(Sound of Woody Guthrie playing ”The Lost Train Blues.”)
ALAN LOMAX: ”The Lost Train Blues,” played on a harmonica and a guitar by Woody Guthrie from Okema, Oklahoma. Woody Guthrie is I guess about thirty years old from the looks of him, but he’s seen more in those thirty years than most men see before they’re seventy.
LOMAX: Woody, how long was it ago that you were born in Okema?
WOODY GUTHRIE: Twenty-eight years. You pretty near guessed it. I was born there on July the fourteenth, 1912.
LOMAX: How did you people live out there in Oklahoma? Did you live pretty well?
GUTHRIE: I don’t know, Alan. To start with, I wasn’t in the class that John Steinbeck called the Okies, because my dad to start with was worth about thirty-five or forty thousand dollars. He had everything hunky-dory, and then he started having a little bad luck. In fact, our whole family had a little bit of it. I don’t know whether it’s worth talking about or not. I never do talk it much . . .
My fourteen year old sister either set herself afire, or caught afire accidentally. There’s two different stories got out about it. Anyway, she was having a little difficulty with her school work, and she had to stay home and do some work, and she caught afire while she was doing some ironing that afternoon on the old Kerosene stove. It was highly unsafe and highly uncertain in them days, and this one blowed up. It caught her afire and she run around the house about twice before anybody could catch her. Next day she died. And my mother — that one was a little bit too much for her nerves or something. I don’t know exactly how it was, but anyway my mother died in the insane asylum at Norman, Oklahoma. Then about that same time my father mysteriously, for some reason or another, caught afire. There’s a lot of people who say that he set himself on fire. Others say he caught afire accidentally. I always will think that he done it on purpose, because he lost all his money.
All of my brothers and sisters, all these things happened and they found theirselves scattered. All us kids had to scatter out and be adopted by different families. I lived with a family of people. There was eleven of us, lived in a little two-room shack. We had two or three beds, you know, so we’d sleep some of us at the head and some of us at the foot, and had everybody’s feet in everybody’s faces. You know how that is. Then after that, I don’t know, I kind of took to the road. I hit the road one day. The first day that I ever hit the highway to be what’s called a rambling man or a hobo or a tramp was in 1927.
LOMAX: How old were you then?
GUTHRIE: At that time I was about seventeen years old.
(Sounds of guitar strumming.)
GUTHRIE: So I went down to Galveston, Texas, hoed figs in all them orchards down in that country, helped drill water wells, irrigated strawberries, and helped a carpenter tear down a whole bunch of houses. And that time I was about eighteen.
LOMAX: Well Woody, did you begin to sing about this time? How did that happen?
GUTHRIE: Then I went back up into the panhandle of Texas. The big wheat belt. Up around Amarillo, Texas — north of Amarillo, Texas. When I got into that country, I got a job about the third day I was there. I got a job with a feller that owned a root beer stand, supposedly, and he said he’d give me three dollars a day to stand behind the counter and sell people root beer. So I told him I had the intelligence enough to do that. So I got around behind the counter, and he told me, ”Now, in addition to this root beer, here’s some bottles of another description. If anybody comes up and lays a dollar and a half on the counter here, why you reach down and gently and firmly let him have one of these here bottles.”
One day my curiosity got the best of me, and I just got to wondering ”What in the devil is in them bottles?” So I opened up one and tasted of it, and it was nothing in the world but just unadulterated corn whiskey. So, we was a-wheelin’ and a-dealin’ there in the whiskey business for a long time. And this guy had a guitar that laid around there, and a lot of times there wouldn’t be any customers in this place, and I’d grab up this guitar and got to pecking around on it. I thought it sounded awful pretty. And learned a little old chord, just how to barely chord along, and finally learnt a just a few little old songs, and just kind of drifted into it. I never did own a guitar, though.
LOMAX: What were some of the first songs you began to sing out in the panhandle?
GUTHRIE: Here’s an old song here, that they sing back down in that country. Almost everybody knows it. The name of this one here is ”Greenback Dollar.”
(Sings ”Greenback Dollar.”)
GUTHRIE: In this part of Texas where I was working in this whiskey store, some of the worst dust storms in the history of the whole world, I guess, broke loose. Here’s a picture, here, Allan — I’d like you to look at that. That there is the little town of Pampa, Texas. That’s where my wife and three children are living right now. I hear from them about twice a week.
LOMAX: Well, what happened the night that dust storm hit? Do you remember just exactly what you people did and what you said?
GUTHRIE: Well, you see the big picture here. It shows you the big dust storm coming up and uh, you know, just to see a thing of that kind coming towards you — wouldn’t know exactly what it was because it’s a freak looking thing. You never saw anything like it before. But we all sat there, we had seen dust storms of every other different color, labor, description, style, fashion, shade, design, model.
Anyway, I remember the particular evening of April the fourteenth, 1935, that this dust storm here blowed up. I was standing, a whole bunch of us were standing just outside of this little town here that you see, and so we watched the dust storm come up like the Red Sea closing in on the Israel children. Anyway, we stood there watched the sun of a gun coming up. And I’m telling you it got so black when that thing hit, we all run into the house, and all the neighbors congregated in the different houses around over the neighborhood We sit there in a little old room, and it got so dark that you couldn’t see your hand before your face, you couldn’t see anybody in the room. You could turn on an electric light bulb, a good, strong electric light bulb in a little room and that electric light bulb hanging in the room looked just about like a cigarette burning. And that was all the light that you could get out of it.
And so we got to talking to, you know, and a lot of the people in the crowd that was religious-minded and they was up pretty well on their scriptures, and they said ”Well, boys, girls, friends and relatives, this is the end. This is the end of the world.” And everybody just said, ”Well, so long, it’s been good to know you.” I made up a little song there — kind of one of my own making. It’s called ”So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You . . .”
(Sings ”So Long It’s Been Good To Know You.”)
LOMAX: Thank you very much, Mr. Guthrie.
GUTHRIE: Thank you, Mr. Lomax.
LOMAX: This record was made on March the twenty-first, 1940. Alan Lomax speaking.