The Sinking Of Reuben James
07. The Sinking of the Reuben James
(Almanac Singers-Woody Guthrie-Pete Seeger/Universal Music Corp., ASCAP)

Track 7 – The Sinking of the Reuben James (MASTER MA 80)
On October 31, 1941, the American destroyer Reuben James was struck by a torpedo fired by a German unterseeboot while protecting a convoy carrying Lend-Lease supplies to beleaguered Great Britain. Of the 160 officers and crew aboard, 115 were lost. The loss of the Reuben James gripped Guthrie’s imagination in an effort to memorialize each of the dead to the tune of the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower.” Guthrie’s fellow members of the Almanac Singers – Pete Seeger, Bess Hawes, and Millard Lampell – struggled with the song for some weeks. “It was also unsingable and unlistenable,” Ms. Hawes recalled. Finally, Seeger and Lampell came up with a new chorus, written in words that foresaw all the nameless dead of the second world war.

Guthrie accompanies himself with the closest he ever came to mastering Mother Maybelle Carter’s guitar lick.