My Life (Part III) (1947)

Jack & Woody Guthrie

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Song Lyrics

Some of Woody's Prose...

The Almanac Singers





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from left: Lefty Lou, Woody, Mary Ruth Crissman, Jack Guthrie

Jack and Woody decided to become a musical team, trying to capitalize on the developing country-western music and radio industries.
Their singing and guitar styles were different... Jack's singing idol was Jimmie Rodgers. Woody^s influence was the Carter Family so they did not sing duets. They backed one another musically --Woody usually played the harmonica while Jack sang to his own guitar accompaniment, and Jack played the fiddle or guitar during Woody's songs. They were an excellent and popular duo and not only were they cousins but also were good friends. Neither tried to upstage the other

They put together a pretty good stage act before Jack wangled an audition at KFVD Radio in Hollywood, which was a popular country music station featuring talent such as Cliffie Stone and Stuart Hamblen.

On 19 July 1937 they played their first show -- 'The Oklahoma and Woody Show' (Jack was known among friends as 'Oke' and 'Oklahoma'). It was well received by the radio listeners, and fan mail started coming in. It was a fifteen minute radio show that soon was changed to thirty minutes; then they were given two thirty minute shows a day.

ln those days radio stations paid no fees I for most music shows: only studio musicians were paid. Performers worked the shows to advertise personal appearances; they could make three advertisements during a fifteen minute show. Jack and Woody were able to book a few personal appearances, but they did not earn enough money to consider their musical activities to be full time work. Both men had family responsibilities, so Jack worked on construction jobs in the day time. Their original KFVD show was at 8:00am, which allowed Jack to put in a few daily construction hours, but with their growing popularity the show was moved to I 1:00am. It became difficult for Jack to earn a living working at other jobs. He decided to leave the show to work full time, and Woody had found a singing partner -- Maxine 'Lefty Lou' Crissman.

At the age of seventeen before he married Ruth Henderson, Jack became friends with Roy Crissman while working as a construction laborer. In fact, he made the Crissman home his second home, for there were two daughters, Maxine and Mary Ruth. Jack dated Mary Ruth, the younger daughter before he married Ruth Henderson. Even after the marriage, Jack and Mary Ruth remained close friends....

Guy Logsdon, liner notes for Jack Guthrie, "Oklahoma Hills" (BCD 15580), Sep 1991.

Woody & "Lefty Lou" (Maxine Crissman)

One afternoon in late 1937 while Maxine was preparing for their show, Woody was on the back porch of the Crissman home tuning an instrument. A little neighbor boy came over and asked, "Where did you come from, mister?" Woody replied, "/ come from the Oklahoma Hills." Maxine recalled, "Woody came into the house for a pencil and paper, went back out, and in fifteen minutes or so, he came back in the house with 'Oklahoma Hills.' " They sang it regularly during the duration of their show.

Woody typed a 'fake book' for Lefty Lou and one for himself; the books contained lyrics to approximately 150 songs that they could sing over the radio. When Jack and Woody were last together. Woody left his fake book in the back seat of Jack's car. The lyrics to Oklahoma Hills were in this book as well as in a small song book that Woody compiled to sell to their fans; apparently Jack, over a period of years, smoothed the song into the version that he recorded.

Guy Logsdon, liner notes for Jack Guthrie, "Oklahoma Hills" (BCD 15580), Sep 1991.

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Mary Guthrie Boyle & "Lefty Lou" remember
Woody in California

(540 KB)

I hit the highway to look around for a place for us to go. I carried my pockets full of paint brushes and my guitar slung across my back. I painted all kinds of window signs, posters, show cards, banners, car and truck signs, in the daylight and played with my hat down on the old saloon floor after night had set in. Got to California and went up and down the west coast a few times, found a cousin of mine, Jack, and we took a fifteen minute radio program in order to collect give us enough prestige around at the saloons to ask for a two dollar guarantee for six hours.

Rose Maddox remembers Woody & Jack Guthrie...
(110 KB)

The Maddox Brothers & Rose

It was not too long till I met the Crissman family out on some street of car smoke in Glendale. Roy and the Mrs. Crissman had two daughters, Mary Ruth and "Lefty Lou" from Old 'Mizoo. She was a tall thin-faced cornfed Missouri farm girl with a voice rough and husky and I played my southern E chord guitar in back of our voices while we sung as "WOODY AND LEFTY LOU" and got twenty thousand letters during the almost two years that we sung over the mikes of KFVD. KFVD belonged to J. Franke Burke and he was the campaign manager the year Olsen was elected governor. Lefty Lou and me took quite a hand in politics and sung some of our first political and religious songs of our own making right then and there. A big Agent hired Lefty Lou and me to go down below the border to XELO, Tia Juana. I saw the home-made music boxes of the Mexican peons that played around the streets, and we picked up lots of good genuine Mexicana folk songs from them.

Woody, Lefty Lou & unidentified musician

Back in L.A., I got back on KFVD again, this time by my own lonesome. I rented a house and my younger Brother, George, hitched out from Oklahoma and got a clerk job in a big market. He paid the rent and I paid the bills and we saved up money and sent for Mary and the two daughters. I sung songs for the cotton pickers and cotton strikers, and for migratory workers, packers, canning house workers, fruit pickers, and all sorts of other country and city workers. I wrote a daily article for the People's Daily World, called Woody Says. I always read the radical papers over my program and took sides with the workers all I knew how.

I drew pen sketches for the Peoples World and learned all I could from the speeches and debates, forums, picnics, where famous labor leaders spoke. I heard William Z. Foster, Mother Bloor, Gurley Flynn, Blackie Myers, I heard most all of them and played my songs on their platforms.

I hated the false front decay and rot of California's fascistic oil and gas deals, the ptomaine poison and brass knucks in the jails and prisons, the dumped oranges and peaches and grapes and cherries rotting and running down into little streams of creosote poisoned juices.

I saw the hundreds of thousands of stranded, broke, hungry, idle, miserable people that lined the highways all out through the leaves and the underbrush. I heard these people sing in their jungle camps and in their Federal Work Camps and sang songs I made up for them over the air waves.

I went to fancy Hollywood drinking parties and rubbed my elbows with the darkling glasses that they wore over their eyes to keep down everything. I met up with an actor named Will Geer and while we drove my '31 Chevvery around the sad canyons to play for migrant strikers, Mary gave birth on the side of a Glendale mountain to a fine big son which wo named Bill Rogers Guthrie.


Labor in general, at that time, was in the nickel and the penny stages, very few strong and well run unions but lots of tear gas and guns being used by hired thugs and all kinds of vigilantes. The movement could not pay me enough money to keep up my eats, gas, oil, travel expenses, except Five Dollars here and Three there, Two and a Quarter yonder, at places where I sung. I thougt that if I could drift back towards New York and get myself a new fresh start, things might run smoother. So Mary, Sue, Teeny, Bill and me took off across the rims and ledges of the Two Thousand Mile Desert to crawl and sweat and ache and pound back again to our little shack house in Texas. In the oil and farming town of Konawa, Oklahoma, I took my brother Roy's $35 (Thirty Five Dollars), and thanked him, told him I was whipping her up on towards New York City, and showed him an old letter that Will Geer had written to me back in Texas.

Arlo Guthrie
(58 KB)