This past Saturday would've been Woody Guthrie's one hundredth birthday and his very oldest known recordings, made in Los Angeles, were released last week by Smithsonian Folkways. LA Weekly reports that the four songs--"I Ain't Got No Home," "Them Big City Ways," "Do Re Mi," and "Skid Row Serenade"--were believed to have been recorded in 1939, in Guthrie's last year in LA ("Them Big City Ways" and "Skid Row Serenade" were never recorded again). Hear the songs right here. Nevada State College history professor Peter La Chapelle dug up the records more than a decade ago, with help from Silver Lake gay rights icon Harry Hay (who founded the Mattachine Society)--"Hay told La Chapelle that he obtained some Guthrie recordings during the 1930s and used to play them at left-wing cocktail parties, but that he had donated them to the Southern California Library. After a little digging, La Chapelle found them; the library had no idea what it was sitting on. Hay died of lung cancer three years later." Guthrie lived in LA from 1937 to 1940 and is said to have spent part of that time crashing in a house on Preston Avenue in Echo Park.
In "Them Big City Ways," Guthrie sings about an Okie coming out to (and being beaten down by) LA; "I Ain't Got No Home" is about an itinerant worker; "Do Re Mi" explains that California is a paradise, "But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot/If you ain't got the do re mi"; and "Skid Row Serenade" is more or less self-explanatory (with turns to the delightfully vicious: "My senator sent me down on the Skid Row/I thought he was tops, but he's rotten as the crops/and as filthy as the flops on the Skid Row.")
For the audiophiles in the crowd, the songs "had orange labels and were pressed onto double-sided 'Presto' discs, 10-inch, lacquer-covered aluminum records, which run at 78 rpm, and which were used by radio stations of the era to record and archive broadcasts." The recordings come with the badass box set Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection. Guthrie and Maxine "Lefty Lou" Dempsey via Woody100
· Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles [LAW]