Production ponders, ‘What if Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills had met?’

By Gene Triplett Published: March 19, 2010
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photo - Woody Guthrie, left
Bob Wills, right
Woody Guthrie, left Bob Wills, right
Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills traveled different musical paths through the grim swirl of ’30s dust and deprivation that was the Great Depression, but their goals were much the same.

As far as anyone knows, the two icons never met, but what if such an encounter actually had occurred at some red-dirt crossroads? What would the rumpled Okemah native with the guitar slung over his back have made of the fiddle-playing Texan in the fancy Western suit and 10-gallon hat? Or vice versa?

"Time Changes Everything,” a one-act play written by Thomas Conner and John Wooley, speculates on the outcome of just such a meeting of the minds, starring Red Dirt Rangers members John Cooper as Wills and Brad Piccolo as Guthrie.

The production, directed by Vern Stefanic and featuring the music of Guthrie, Wills and the Rangers, will make its Oklahoma City debut at the Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N Laird Ave., at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"We got to talking about Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie, these two iconic figures who came out of Oklahoma in the ’30s, and how they both wanted to do the same thing,” Wooley said, recalling a conversation with Conner.

"They both wanted to help their people, the working class, the people hit by the Dust Bowl and everything,” Wooley said of Guthrie, the folksinging political activist, and Wills, the king of Western swing.

"But they did it in two different ways. Bob Wills wanted to help (people) escape for a few hours from their lives. And Woody, of course, wanted to change things with his music. ... Bob Wills had to come from Texas to Oklahoma to really make it; Woody Guthrie had to go from Oklahoma to Texas before he really kind of started to make it.”

And the two musicians came from very different backgrounds, Wooley said.

"Bob Wills was from a very poor family, and they did their share of sharecropping down there in West Texas, and yet his people (in his back band, the Texas Playboys) always dressed up onstage. Woody Guthrie came from a middle-class home, and he dressed down when he played. There were all these little weird things. So we thought, ‘Wonder if they ever met?’”

Wooley and Conner, both of whom are former Tulsa World entertainment writers, interviewed members of the Guthrie and Wills families, but the closest connection they could find between the musicians was that Luke Wills, Bob’s younger brother, once hired a vibraphone player named Smokey Wood, who was a close friend of Woody Guthrie’s.

"Anyway, we thought, wouldn’t it be interesting (for Guthrie and Wills to) meet on the way up when they’re both pretty full of themselves around 1939,” Wooley said.


"Time Changes Everything”

→Starring: John Cooper, Brad Piccolo and the Red Dirt Rangers.


→When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

→Where: Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N Laird Ave.

→Tickets: $25 to $35.

→Information: okhistorycenter.org.

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