WOODY GUTHRIE
DUST BOWL BALLADS
(RCA Victor), recorded RCA Victor Studios, Camden, NJ, April 26, 1940;
released early July 1940.

Reissued on RCA/CAMDEN as "WOODY GUTHRIE: A Legendary Performer,"
(LP CPL1-2099(e), 1977; CD REISSUE: CAMDEN 74321317742, 1995).

BACKGROUND | SONG LIST | REVIEW



Introduction to Woody Guthrie and his Dust Bowl Ballads (Tim McMullen, YouTube)


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An RCA Victor recording producer, R. P. Weatherald, approached [Alan] Lomax about making some recordings for Victor. Woody was with him and Alan immediately pointed to Woody and said, "Here's your man -- record him." It was Alan's expression of his appreciation for Woody as a performer and a folk artist.... He saw in Woody the perfect, but not unique, example of the cross fertilization of Ozark culture with Southwestern culture as modified and adapted by parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Woody was the most talented and prolific of known folk poets.

Weatherald arranged for the recording session to be held in New York City [Camden, NJ] on April 26, 1940. It was a one-day session with Woody playing his guitar and on some numbers his harmonica. They recorded 13 songs [due to its length, "Tom Joad" had to be recorded in two parts], though some songs had to be left out [*] because there could be only six discs in the set. These 12 sides were released in two volumes (Victor P-27 and P-28) in early July 1940. (The complete 14 sides were re-issued as an LP in 1964.)

These recordings were Woody's first commercial effort, and they are, with the exception of some imaginative exaggeration, an accurate historical depiction, through music, of the Dust Bowl. It is doubtful that any historical period has had comparable folk response.

Dr. Guy Logsdon, Director of Libraries, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, liner notes for "WOODY GUTHRIE: A Legendary Performer," (RCA LP CPL1-2099(e), 1977).
"The songs are liberal as the dickens and as progressive as the angels.... They came out of the hearts and mouths of the Okies. On no occasion have I referred to myself as either an entertainer or a singer and I'd better not start now.... [If I'm] most proud of anything... [it's] the fact that I seem to have been born a shade pink, and didn't have to read too many books to become a proletariat [sic], and you can guess that when you hear the records.... What I'm glad to see is working folks' songs getting so popular. I'm sure Victor never did a more radical album."
Woody Guthrie in the Daily Worker, c. 1940; reprinted in Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: A Life, London/Boston, 1988, p. 159.
R. C. Weatherald... asked Woody to write a little booklet explaining the songs, which he did; he billed himself as "The Dustiest of the Dust Bowlers," and told the tale once more:
"My relatives had wrote letters back from California a-telling how pretty the country was and about the big rains and the big ocean and the high mountains, and the valleys with the green trees that was loaded down with most every kind of groceries, and they said the whole landscape out there just spelt the word 'Work'... and I got so interested in the art and science of Migratin' that I majored in it, in a school so big you can't get out of it."
ibid., pp. 159-160.

(*)=LP RELEASE ONLY.

"These albums are not a summer sedative. They make you think; they may even make you uncomfortable.... The albums show that the phonograph is broadening its perspective, and that life as some of our unfortunates know it can be mirrored on the glistening disks."
Howard Taubman in The New York Times, c. 1940; quoted in Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: A Life, London/Boston, 1988, pp. 163-164.

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