THE ALMANAC SINGERS
BOOMTOWN BILL/KEEP THAT OIL A-ROLLIN'



THE ALMANAC SINGERS, 1942: BESS HAWES, PETE SEEGER, MILLARD LAMPELL, WOODY GUTHRIE, ARTHUR STERN, SIS CUNNINGHAM (left to right)

(Keynote K 5000 A/B), recorded June 1942,
at an unidentified Central Park West studio.
Producer: Eric Bernay.
Released: 1942.

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WOODY GUTHRIE, guitar/vocal/harmonica, PETE SEEGER, vocal/banjo; BALDWIN "BUTCH" HAWES, vocal; ARTHUR STERN, vocal


Around early June 1942, the Almanac Singers made its final recordings. The Fort Worth based Oil Workers International Union (O.W.I.U.-C.I.O.) commissioned the group to write and record two songs that reinforced union sentiments with a win-the-war message. The O.W.I.U.-C.I.O. was campaigning to organize Standard Oil, and union officials were concerned that John D. Rockefeller would counter their efforts by establishing a company union. "Edwin S. Smith, the Oil Workers Organizing Campaign's director, visited Manhattan to enlist Guthrie and Seeger in this task," Archie Green wrote in his 1993 article "Woody's Oil Songs" in "Songs About Work: Essays in Occupational Culture."

In several days Guthrie produced two suitable songs, "Boomtown Bill," set to the tune of "Wabash Cannonball," contained too much terminology, which lessened its spontaneity. "Keep That Oil A-Rollin'," which referred to Rockefeller's role in the infamous 1913 massacre on mining workers at Ludlow, Colorado, needed a rousing chorus.

Guthrie agreed to revise both songs. Baldwin "Butch" Hawes, Peter's brother and now a member of the Almanacs, wrote a new opening verse to "Keep That Oil A-Rollin'" that replaced Guthrie's original Ludlow couplet. After union organizers approved the revisions, the O.W.I.U.-C.I.O. contracted with Eric Bernay to record and produce 1,000 copies of the record. At the session Guthrie and Seeger handled the lead vocals; the other participants are probably Butch Hawes and Arthur Stern. Lampell, though still a part of the group, was not present.

Bernay shipped all pressings of Keynote 5000 directly to O.W.I.U.-C.I.O. headquarters. The record set was never available for general circulation; anyone wanting one needed to conatct the union directly. As a result, it became the Almanac Singers' rarest recording.

Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson, liner notes for "Songs for Political Action," Bear Family Records BCD 15720 JL, 1996, p. 96.


   

 

  


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