“Woody Guthrie” by Woody Guthrie - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1944Album Chart of the Decade: 1940s

TJR says

More than 4 years passed until Woody Guthrie was able to deliver a follow up album to his “Dust Bowl Ballads” of 1940. Very few walks of life were immune to wartime disruption, as Wikipedia tells:

Guthrie believed performing his anti-fascist songs and poems at home was the best use of his talents; Guthrie lobbied the United States Army to accept him as a USO performer instead of conscripting him as a soldier in the draft. When Guthrie's attempts failed, his friends Cisco Houston and Jim Longhi pressured Guthrie to join the U.S. Merchant Marine. Guthrie followed their advice and went to sea in June 1943 making voyages in convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic aboard the merchant ships SS William B. Travis, SS William Floyd, and SS Sea Porpoise. He served as a mess man and dishwasher and frequently sang for the crew and troops to buoy their spirits on transatlantic voyages. His first ship William B. Travis hit a mine in the Mediterranean Sea killing one person aboard but made it to Bizerte, Tunisia under her own power. His last ship, Sea Porpoise, took troops from the United States for the D-Day invasion. Guthrie was aboard when the ship was torpedoed off Utah Beach by the German submarine U-390 on July 5, 1944, injuring 12 of the crew [ as told by Jim Longhi here ]. Guthrie was unhurt and the ship stayed afloat to be repaired at Newcastle upon Tyne in England before returning to the United States in July 1944.”

In his 1997 book “Woody, Cisco and Me: Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine”, Longhi described Woody’s first appearance as a merchant marine: “Woody was a little late, but it was no wonder, considering what he was carrying. We could barely see him under the load: a seabag over his shoulder, a guitar strapped to his back, a violin case, a mandolin case, a stack of at least ten books, and a portable typewriter, all tied together by a length of clothesline and somehow wrapped around him.”

It was against this tumultuous background that the third album set of Woody Guthrie 78’s was issued in the fall of 1944, the first of 5 such sets overseen by Moe Asch. All sides had been recorded while Woody was back on dry land in April 1944. Desperate to lay ‘em down while he could, he recorded more songs in one mammoth session on the 19th April than folks could keep up with - there were 50 odd or 60 odd depending on whose count you believe! Six of the best were selected for the album: Talking Sailor / Coolee Dam / Ranger’s Command / Gypsy Davy / Jesus Christ / N.Y. Town. Excellence prevails throughout, most especially on the opening track, the latest of Woody’s “talking blues” classics which follows in the footsteps of the likes of “Talking Dust Bowl Blues” and “Talking Columbia Blues”. On “Talking Sailor”, Woody’s on his A-game: “Ship loaded down with T.N.T., all out across the rolling sea, stood on the deck and watched the fishes swim, I was a-praying them fishes wasn't made of tin. Sharks. Porpoises. Jelly beans, rainbow trouts, mud-cats, jew-gars, all over that water. This convoy's the biggest I ever did see, it stretches all the way out across the sea. The ships blow their whistles and ring their bells, gonna blow them Fascists all to Hell. Win some freedom. Liberty. Stuff like that.”

His winning humour and poetic genius would have lit up the mid-Atlantic better than a cluster of flares. Morale boosting. Soul power. Stuff like that.

The Jukebox Rebel

A [03:04] 9.9.png Woody Guthrie - Talking Sailor (Woody Guthrie) Folk
B [02:11] 8.0.png Woody Guthrie - Grand Coulee Dam [1944 recording] (Traditional) Folk
C [02:51] 8.5.png Woody Guthrie - Ranger’s Command (Traditional, Woody Guthrie) Folk
D [02:53] 7.4.png Woody Guthrie - Gypsy Davy (Traditional) Folk
E [02:40] 8.6.png Woody Guthrie - Jesus Christ [1944 recording] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
F [02:38] 6.9.png Woody Guthrie - N.Y. Town (Woody Guthrie) Folk
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