Detail of the cover for 'Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie'
Woody Guthrie drew on untold personal tragedies and the national upheaval caused by the Great Depression to stand at the vanguard of a new brand of American folk music. His influence on later music is indelible, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Ani DiFranco.
A new biography by Ed Cray -- Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie -- takes the balladeer from his birth in Oklahoma to his life as a musician in New York. Guthrie arrived there in 1939, still in his late 20s. He would die at 55, spending the better part of his last dozen years in institutions. He suffered from Huntington's chorea, a hereditary, degenerative disease marked by increasing dementia.
Cray, professor of journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, has previously written about Gen. George C. Marshall and U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren. He is the first Guthrie biographer to have access to 10,000 pages of poetry, diaries and journals from the Woody Guthrie archives.
He speaks with NPR's Brian Naylor about Guthrie and the book.