,
There was a whole car load of groceries
Come with a note to say:
Well, you say that I'm an outlaw,
You say that I'm a thief.
Here's a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.