Woody Guthrie - My Dusty Road Disc 4 "Cisco and Sonny"
  • Train Breakdown
  • Do You Ever Think of Me?
  • Guitar Rag
  • Square Dance Medley
  • Guitar Breakdown
  • Raincrow Bill
  • Ain't Nobody's Business
  • Stepstone
  • Ezekial Saw the Wheel
  • Bile Them Cabbage Down
  • Danville Girl
  • Guitar Blues
  • Brown's Ferry Blues
  • More Pretty Girls Than One
  • Sonny's Flight
  • Train Breakdown
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:35) [5.91 MB]
  • Do You Ever Think of Me?
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (03:09) [7.21 MB]
  • Guitar Rag
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:22) [5.43 MB]
  • Square Dance Medley
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (03:54) [8.92 MB]
  • Guitar Breakdown
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:24) [5.48 MB]
  • Raincrow Bill
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:40) [6.1 MB]
  • Ain't Nobody's Business
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:46) [6.32 MB]
  • Stepstone
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:55) [6.69 MB]
  • Ezekial Saw the Wheel
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:45) [6.31 MB]
  • Bile Them Cabbage Down
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:50) [6.47 MB]
  • Danville Girl
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (03:46) [8.62 MB]
  • Guitar Blues
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:59) [6.83 MB]
  • Brown's Ferry Blues
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:49) [6.45 MB]
  • More Pretty Girls Than One
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:20) [5.34 MB]
  • Sonny's Flight
    Genre: Soul
    MP3 (02:58) [6.78 MB]
Woody Guthrie My Dusty Road

Disc One: Woody’s “Greatest” Hits
01. This Land is Your Land
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
02. Going Down the Road (I Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way)
(Woody Guthrie-Lee Hays/TRO-Hollis Music, Inc., BMI)
03. Talking Sailor
(Woody Guthrie/Sanga Music BMI)
04. Philadelphia Lawyer
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
05. Hard Travelin’
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
06. Jesus Christ
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
07. The Sinking of the Reuben James
(Almanac Singers-Woody Guthrie-Pete Seeger/Universal Music Corp., ASCAP)
08. Pretty Boy Floyd
(Woody Guthrie/Fall River Music, BMI)
09. Grand Coulee Dam
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
10. Nine Hundred Miles
(Woody Guthrie/Sanga Music, BMI)
11. Going Down the Road (I Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way)
(Woody Guthrie-Lee Hays/TRO-Hollis Music, Inc., BMI)
12. My Daddy (Flies a Ship in the Sky)
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
13. Bad Repetation (previously unreleased)
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)

Disc Two: Woody’s Roots
01. Poor Boy
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
02. Worried Man Blues
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
03. A Picture From Life’s Other Side
(Charles E. Baer/public domain)
04. Buffalo Skinners
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
05. Hard Ain’t It Hard
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., Inc., BMI)
06. Stewball
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
07. Stackolee
(traditional, arr. Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
08. Gypsy Davy
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
09. Little Darling Pal of Mine
(A.P. Carter, APRS, BMI)
10. What Did the Deep Sea Say?
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
11. Chisholm Trail
(traditional, arr. Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
12. Put My Little Shoes Away
(Samuel N. Mitchell and Charles Pratt/public domain)
13. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?
(George Beebe-H.E. McAfee/public domain)
14. John Henry
(traditional, arr. Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)

Disc Three: Woody the Agitator
01. I’m Gonna Join That One Big Union
(You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union)
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
02. Hangknot, Slipknot
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
03. Gonna Roll the Union On
(John Handcox-Lee Hays/Stormking Music, BMI)
04. The Ludlow Massacre
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
05. Sally Don’t You Grieve
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
06. Harriet Tubman’s Ballad, part 1
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
07. Harriet Tubman’s Ballad, part 2
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
08. Tear the Fascists Down (previously unreleased)
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
09. When The Yanks Go Marching In
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
10. You Can Hear My Whistle Blow (previously unreleased)
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
11. Union Burying Ground
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
12. You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)

Disc Four: Woody, Cisco and Sonny
01. Train Breakdown
(Sonny Terry/copyright control)
02. Do You Ever Think Of Me? (aka At My Window)
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
03. Guitar Rag (previously unreleased)
(traditional, arr. Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
04. Square Dance Medley (Cripple Creek, Buffalo Gals, Old Joe Clark,
Red Wing, Ida Red, Chilly Winds, Sandy Land)
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Houston-Terry/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
05. Guitar Breakdown
06. Raincrow Bill
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Terry/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
07. Ain’t Nobody’s Business
(traditional, arr. Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
08. Stepstone
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
09. Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Houston-Terry/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
10. Bile Them Cabbage Down
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Houston-Terry/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
11. Danville Girl
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
12. Guitar Blues
13. Brown’s Ferry Blues (previously unreleased)
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Houston-Terry/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
14. More Pretty Girls Than One
(traditional, arr. Guthrie-Houston/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI-copyright control)
15. Sonny’s Flight (previously unreleased)
(Sonny Terry/copyright control)

Reissue produced by Scott Billington, Michael Creamer,
and Bill Nowlin
Original recordings produced and recorded by Moses Asch and
Herbert Harris for Stinson Records
Transfer of metal masters, audio restoration and CD mastering by
Doug Pomeroy
Notes by Ed Cray and Bill Nowlin*
Photography and art research by Tiffany Loiselle,
The Woody Guthrie Archives
Brooklyn photography (pp. 10, 16, 18, 23) by Bill Nowlin
Art direction by Scott Billington
Design by Nancy Given
Suitcase photography by Rick Olivier
Woody Guthrie business card courtesy of Barry Ollman
Prints of original Stinson letterpress and copper parts by Mary Graham

All original Woody Guthrie artwork and photographs provided courtesy
of the Woody Guthrie Archives. © 2009 Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
Used by permission.
Front cover illustration: Woody Guthrie, Washington Breakdown.
Watercolor on construction paper, 1951.
Inside front cover illustration: Woody Guthrie, Walking in the Wind.
Ink on paper, 1940.
Inside back cover illustration: Woody Guthrie, Dream.
Ink on paper, 1942.
Back cover calligraphy: Woody Guthrie, My Dusty Road. Gouache on
cardstock, ca. 1949

Thanks to:
Nora Guthrie, Jonathan Horn, Matt Barton, Jim Farrow, Judy Bell,
Melissa Lazarus, Myles Rodnick, Doug Pomeroy, Michael Smith,
Peter Frumkin, Steve Smolian, Jeff Jones, Duncan Browne,
Jim Scordamaglia, Bert Holman, Ralph Jaccodine, Steve Rosenthal,
Marilyn Rantinella, Karen Fishman, Patricia Ridge, Steve Kwiat, and
Pat Speers.

*About the authors:
A professor of journalism at the University of Southern California,
ED CRAY is the author of sixteen books, including a biography of
Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Man (W.W. Norton, 2004, 2006).
BILL NOWLIN is a co-founder of Rounder Records, and a former
professor with more than 20 books to his credit, mostly on
Boston Red Sox baseball.

I remember first hearing these recordings about two years ago.
Michael Creamer called and told me the incredible story of their discovery – in Brooklyn no less! Well, my curiosity was awfully piqued and I couldn’t wait to have a listen.

My first impression was… Wow! Just the fact that I could hear the music so clearly was ‘wow’ enough! But then, this soft flow of old feelings followed, as I heard my father’s voice start to fill the room and I absolutely remembered it, and then he was right there with me.Wow. And then I heard and remembered Cisco, and Sonny, as if they were sitting right there on the orange couch in our living room. I’m sitting there too, watching old friends comfortably watching each other, easily playing along together. There they are.Wow.

These recordings are treasures. To sit and listen, is to sit with Woody and his crew. And you become a part of that crew, and you hear how they listen to each other’s voices, how they lean in to connect their rhythms and harmonies. It’s achingly human, simple and direct yet full of spirited words and ideas. You can hear so much; the man, his friends, his words, his times, his passions, his angers, his family, his government, his home, his road.

It’s very, very strange. The more time goes by, the clearer Woody’s voice gets.

Nora Guthrie, January 2009

Woody Rediscovered
by Ed Cray and Bill Nowlin

“Hear these recordings for the first time and your jaw will drop,” says documentary film producer Peter Frumkin, who has used six of the Stinson recordings in the American Masters production of Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home. “The sound is so clean and crisp that you’ll hear the songs in ways you never have before. The only way to hear them any cleaner would be to have been sitting in the studio 60 years ago.”

On a hot sticky night in June of 2003, Boston music artist manager Michael Creamer was sitting in his room drinking a beer and watching the end of a Red Sox win when he heard his home office phone ring. It was late but Creamer was intrigued by the fact that someone was calling at this hour. He ran up the stairs and picked up the phone, and on the other end was his cousin Jim Farrow. After the usual greetings and small talk, Jim uncharacteristically began to ask numerous questions about the music business. This seemed a little odd and Creamer finally asked Farrow, “Why are you asking me all these questions on a Friday night at 11 PM?”

He explained that his friend Lucia in New York had inherited a record label from a friend several years before and was now interested in finding out what it was worth. They agreed that Creamer would call Lucia and try to learn more. Lucia Sutera was Sicilian by background, but a Brooklyn lady to the core. During their first conversation, Creamer recalls, “It was really funny because she was so scared to discuss the collection over the phone, as if the walls in her apartment were listening to our conversation and taking notes in shorthand. She would almost whisper her answers and repeated to me several times that the old woman who had left the collection to her swore there was unreleased Woody Guthrie material sitting in the basement. After promising to talk to as few people as possible and not give out her address at any time, then and only then did she agree to send me some information in the mail.”

Lucia had mentioned the Stinson record label, her friend Irene Harris, and Irene’s husband Robert, the son of Herbert Harris who had worked in the music business with Moses Asch of Folkways Records back in the World War II era. During the 1939 New York World’s Fair,Harris had met some Russians and obtained rights to a lot of Russian music. He met Moe Asch and the two joined forces for a while.

Robert Harris was apparently a “red diaper baby” – a child who’d grown up in a family with firm leftwing convictions. Lucia didn’t know the whole story. All she knew is what Irene had told her.

Creamer took notes – in longhand – and started searching the Internet looking up Stinson and Harris. He found almost nothing. Leads like this often prove to peter out and be much less than they first promised to be. He decided he’d have to take a trip to see the collection for himself.

In early September, Creamer and Farrow traveled to Brooklyn together to meet Lucia and get a glimpse of the collection. Lucia lived in a Brooklyn apartment building at 78 Eighth Avenue. They were buzzed in and entered her apartment only to be attacked by Pastina and Cocoa, her two yipping Chihuahuas, who kept trying to jump up at Creamer. There sitting on the couch facing the front door was Lucia, reserved but clearly excited. They shook hand sand hugged and she thanked Creamer for coming down to see her and the collection she had in storage. They sat and talked about the music business, remembering how Jim’s brother Bill Farrow had lived across the hall from Lucia for many years.

When they finally started to get around to the specifics of the Stinson collection, Lucia dragged a milk crate out from behind the couch and whispered, “Here are all the Woody masters I could find.” She showed them several notebooks with her handwritten notes as to what she had found when looking through the boxes and how she thought the masters should be cataloged. Creamer remembers being a bit in awe. “When I picked up a few, I realized how thick and heavy the metal masters were. And when I turned over a few to look at the grooves, I could hardly believe how shiny the metal discs were. I’d never imagined they would be in such good condition. God bless Brooklyn air or basements or something. What might have been a dead end seemed to be a collection of masters that were amazingly well preserved.”

The masters were stored in her apartment building. The three took the elevator from apartment 3K down to the basement. It was a typical urban basement, divided into various storage bins where the tenants could store whatever items they might want. The storage areas were basically of wire and wood construction. A padlock held the door shut, but it was really just chain link and anyone determined enough could have cut their way in. Irene Harris had lived in the building since sometime in the 1950s and as one of the longertenured tenants, she had one of the larger bins. After Lucia moved in during 1973, the two became friendly and one day Irene offered to Lucia, “Put your bicycle in the bin.” There were several large round heavy cardboard barrels in there with metal tops screwed on, and Irene added offhandedly, “Those are the leftovers of my husband’s business. He was in the record business.”

Bob Harris died in a car wreck. Lucia understood alcohol to be a factor. Irene had his ashes in an urn in her living room. She had little good to say about her husband.“Hated him” was about as much as she would offer. Their son Lester lived out in California. “He couldn’t get far enough away from her,” said Lucia matter-of-factly. “He had to call her Irene, not Mom. She didn’t want to be Mom. Or old.”

Irene was a bit of a character. She had never worked much in her life, but was involved with the television show The $64,000 Question around the time it was revealed that the show was fixed: some contestants were being fed the answers. She stepped out of work with the show when things began to get murky.

“She lived hand to mouth,” remembered Lucia. “Her son gave her a credit card, but it had a limit on it.” Lester was in sales and had a wife in hotel management. They were well off. When Lucia would cook for herself, she often prepared a little extra and shared it with Irene. About the collection of metal masters in the basement bin, little was said. Irene Harris died of a heart attack in 1999.

She had told Lucia that he wanted her to have the collection and there was some unreleased Woody Guthrie among the masters. That made an impression. Lucia was a diagnostic ultrasonographer by trade, but she loved music, too, and when the name Woody Guthrie came up, she knew who Woody was. It was Irene’s way of giving something back to a good friend who had been of help to her over the years. Lucia was also touched, and felt a real sense of responsibility.

After Irene died, Lucia asked Lester what he thought she should do with the masters. He thought giving it to the Smithsonian was a good idea, but that she could do whatever she wanted with the collection. He never did anything further and died himself a year or so after his mother. Now what to do with the masters entrusted to her became Lucia’s concern.

On their visit late in 2003, Creamer and Farrow spent a few hours looking at the collection with Lucia, then enjoyed a homemade meal and discussed what should be their next move. Creamer remembers well, “When I was getting ready to leave, Lucia said to me that very night that all she really wanted was to sell the collection and buy an RV and travel around the country. She didn’t have much money and didn’t really want to get involved in figuring out the Stinson puzzle but couldn’t let it go at the same time.”

Creamer and Farrow felt a bit the same way. It was a quandary that might lead nowhere, but presented some threads they had to unravel. On the ride home to Boston in Jim’s car, they discussed all the different possibilities but realized that the first thing they’d need to do was to try and learn what more they could about Stinson – who owned it and what was its history? – and secondarily to inventory the masters that they might learn what Lucia truly owned. She had also inherited several boxes of Stinson company paperwork, though some of this was just routine correspondence with artists – and even the 1946 company Christmas card.

Lucia had begun to inventory the metal parts in the basement as early as 2002. Every few months, she’d go down to the basement and get all dirty and dusty going through the barrels. Creamer and Farrow helped her complete the process in June of 2006, when they did a complete inventory that included a number of scratched masters as well as those that looked to be in good shape. “Most of the masters were in mint condition, and so were these scratched ones. They were in similar sleeves as the others. There was no obvious difference until you slid the metal out from the cardboard sleeve. Then you would see that some of them had what I can only describe as a long scratch from the center to the edge, just deep enough to make you aware that it was already used. It wasn’t a straight line, more like someone keyed a car.” Lucia had quite naturally assumed the scratched ones were damaged and so had not included them in her initial listings.

They knew that Lucia’s storage bin held something that could be of real value, but they didn’t know whether these were perhaps duplicate masters, copies of another vault that others had already cherry-picked through for release over the years. After all, these had been sitting in a basement in Brooklyn, spending decades in dust-covered barrels. There were Stinson recordings in the marketplace. Surely those drew on the primary masters. Lucia had been told there were unreleased Woody masters among them, though, and that was the lure that appealed.

Creamer began to think about how to approach this and spoke to people he knew in the music business. An informal team came together over the next several months – “people I felt could best decipher the Stinson collection.” He contacted New York attorney Jonathan Horn, as a friend. “Jonathan has a keen sense of folk history and he introduced me to Matt Barton, who works for the Library of Congress. Matt helped sort out the titles of the 2,000 metal masters in the basement.” This was indeed a large collection. Barton took the list and cross-referenced in with Library of Congress lists and other sources of information and he selected 22 metals that he thought could be different songs from those already known.

Jeff Jones, the president of Columbia’s Legacy label, was an old friend from years back. Jeff grew up in Lynn; Creamer and Jones talked Red Sox baseball the way so many from Boston do. “I sent him the inventory list, which intrigued him. He recommended we visit Doug Pomeroy, an audio engineer who was situated – conveniently – in Brooklyn. Doug welcomed us into his home and studio and we sat down on a dreary spring day in April of 2005 and for the first time spot checked some of the metal masters, 22 Woody titles in all.”

It was a small group that assembled: Lucia, Jim, Creamer, Matt Barton, and Steve Rosenthal of New York’s Magic Shop all crowded into Pomeroy’s place. They were there to listen to the masters. Had Irene been right when she told Lucia that there were some unreleased Woody Guthrie tracks on the masters she owned? Would the sound quality be good?

Pomeroy is a sound restoration and mastering engineer. He’d worked on some old Guthrie transfers for BMG’s Buddha Records subsidiary in 1999, the Dust Bowl Ballads release that came out the following year. He was a staff engineer at Columbia Records from 1969 to 1976 and had begun doing audio restoration work around 1975, working with producer Michael Brooks on various reissues in the John Hammond Collection. While at Columbia, he received a Grammy nomination for his remastering work on The Lester Young Story. In 2002 he received another nomination, for his mastering of the MOSAIC 7-CD boxed set, The Complete Okeh and Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden Sessions (1924-36). He’s also engineered The Complete Rockland Palace Concert by Charlie Parker for Jazz Classics, and two other MOSAIC boxes (Mildred Bailey and Venuti & Lang), and the entire series of 11 reissues for Bluebird, When The Sun Goes Down: the Secret History of Rock and Roll.

He works out of an attic of a venerable brownstone in Cobble Hill, a Brooklyn neighborhood south of Brooklyn Heights and north of Carroll Gardens. Doug’s work had been fully praised by those in the industry who cared most deeply – and he’d not even had access to Victor’s original metal masters. He’d had to work off compact disc transfers he was supplied.

The group brought with them several metal discs from Lucia’s basement. “Doug put the discs on his turntable and played a bit of each one of them for the assembled group in order to identify certain titles and to get an idea of the audio quality.”

To be able to listen to original metal masters – and many of these appeared to be in pristine condition – was a treat for Pomeroy, who was old enough to remember hearing the original Woody Guthrie recordings when he was in grammar school in the middle 1940s – the Pacific Ackworth Friends School, in Temple City, California. “That’s where I first heard Guthrie’s recordings,”Doug remembers. “The Dust Bowl Ballads were included in the school’s curriculum! Liberal? And how!” At school, Pomeroy was friends with Mark Spoelstra, and years later, when Doug moved to New York it was to join Mark in a group Mark planned to form on the east coast.

He gave the metal masters a cleaning and then put them on one of his high quality turntables. “I use a Technics Broadcast Turntable (SP-15), now discontinued, which has three variable speeds and can accommodate discs up to 14 inches in diameter. It seems a safe assumption that Moe Asch cut all the original lacquers (which are plated to make the first metal part) in his New York studio with the same disc cutter, as they all run at the same pitch.”

The sound was magnificent, better than any present could have ever expected. Pomeroy has worked on hundreds of masters, but one can never know what a given item will sound like until it’s put to the test. “I know how good a clean metal master can sound. But all present were pleasantly surprised by the sound.” Sutera, Farrow, and Creamer were blown away.

After listening to the first few familiar songs from Woody’s body of work, they turned to the master marked “Bad Repetation” from a cardboard jacket bearing the identifying number “MA 111.” The sleeve offered the recording date: 5/19/44. This was a Guthrie title that never appeared on any of the many albums or collections, and was not included among his Library of Congress sessions or other field recordings. None of the known lyrics touched on bad reputations or bad repetition. This had the earmarks of being a discovery.

Irene Harris had told Lucia many times over the years, “When I die, I am going to leave you my collection of records in the basement and there is some Woody Guthrie down there that no one has ever heard.” Lucia had the record masters. Now the matter of an unheard master was to be put to the test. Creamer says, “We listened to the recording and Woody’s voice filled the room. It was the unreleased song that Lucia had spoken of when we first met. No one in the room had ever heard it. There was a chance no one, anywhere, had heard it for 60 years. The smile on Lucia’s face was priceless. I only wish we had brought a video camera and taped the session.”

Creamer adds, “In the few years that I grew to become her friend, she had begun to travel more often, sometimes alone to New Mexico to visit friends and another trip with Jim Farrow to Italy and France. She seemed really happy when she returned. Then in the early winter of 2006 she told me she had cancer but said the doctor told her it was the good cancer and she would be better soon. This turned out to be completely untrue and she passed away in April of 2007. I have to say I feel continue sorrow that Lucia is not around to see the release of the music and appreciate the excitement that other people express when they hear about the project and the music.”

Some of the masters had no title on the rough cardboard sleeves, or they had writing scrawled across the front that just said “WOODY” with no master number or title. Pomeroy was impressed by the quality of the masters they heard. Not only was the sound quality acceptable, it was superb. Flush with excitement, it was time for the team to think of next steps. “We decided to transfer three complete songs from the collection. Doug made me a reference CD and I began to play the songs for different people who would appreciate what we had. The three songs Doug transferred were “Bad Repetation,”“Hard Travelin’,” and “This Land Is Your Land.”

Creamer played the three songs for Jeff Jones at Legacy. Jeff was definitely interested, but it was a difficult period at the company because the parent company Sony was merging with BMG and there was understandably a lot of uncertainty about taking on new projects at the time.

Creamer was shopping Kim Taylor’s first record at the time and both he and Steve Rosenthal of The Magic Shop had sent music to Scott Billington of Rounder Records. Back in Boston, Billington came out to see Kim play at the Paradise. Creamer and Billington got to talking and the Stinson story came up. Creamer took Billington out to his car in front of the club and played him the three tracks. He explained more about the project and Billington suggested that he come over to Rounder Records in Cambridge and play the music for Bill Nowlin there. Nowlin had worked on several earlier Woody Guthrie projects that Rounder had released over the years.

Nowlin was very skeptical at first. As a longtime Guthrie fan, he’d purchased several of the Stinson albums in years past and felt they were well below standard. Disappointing would have been an understatement. He confesses that he wasn’t sure it would even be worth the time to meet. Billington gave him a disc with a few tracks on it. A few days later, he listened in his car on the way home – and was surprised at the clarity. And, given that clarity (and some of Pomeroy’s magic), the quality of Woody’s performances. It wasn’t just a muffled mess, but there was separation between the voice and instruments and there was an immediacy and freshness. Creamer came by the company and left off some more songs, and a long typed listing of the basement masters. Rounder became very interested, and the more that Billington, Nowlin, and company president John Virant heard, the more interested they became. Legacy, in the interim, had bowed out.

Creamer then set out to gather what information he could about Stinson, trying to determine if there was anyone with a legitimate claim to ownership that might supersede Irene Harris’s gift of the masters to Lucia Sutera. Jonathan Horn introduced him to Matt Barton, who was retained to research the company history. Horn also introduced Creamer to Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, who runs the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives in New York. Creamer says, “My main connection for the Guthrie Foundation was Michael Smith who was very helpful in trying to track down any info on Bob Harris. Duncan Browne at Newbury Comics was also helpful; he introduced me to Melissa Green Anderson who owns Collectables Records and to Pat Speer, a former employee of Steve Kall’s who worked for Pacific One-Stop.” Collectables had released a number of Stinson albums on CD, though could never come up with any documentary evidence of ownership.

It was a tangled web that seemed impossible to unravel. Pacific One-Stop and Kall had been in bankruptcy court. The names of several relatives cropped up here and there, but extant letters between them made it seem that no one truly knew who might really own Stinson – if anyone did. And owning Stinson didn’t necessarily mean owning the masters, given the complicated arrangements between Herbert Harris and Moe Asch way back when, both while they were in business together and after they parted ways. Peter D. Goldsmith, in his Smithsonian Institution Press book on the history of Moe Asch and Folkways Records, details some of the story of the business relationship between the two men. As it happens, both Asch and Stinson were releasing LP albums from the same recording sessions, and did so for decades. Goldsmith concluded, “The release of the old Asch-Stinson material on Stinson LPs infuriated Asch and he attempted periodically to take legal measures to halt it. But there was sufficient ambiguity in the buyout arrangement in 1946 that he was never able to establish his exclusive rights to the material that he and Harris had released during the war.” [Goldsmith, Peter D.,Making People’s Music (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998 ), page 273.]

The Woody Guthrie Archives houses a remarkable letter that Woody wrote on February 8, 1945 regarding a series of recordings he had done for Stinson. The letter almost reads like liner notes to an album. It’s a paean to how comfortable Moe Asch and Marian Distler made him feel during the recording sessions. It also honors Herbert Harris for being the one to finance the recordings. In part,Woody wrote, “This album of records was recorded by Moe Asch at his studios located at 117 West 46th Street…The actual money was put up by Mr. Herbert Harris, of the Stinson Trading Co., now located at Twenty Seven Union Square, New York, 11, N.Y. I say Mr.Harris because it is the general custom not only here in New York City, but in smaller towns, and even out on the farms, to refer to the man with the money as Mister So and So. I think Mister Harris done an excellent job of putting up the money. I also think that Moe and Marion done a good job of taking down these songs on their home made machinery in their handmade studios.”

This isn’t the place to delve into all the questions raised during the months-long investigation, but suffice it to say that nothing was ever uncovered that concerned the attorneys representing Lucia Sutera and Rounder.

We do know that Bob Harris oversaw some of the LP production for Stinson, and might not have been as concerned with producing the best sounding recordings. Goldsmith writes about the time folklorist Ken Goldstein visited Harris’s New York City shop at 27 Union Square West. “Harris asked him whether he would assist in preparing some old masters from the Asch-Stinson days for LP release. Goldstein looked at the metal masters and declared most of them unusable because they had corroded badly. Harris replied that some of them could be cleaned up and for others they could use clean copies of the records themselves.” [Ibidem] This might explain why so many of the Stinson LPs sounded so poorly to Nowlin and others. The parts Goldstein saw were almost certainly not the ones that Harris later had stored in Brooklyn. While those needed to be cleaned, they were not at all “corroded.” Pomeroy says that there were only three or four of the nearly 150 masters he worked on that were badly corroded and unplayable.

He adds, “90% of the metals Jim brought to me were masters.” Perhaps what Ken Goldstein saw were the mothers, which had been stored under less optimal conditions at the retail store, while the masters were better preserved by being kept in the barrels in a dry basement in Brooklyn, to later be bequeathed by Irene to Lucia.

Asch himself didn’t seem to have the actual masters. He wrote Stinson on March 4, 1949, “I would like to issue records from some of the masters in your possession specifically those of Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, etc.Would you kindly let me know under what terms and conditions this would be possible.”Handwritten notations on a copy of Moe’s letter indicate that Stinson asked for an advance of $50.00 per side against a royalty of 10 cents per record sold.

While trying to pin down any questions of ownership, both Sutera and Farrow brought manageable batches of the metal parts to Pomeroy. In all, he transferred 145 titles, a few of which were of other artists and not Guthrie. He expresses his appreciation to not have the full lode dumped on him at one time: “Fortunately, Rounder did not put any pressure on me, because I was busy finishing other large projects and could not devote full time to the Stinson discs. Over time, the full extent of Woody’s work for Stinson became clear, and it’s an altogether remarkable archive.”

The work was painstaking. The metal discs all got a light scrub with Noxon metal polish and water, using a soft brush (a paint edger), were then rinsed with distilled water, and finally dried with lint-free paper. Fortunately,Doug says, “The discs did not require any pitch correction, using Sonny Terry’s harmonica as a reference. The other instruments were often woefully out of tune and of no help in checking pitch.” He further describes the process: “The tone arm (SME) allows the cartridge to be rotated laterally, and this is important for finding the exact tracking angle which produces the clearest sound. Also, the whole arm can be raised and lowered, and this is essential since some metal parts have no center hole, so they have to be supported up above the turntable’s spindle.”Most of the metal discs were slightly bent, but Pomeroy flattened them sufficiently by clamping them to a rigid metal plate, carefully centered on the turntable and played them at a very slow speed which allowed for successful transfer of discs which the stylus could not track at the normal speed of 78 rpm without skipping.

Pomeroy adds some more technical information, and an appreciation for the quality of the originals: “They are all metal discs (nickel plated copper), some 12-inch, mostly 10- inch: some mothers (positives, which can be played like any pressed record), but mostly masters (negatives, also known as “fathers,” which are used to make mothers, and require a special stylus to play). The pleasant surprise was the condition of most of them. In general, the surfaces were pristine with no signs of corrosion. I don’t know what company did the metal work for Stinson, but it might well have been RCA Victor, which made parts for numerous other small record companies.Victor’s production of metal parts was state-of-theart.”

Working with the masters was challenging, of course, since everything was more or less in reverse and thus required different and much more specialized equipment.

“A negative disc (such as a master or stamper) has a ridge instead of a groove – it’s the groove upside down – so the discs have to be played with a special ‘V’-shaped double diamond stylus, which straddles the ridge. There is no other way to play negatives. Fortunately, I have a few of these special styli, which are no longer being manufactured.”

Rounder’s Scott Billington wondered about the idea of playing the records from the inside out. How could you do that without the music coming out backwards? He sent Doug an e-mail asking, “Do you actually play them from the inside out, using the special stylus? It makes sense to me that you’d have to play them in reverse direction, but not from the center.” The reply: “The master is a mirror image of the final pressed record. To play it starting from the outer edge, it must be rotating in the reverse direction: counter-clockwise. For proper tracking, a disc rotating counter-clockwise also requires that the tone arm and cartridge be mounted on the opposite side of the turntable. So, for convenience, I actually transfer negative discs with the turntable rotating in the normal clockwise direction, which means I have to start at the end of the groove, near the center hole and play them out to the outer edge. This gives me the audio backwards; I then reverse it in the computer (a process which does not degrade it in any way).” For good measure,Doug added, “This suggests a parallel universe where, perhaps, time is also running backwards?”

In the end, it all paid off. But why did these masters sound so much better than the Stinson albums that Nowlin and others had always found disappointing? Pomeroy is enlightening here as well. “I have some of the old Stinson Lps and 78’s, and I’m aware of their dim sound. It may have been due to the wartime shortage of good vinyl and rationing of shellac (the first Guthrie Stinson recording was on April 16, 1944), or maybe Moe Asch just didn’t want to spend the money for better raw materials. Who knows? But, hearing the metals played ‘flat,’ with no attenuation of the high frequencies, was an ear-opener; at last it was possible to fully enjoy the music because it sounded natural, as though the musicians were right there in the next room.” Indeed, for anyone familiar with the Stinson recordings, the difference is like night and day.

Asked to elaborate further, our engineer said, “In general, I’d say these Guthrie masters sound fresher than anything anyone has heard in the past on any of Moe Asch’s commercial recordings from the 1940’s. The metal masters are simply closer to the initial performance than the pressed discs which are made from them. The 78 rpm discs were noisy due to poor quality shellac. The LP albums required that tape copies be made from 78 rpm discs, and that tape was then used to record a new lacquer disc at 33.3 rpm, which was plated in order to create a mother and stampers for the pressed LP discs. This means all the LPs contained second-generation audio, with an unavoidable loss in audio quality.

“Metal masters transferred directly via a high resolution analog-to-digital converter, then straight to CD are going to sound superior to any pressed record. There is no secret or magic about this.”

He adds, “For those who are obsessed with the topic, yes, I did use a surface noise removal processor. If you can hear it working, I have failed, and I will cut my wrists – I promise! But metal parts in good condition have remarkable little surface noise.”

Some of the discs themselves had been scratched, however. As Pomeroy describes it, “They were scratched with a very sharp object, maybe the tip of a sharp knife.” Of the 145 metal parts, a total of 33 had been scratched. There didn’t appear to be any discernible rhyme or reason as to which were scratched and which were not. The scratches were clearly deliberate. The question to be asked, of course, is why they were scratched. Presumably he had his reasons, but the answer to the question probably left us when Harris did.

How did Doug Pomeroy deal with the scratches? Just like any other discs, he says: “The job was getting rid of the resulting noise: horrendous ‘clicks’ in my digital transfers. Making ‘stereo’ transfers allowed me to pick the least noisy side of the groove (or ridge), and ignore the other (a common practice in audio restoration work). Then I remove the worst noises by hand, using the virtual pencil on the computer screen. After that, using a very high quality automated de-clicker was absolutely essential. I used CEDAR. In some cases I also used a spectral processor, which interpolates audio from around the click, to replace it.”

The magic Pomeroy effected clearly produced spectacular results.

Doug Pomeroy, formerly a staff engineer for Columbia Records, has been the engineer for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors (IAJRC), is on the Technical Committee of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), and a member of both the Audio Engineering Society, and the Boston Audio Society. He has done archival transfer work for the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, the Boris Rose Archive, and the Metropolitan Opera. Pomeroy has remastered more than two hundred CD albums, encompassing every type of music, and has received two Grammy nominations.

Depression America and Woody Guthrie

For tens of thousands, even millions of Americans, these were the darkest years, years of hunger, of deprivation, of stark fear. The Crash of 1929 on Black Thursday, October 24, and the collapse of the stock market on the following Tuesday triggered a succession of social and financial disasters – unemployment estimated as high as fourteen to sixteen million, or one in four workers; sinking farm prices and rising food costs; relief rolls doubled, then doubled again until the meager funds ran out; wages repeatedly trimmed as factory output slowed and buyers hoarded what little cash they had.

For three years the federal government did little to ease the distress. President Herbert Hoover, a good man bound by his belief that the best government was that which governed least, listened only to his Wall Street cronies. They reassured him, if not themselves, that the “fundamental business of the nation is sound.”1 Perhaps some banks needed shoring up with federal loans, but the economic system would soon right itself.

Despite the brave words, the Depression ground on.Wages for working men fell from $1500 per year in 1929 to $960 as the nation went to the polls in 1932. Coal miners in Appalachia who made 66 cents an hour in 1929 saw their wages fall to 41 cents just as Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office as president four years later. Factory workers in Wisconsin who made $26 a week in 1929, earned $15.31 per week four years later, and glad to get it.

Farm hands probably suffered the most; their monthly pay fell by more than one-half, to $19.00, as farm income plunged. Chicago, “hog butcher to the world,” to quote Carl Sandburg, paid just over a dollar a pound for swine on the hoof in 1929; four years later the stockyards were paying slightly more than 34 cents per pound. Migratory farm workers, scorned as “fruit tramps,” fared even worse. By 1934, well into the second year of the Roosevelt Administration, they were earning no more than 25 cents an hour picking oranges, grapefruit, lemons, peas and grapes. In a good month, they might make as much as $40. That was a good month. If they were lucky – there was no shortage of farm laborers – they might work five months of the year.2

The burden did not fall equally. It never does. The hardest-hit were small farmers and sharecroppers. Through the Roaring Twenties, they had endured low prices for their crops; prosperity had passed them by. Drought and the Crash of ’29 only worsened their lot.

Year after year they counted themselves fortunate if they could sell their crops for enough to cover the costs of planting and harvesting. Year by year the value of their farms dwindled. For the third of all farmers who had mortgages the fear of a sheriff ’s sale and foreclosure was real, very real.

Reality fell harshest upon sharecroppers in the rural South, both black and white. They rented quarter sections from farmer landlords, paying a portion of the cotton crop at the end of the harvest in exchange for use of the land and seed for the next year. But as early as January, 1932, farm conditions had so worsened that landlords and tenants alike were unable to go on. “Keep what you have made and go your way,” one after another landlord told his tenants. “I cannot feed you another year. You will have to do the best you can.”3

Even as late as 1938, people around Bakersfield, California, sang:

I ain’t a-gonna pick your eighty-cent cotton,
Ain’t gonna starve myself that way;
Gonna hold out for a dollar and a quarter
Will they take us back again?

I’m a-gonna set [sit], and let your cotton
Rot and fall upon the ground;
Worth at least a dollar and a quarter,
When you grab [pick] a hundred pounds.
Greenback, greenback, greenback dollar;
Greenback, greenback, dollar bill;
Look at that cotton, a-getting mighty rotten,
Ain’t nobody pickin’ in an eighty-cent field.’’4

The problem was not confined to the cotton-growing South or John Steinbeck’s Oklahoma. In the wheat and corn fields of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska, The New York Times reported, more and more farmers found themselves renting from absentee owners, banks, and insurance companies in cities far from rural America. As many as one in four Iowa farms went under the hammer at sheriff ’s auctions; the foreclosures spurred an exodus of uprooted Iowans reluctantly moving westward to California – so many that they formed dozens of Iowa Clubs in Southern California. The rueful joke was: if you wanted to see your neighbors you visited them at Iowa picnics in Los Angeles.5

Still, farmers clung to the land as long as they could, for, if nothing else, they could raise their own food in a vegetable garden or slaughter a pig. City folk could not.

The bitter irony lay in the fact that there was plenty of food. Even as gaunt men and women scavenged the garbage of Seattle, Chicago, and New York for scraps of meat, in Montana wheat rotted in the fields, uncut, because the price at the railhead didn’t cover the cost of harvesting. In Chicago, a sheep rancher told of slitting the throat of 3,000 animals because it cost more to ship the beasts to market than he could get for the sheep once there. “In Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana,” labor investigator Oscar Ameringer told a congressional subcommittee, “I saw untold bales of cotton rotting in the fields because the cotton pickers could not keep body and soul together on 35 cents paid for picking 100 pounds.” In Oregon, apples rotted in orchards because “only absolute flawless apples were still salable.”6

Just how aware of the misery across the land was Woodrow Wilson Guthrie is not clear. He was eight years old when his father’s real estate business collapsed in the depression of 1921. He was barely seventeen when Wall Street imploded in October, 1929. He was a teenager, just having fun, playing in local bands, appearing on local radio, clowning around between shifts selling potent, poisonous Jamaica ginger at Shorty Harris’ drug store and soda fountain in Pampa, Texas. Besides,Woody had known nothing but hard times since Charley Guthrie was forced to sell off a farm a day for fifty days. Hard times were normal for farmers and small town folk. That was just the way of things. 7

Drought only made things worse. Millions upon millions of acres of farm land lay unplowed, used up, unyielding, the topsoil leeched, blown away in the terrifying windstorms. The erosion was particularly severe in the Great Plains, including Panhandle Texas, where quarter sections allotted to homesteaders by the government were too small to be economical. Then came Black Easter, April 14, 1935, and the “worst dust storm in anybody’s history book,”Woody typed in a 200-page songbook five years later. “…I was in what I claim the very center of it, the town of Pampa, Gray County, Texas, sixty miles north of Amarillo along towards sundown on the afternoon….”8

On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky,
You could see the dust storm coming, the cloud looked death-like black,
And through our mighty Nation [sic] it left a dreadful track.

It covered up our fences, it covered up our barns,
It covered up our tractors in this wild and windy storm.
We loaded our jallopies [sic] and piled our family in,
We rattled down the highway to never come back again.9

DUST STORM DISASTER Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
© Copyright 1960 (Renewed) 1963 (Renewed) TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., New York, NY.
Used by Permission.

Over the next years, Woody grew evermore restless. There was little to hold him in Pampa, Texas, population 3000, where he had moved to be with his father and extended family. Painting sale signs for the C & C grocery store was no way to make a living. He was married now, toMary Jennings, the sister ofWoody’s best friend,Matt, and they had a young daughter, Gwendolyn.

The restlessness pressed him. He took to wandering off, sometimes for days at a time. “He might get up from the dinner table,” his younger brother George recalled, “and not come back for three or four days.” Mary, forced to rely on her family for support, grumbled her husband “was not doing the manly thing.”10

Slowly, Woody seemed to become aware of the social inequities all about him. In the first of a series of songbooks he would create over the next decade, two of fourteen songs in the typescript he humorously titled “Alonzo Zilch’s Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads,” hinted at a new-found social consciousness:

If I was President Roosevelt,
I’d make the groceries free –
I’d give away new Stetson hats,
And let the whiskey be.
I’d pass out suits of clothing
At least three times a week –
And shoot the first big oil man
That killed the fishing creek.11

Late in February or early March, 1937, Guthrie shoved his sign-painting brushes into a back pocket, slung his guitar over his shoulder, and set off for California. There was work to be had there, Aunt Laura and cousin Jack had written. Until Woody found a steady job, “it would be pretty hard for a while,”Mary said, “but it would be worth it.” At least he would be doing the manly thing. 12

Guthrie crossed into California’s lushly planted Imperial Valley, impressed by the miles of cotton, lettuce, peas, and carrots that stretched on either side of the Mother Road,Highway
66.“My eyes got sort of used to Oklahoma’s beat-up look, but here, with this sight of fertile, rich, damp, sweet soil that smelled like the dew of a jungle, I was learning to love another, greener part of life.”13

Overwhelmed by the big city, Guthrie stayed in Los Angeles only a few days, working odd jobs, before he hopped a northbound freight that deposited him in Tracy, California, forty miles beyond Turlock, where Aunt Laura was living. Run out of town by the police in a drenching rain, Guthrie spent the night huddled under a bridge along with a dozen others. He hitchhiked his way back to Turlock, jobless, with no better prospect than staying with Aunt Laura. You could always count on family.

For the first time, Guthrie saw the dire poverty of the Okies, Arkies, and Texicans who had made their way west, seeking work in California’s fertile fields. Underpaid during the harvest season, the migrants were unwanted the rest of the year; locals feared they would end up on already overburdened relief rolls. One government investigator, Frank Spector, noted: This report must state that we found filth, squalor, and [an] entire absence of sanitation, and a crowding of human beings into totally inadequate tents or crude structures built of boards, weeds, and anything that was found at hand to give a pitiful semblance of a home at its worst. Words cannot describe some of the conditions we saw. 14

What Woody saw affected him profoundly: people, his people, men, women and children alike, sleeping in roadside ditches, covered only by newspapers; children with the bloated bellies that marked their starving; others who ate dirt just to fill their stomach; gaunt men and worn women past hope and past tears, making do in cardboard shelters that fell apart in the spring rains; vigilante American Legionnaires beating striking lettuce pickers in the Salinas Valley with hickory ax handles, while the local police and sheriff ’s deputies looked on approvingly.

There was not much a penniless migrant from Pampa, Texas, could do about it, not then, but the memory seared, never to be forgotten.

Guthrie camped out in a makeshift Hooverville on the Sacramento River bottom, pilfering vegetables to contribute to the community stewpot. In Redding, he was one of 5,000 unemployed men who turned out for a job show-up at a federally-funded dam site. In Reno, he spent a dry night and three-squares in jail with a drug-addled doctor. Eventually, Guthrie followed Aunt Laura and her family back to Glendale, California. (Of the Reno experience, Guthrie wrote in a 1937 mimeographed songbook, “On a Slow Train Through California,” that “the jail in Reno, Nev., is so filthy that the disease germs turned in a complaint to the city health dept.”)15

It was in Glendale apparently that he met his cousin Jack, bespangled in shirts that glittered and tight pants that no cowboy ever wore, and formed an act sometime in early 1937. Jack, a tenor who played guitar in chord-rich arrangements, took the lead; Woody played the clown, the sidekick who rattled bones or a tambourine. (In fact, their musical styles were so far apart – Woody played no more than tonic, sub-dominant and dominant through his entire career – that they could not play their guitars together.)

The two cousins worked a variety of jobs, alternating between construction – Woody dreaded shingling roofs in the heat of the Los Angeles summer – and performing wherever they could get a paying, however low paying, job they could scrounge. It was Jack who suggested they audition at KFVD, probably the only radio station in Los Angeles which did not have a country and western 15-minute program on the air at the time.As Jack saw it, even if they worked for free on the radio, they could “get more jobs at saloons, churches and markets if you’ve got a radio program every day.”16

The station owner, J. Frank Burke, Senior, was more interested in his unabashed progressive daily political commentary than he was in running the station. That he left to his son, Frank, Junior. So, it fell to the son to listen to Jack Guthrie and his sidekick Woody on July 15, 1937.

Junior was impressed enough to offer them a 15-minute slot at 8 a.m. Jack would appeal to the ladies, especially the younger ladies; Woody, with his homespun style, would appeal to an older audience. Best of all, the Guthrie cousins would work for nothing.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, July 19, 1937, the first Oklahoma and Woody Show went on the air, their theme a song Woody had picked up somewhere east of California, and widely known among the migrants. (See Disc One, Track 2. Here Woody sings lead and Houston harmonizes whereas in 1937 Jack sang lead and Woody added a tenor harmony.)

I’m a-going down this road a-feeling bad,
I’m a-going down this road a-feeling bad,
I’m a-going down this road a-feeling bad,
And I ain’t gonna be treated this-a-way.17

by Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays / © Copyright 1960 (Renewed) 1963 (Renewed) and 1976 (Renewed)
TRO-Hollis Music, Inc., New York, NY. Used by Permission

As you listen to the songs, ballads, fiddle and harmonica tunes on these four discs, keep in mind the three characteristics of the adult Woody Guthrie: his optimism, his patriotism, and his sense of humor.

If nothing else, from his father,Woodrow inherited that sense of optimism. No matter how broke, how invalided, Charley always had a plan or scheme to restore the family fortunes: hones for barbers cast from cement, an alert for owners of gas stations when customers pulled in, yet another real estate venture. Charley refused to surrender to poverty.

Woody’s patriotism was certainly not of the lapel-pin, flag-waving sort so fashionable today – though most people do not realize that Guthrie signed aboard three merchant vessels as a messman during the second world war. (One of those vessels was torpedoed, a second struck a mine in the waters off of the Normandy beachhead.)18 Instead, Guthrie’s patriotism sprang from his sense of the land itself, both its harsh deserts and lush river bottoms. It sprang too from a love of the people, their grit, their integrity, their sheer endurance.And the poorer they were, the more Woody admired them. He was proud to call himself “the dustiest of the Dust Bowl refugees.”19

Finally, there was Woody, in high school briefly the class clown, given to cornpone [rustic] humor. Later as a practiced writer-performer, he recognized that humor removed the sting of a lecture or a scolding. And Woody did lecture or scold – in his own way. Consider the pointed last verse of his “Pretty Boy Floyd”:

Now, through this world I’ve traveled, there’s lots of funny men,
Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.
I’ve known lots of outlaws, but I have never known
An Oklahoma outlaw to drive a family from their home. 20

As much as Woody might have valued “Pretty Boy Floyd,” he was seemingly more caught up with “I Ain’t Got No Home,” a scornful – and therefore defiant adaptation of the Carter Family’s version of “I Can’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.”

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-roaming round.
Just a wandering worker, I go from town to town.
The police make it hard wherever I may go,
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

And note the kicker, pure Woody Guthrie, a youth shaped by the Great Depression:

Now, as I look around, it’s very plain to see.
This world is such a great and funny place to be.
The gambling man is rich, the working man is poor,
And I ain’t got no home in this world any more. 21

I AIN’T GOT NO HOME Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
© Copyright 1961 (Renewed) 1964 (Renewed) TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., New York, NY. Used by Permission

Through the summer and fall of 1938, Guthrie tramped up and down the Central Valley, visiting Hoovervilles and labor camps, reporting for Frank Burke, Senior’s campaign newspaper, The Light. Richard Reuss dates Guthrie’s evolving social commitment to this period; more likely, the grim poverty he saw in the fields on that trip only confirmed his views. 22

In the months that followed, Guthrie was heavily involved in raising money for the John Steinbeck Committee to Aid Farmworkers, supporting a packing house workers’ strike in northern California, and another by cotton pickers in the Central Valley. With John Steinbeck, he visited Holtville in the Imperial Valley to deliver relief supplies at a federally run labor camp. He moved easily in left-wing political circles, gravitating to the Communists who seemed to be doing the most to aid Guthrie’s people, the fruit tramps, Okies and Arkies, and poverty-ridden folks from a dozen different states. By the time he moved to New York City in February, 1940, Guthrie had found a purpose in life – helping the poor, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.

The Depression dramatically altered the lives of millions in the United States, but none more profoundly than that of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.

1. See, for example, BROADUS MITCHELL, Depression Decade: From New Era through New Deal, 1929-1941 (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1947), pp. 31-32.
2. The figures on wages and farm prices were culled from Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1934 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934) and JOHN N. WEBB, The Migratory Casual Worker, WPA Research Monograph VII (Washington, D.C., 1937, pp. 3-4.
3. Congressman George Huddleston of Alabama speaking before the so-called Lafollete-Costigan Senate Committee investigating Federal Aid for Unemployment Relief, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Manufactures, United States Senate, 72nd Congress, 1st sess., on S. 174 and S. 262 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932), pp. 244-45.
4. Quoted in WOODY GUTHRIE, “Songs of the Migratious Trails,” Direction magazine,March, 1940, p. 6.
5. BERNHARD OSTROLENK, “The Farmer’s Plight: A Far-Reaching Crisis,” The New York Times, September 25, 1932. In Oklahoma, 70 percent of the farmers were unable to pay the interest on their mortgages, a congressional subcommittee learned.
6. Unemployment in the United States, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Labor, House of Representatives, 72nd Congress, 1st sess., on H.R. 206, H.R. 6011, H.R. 8088 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932), pp. 98-99.7. On the lethal qualities of Jamaica ginger, see DAN BALM, “Jake Leg,” in The New Yorker, September 15, 2003, pp. 50-57.
8. Typescript, “Songs of Woody Guthrie,” Library of Congress Archive of American Folklife, dated in Guthrie’s hand, June 7, 1942, p. 7.
9. Ibid. Guthrie dated the song to March, 1940. It may have been written for a March 3, 1940, “Grapes of Wrath” benefit concert for the John Steinbeck Committee to Aid Farmworkers, at the Forrest Theater in New York City, or shortly thereafter.
10. ED CRAY, Ramblin’ Man (New York:W.W. Norton, 2004), p. 96.
11. “Alonzo Zilch’s Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads,” undated typescript in the American Folklife collection in the Library of Congress. Guthrie dated the song “5/35,” meaning it was written shortly after the Great Dust Storm of Black Easter.
12. CRAY, Ramblin’ Man, p. 88.
13. WOODY GUTHRIE, Bound for Glory, 2nd edition (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1976), pp. 225-26. Guthrie’s autobiography must be read with great caution; he himself called the 1943 first edition “an autobiographical novel.”
14. Quoted in IRVING BERNSTEIN, Turbulent Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), p. 148. Spector, a man of stern Marxist principles, was later the owner of the Progressive Book Shop in Los Angeles.
15. WOODY GUTHRIE, “On a Slow Train Through California,” mimeographed typescript, probably assembled in the spring of 1939, n.p., courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Archives, New York, NY.
16. CRAY, Ramblin’ Man, p. 101, quoting Guthrie’s essay, “High Balladry.”
17. Guthrie repeatedly returned to this song, adding and dropping verses. As “Blowin’ Down This Road,” it appears in Guthrie’s typescript songbook of 1942 (see note 8, supra) and in ALAN LOMAX, WOODY GUTHRIE AND PETE SEEGER, Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), pp. 216-17, but originally compiled in 1941-42. It also appears in a March, 1940, article Guthrie wrote for Direction magazine, as “I’m Going Down This Road A-Feelin’ Bad” or, alternatively, “The Lonesome Road Blues.”
18. See JIM LONGHI,Woody, Cisco and Me: Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), passim.
19. As far as is known, this self-description first appeared on the cover of “On a Slow Train Through California,” an undated, mimeographed songbook that seems to have been compiled between April and July, 1939.
20. As typed in 1942 into the Library of Congress’ 200-page manuscript, “Songs of Woody Guthrie,” p. 10.
21. “Ain’t Got No Home,” is in the Library of Congress typescript, in two versions, pp. 2 and 87.
22. The Reuss statement is in the Journal of American Folklore, 95 (1982), p. 366. In his mimeographed songbook intended for listeners of KFVD, and published between April and July, 1939, Guthrie wrote, “Well, I hit California at a funny time. It had more millionaires, more hungry folks, more wasted crops, and more rotten fruit, and politicians then it ever had, I reckon.” Quoted from “On a Slow Train Through California, by Woody, Th’ Dustiest of the Dustbowl Refugees.”
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