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McGuire pens start to HHH concerts

On a grey afternoon at the Hormel Historic Home, musician Charlie McGuire and HHH Executive Director Holly Johnson were wondering about the color of George A. Hormel’s eyes.

McGuire and others were writing a song about the Hormel founder, in preparation for the evening’s Peace Garden concert.

McGuire, a folk balladeer, conducted a songwriters workshop. And McGuire, in the space of an hour, had a verse and refrain written. (Hormel’s eyes, by the way, were grey, discovered thanks to Johnson’s ability to find Hormel’s passport).

Later, the grey was taken out in a rewrite.

McGuire used his guitar and a large pad of paper to jot down his lyrics and a few chords. Over and over, he tried out phrases, stopped, puzzled over a word, changed a few when he got a suggestion, and kept moving forward.

Charlie McGuire jots down some lyrics during a songwriting session Monday at the Hormel Historic Home.

“My favorite song is always the last one I’ve written,” he said.

There have been a lot of “last songs.” McGuire has been writing, singing and telling stories about the people he knows, Minnesota, and the real challenges and joys they have, for over 40 years. In that time, he estimated he has written between 600 and 700 songs.

“Of those, 250 are pretty good,” he said.

And of those, “there are one or two that will outlive me,” he said.

One is “Getting in the Cows,” and “I Like it Here,” is the other.

“It was snowing so hard when I walked downtown

You could shovel that stuff, upside down

Folks tell me it will be like this until winter comes around

But I like it here.”

McGuire says Woody Guthrie was an unmet mentor. Guthrie’s style is his, too.

“He was self-taught on the guitar, and so was I; he was a voracious reader, and I am, too. We both grew up on the farm. Any influence on me stemmed directly from him,” McGuire said.

They both sing of the common man, and those things people care about.

“Stuff like ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,’ that kind of thing, I could never do,” McGuire said.

His light touch on “I Like It Here,” stemmed from his not being able to reach an early morning radio studio, for a show hosted by Garrison Keillor. It was cold and McGuire couldn’t start his car.

“I hated to do it, but I had to call him and say I couldn’t make it,” he said. “Back then, if you lived in Minnesota, everyone had a block heater in their car,” and knew the struggles of starting a car in sub-zero weather. It was perfect McGuire material, whose substance “was understood by everybody; everybody had that experience.” Those two songs, he said, have been recorded many times by different artists.

Today, McGuire continues to enjoy writing and singing, and meeting new friends and audiences about whose lives he might just capture in a lyric.

Writing, you think, might seem like breathing to McGuire.

Songs and putting them on paper continues to intrigue him, he said, even if he doesn’t write as many as he used to.

“I write fewer songs these days … but they are better songs,” he said. “Those are the keepers.”

Charlie McGuire’s song, ‘George A. Hormel’

He was a man who saw the future

Through knowing eyes

From the time that he was born

They realized

His duty and his responsibility

To the workers, his family, and his community

-Refrain-

George Hormel

Is like a river flowing through this prairie land

Through a city he helped to build

With his two hands

This legendary story of Austin’s soul

And remembered by so many

From so long ago