Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Woody Guthrie on KFVD

Woody Guthrie traveled a lot for work. In 1938 he went to Redding, California to work on the Kenneth Dam. He was not alone. In his own words:
"In a bend of the Sacramento is the town of Redding,California. The word had scattered out that twenty-five hundred workers was needed to build the Kenneth Dam, and already eight thousand work hands had come to do the job... I fell off of the freight with my guitar over my shoulder and asked a guy when the work was going to start. He said it was supposed to get going last month. Telegram hadn't come from Washington yet."
That dam if it ever existed, even on paper was never built. Woody headed south to Los Angeles and managed to get a daily radio show on 1000 KFVD-AM. He was trying to save up money to bring his wife and child to LA to live with him. It was a time in which the west coast as very country. The Saddle Tramps were on KFOX, The Saddle Pals were on KMPC, Sons of the Pioneers were on KRKD and both Sutart Hamblen and Roy Rogers were stars. Woody and his cousin Jack auditioned for Frank Burke Jr. who gave them a daily 15-minute slot at 8:00 AM. It was early enough they could still fit in a days labor after the gig. It was called the Oklahoma and Woody Show. More here.

Maxine Crissman guested on a couple shows and when jack left to work, she became the other half of the duo. She picked up the stage name Lefty Lou and it became the Woody and Lefty Lou Show in 1937. It did well enough He was able to bring his family to LA that year. They managed to pick up a couple extra gigs together on KIEV-AM in Glendale, and the program was extended from 15 minutes to half an hour then they added an 11pm show. Then Mrs. Guthrie decided that there was a little hanky panky between Lefty Lou and Guthrie.

They performed on KFVD until 1938 when a big offer came to move the program to 1010 XELO-AM in Tijuana. The deal included a big raise, a longer program and creative control. It was a border blaster and sent Woody's program across the Midwest and into Canada. They got an invitation to play the Big Barn Dance on WLS, then it fell apart. They had a big fight with the Mexican police and Woody was briefly arrested. The WLS invite was lost. The owner of XELO left town owing them money. So they went back to KVFD, but Maxine fell ill and had difficulty performing. The show fizzled out and Woody left for New York in 1939. Woody didn't perform again on radio until Alan Lomax put him on his CBS "Folk School on the Air" show.