This is one of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs, and also one of the mysteries of my life on the folk scene, because… why do people keep saying it’s a kids’ song? Haven’t they read Woody’s books and looked at his drawings? Don’t they know a love song when they hear it?
I must have first heard this on Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome LP, since that was the first recording of it. That album came out in 1963, and Pete published it in Sing Out! magazine around the same time, along with five other previously unknown compositions from Woody’s huge horde of unpublished tapes and jottings. As Pete explained in the accompanying article, a New York publisher had gotten excited when the Weavers got a hit with “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” (the romantic revision of Woody’s old dust bowl ballad, rewritten by Woody himself in hopes of getting a hit), and asked Woody if he had any more songs. Woody said yes, the publisher gave him a tape machine, Woody spent a few weeks singing into it, and when Pete heard the tapes he recalled being “thunderstruck to find sixty or seventy songs among them that I had never seen before in my life.”
This was one of them, and Pete introduced it at Carnegie Hall as a song Woody had written for his kids — which I suppose I have to believe, since Pete knew Woody and Woody’s quirks a hell of a lot better than I do… but on the other hand, Pete was an enthusiastic father and a one-woman man, while Woody was an enthusiastic father with a lot of other enthusiasms, including pretty much every pretty woman who crossed his path. Which is not to say Woody wouldn’t have sung this song for kids — I’m sure he did, and I’m sure they loved it. I’m just guessing he sang it in some other situations as well, with equal success.
Anyway, I recorded this on my LP back in the 1980s, with the result that a local record company asked if I wanted to do a children’s album… which I didn’t, because when I was a kid I liked cowboy songs, sea shanties, and murder ballads, and that wasn’t what he had in mind. He was thinking of other songs like this — and as far as I’m concerned, there aren’t any. It’s unique, and one of Woody’s masterpieces.