Rich in content about music and recording,Guthrie writes to his music producer Moses Asch from aboard the Merchant Marine vessel SS Sea Porpoise four days after the D-Day invasion at Normandy by the Allied forces. In part, "... a big poker game is going and Cisco [Houston, singer-song writer] is fifty ahead. He is thinking of giving up the guitar and to be a slick finger gambler. Our guitars, fiddles, mandolins are fine, somewhat primed with sea water, yet they make noise. It is similar to music. " He notes the significance of D-Day and expresses optimism about the end of World War II. "Invasion Day was the best news in many years but there are even bigger days coming as we close in on Berlin...." He changes direction back to music and asks Asch about the recording business. "How's things with the records? I suppose you have enough on hand...check them very carefully and criticize them pretty close. Me, I think I've got some of our nation's best where Sonny [Terry, blues and folk musician known for his blues harmonica] is there. Lots of musicians could do them better but they haven't yet. I feel we should do some ten and fifteen minute records to dish out to radio stations...If no dough at least it will be publicity...When albums or single records are ready for release I'll be glad to write some piece which I will leave with you...I would travel a half a day if need be to hear one of our records on a juke box. But hoping of course a feller won't have to travel so far...Hel, the last place on earth I expected our records to sell was upper New York State...How goes things with Burl? [likely Burl Ives, folk singer and actor]. Have you done his album a ninth time yet? How goes the world with my chief critic Mr. Tom Glazer? [folk singer and song writer]. I like Tom. I got off wrong that night when we argued. I was too tired to sing and didn't want to preach...We've found several good singers and guitar pickers...I'd still like to meet that Railroad worker that sings like Jimmy Rogers [country singer and yodeler]..." Guthrie ends noting that he has to write to his wife and baby. He signs in the lower right on both sides of the letter, "Woody." Rare in content on music, the recording business and contemporary folk singers. Condition: Damp stain along one fold on text on both sides, writing is legible; envelope also bears damp stain and easily legible.
To avoid being drafted into the Army as a soldier, Woody Guthrie, along with his friends and fellow folk musicians Cisco Houston and Jimmy Longhi, joined the Merchant Marines in 1943. In 1944, they were aboard the Sea Porpoise which took troops across the Atlantic for the D-Day Invasion. The ship was torpedoed off Utah Beach on July 5, 1944, but was able to get to Britain to be repaired. Guthrie returned to the U.S. later in July of 1944. [See: Ronald D. Cohen, Woody Guthrie: Writing America's Song.] Guthrie writes, in this letter, “Invasion Day was the best news in many years….” The postmark and address on the letter require some explanation. This letter is postmarked Belfast, 15 June 1944. After D-Day the ship was sent to Newcastle for repair, but before D-Day the ship was in Liverpool, then Belfast before heading down to Normandy for the invasion. This letter was written and sent after the invasion, but nevertheless postmarked Belfast. Wikipedia reports that Guthrie married and moved to Mermaid Avenue after his discharge in 1945 from the US Army, but this 1944 letter notes a return address of Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, clearly earlier. His wife might have been there before his arrival home, and that is where he planned to live upon his return. While Guthrie was home in New York at one point during his time in the Merchant Marines, he met Moses Asch, to whom he wrote our letter. According to Karen Mueller Coombs in her "Woody Guthrie: America’s Folk Singer," “Beginning on April 16, 1944, Woody – joined off and on by Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, Leadbelly, and Alan Lomax’s sister, Bess – recorded one hundred thirty-two songs for Asch. During the last session, Woody threw in This Land Is Your Land, probably the first time he had sung it since writing it in his New York hotel room four years earlier.” Guthrie writes this letter to Moses Asch, and to all in the studio starting his letter, “Hello folks,” a short time after meeting them and recording with them. All of the people he mentions in the letter, Sonny Terry, Burl Ives, Tom Glazer, each recorded with Asch. Guthrie collaborated with many of them on recordings for Asch and his Folkways Records (Asch from 1939-1947, then Folkways). He recorded with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee on a number of songs as well as Cisco Houston alone and with Sonny Terry. Burl Ives sang with the Almanac Players at times and in 1944 recorded with Asch, but later went to Decca and Columbia. The Almanac Players were a loose knit group who performed anti-fascist and folk songs in New York. All of these people and more performed at various times with the Almanac Players, including Tom Glazer.