Deportee – Woody Guthrie

Lyrics by Woody Guthrie; music by Martin Hoffman.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

The crash on January 29, 1948 killed 28 Mexican farm workers who were being deported, and 4 Americans who were flight crew and security. News coverage gave the names of the Americans, but never identified any of the Mexicans.

The performance is by Arlo Guthrie & Emmylou Harris, and was recorded for the 1988 Woody Guthrie/Leadbelly tribute video A Vision Shared.

Another version by Joan Baez & Bob Dylan (1976).

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.” — Copyright notice on a songbook Guthrie distributed in the 1930s (see).

3 Responses to “Deportee – Woody Guthrie”


  • I have a deep and abiding love for Woody. He’s one of my personal heroes; no matter how hard I try, though, I’ll never measure up to the standard he set.

    My alltime favorite Woody Guthrie story comes from the time he was in the Merchant Marines. He was serving on a ship in the Atlantic, transporting soldiers over to the European theatre. On a break between shifts (he served food), he went below decks to play some music for the men on board. When he got down there, a sea of all white faces greeted him, despite the fact that the ship was carrying both black and white soldiers. Some gentle questioning on his part revealed that the black soldiers were being quartered in the toilets, to save the white soldiers from the indignity of race mixing.

    Well, Woody spent a little time tuning up his guitar, then wandered around the ship a bit before he started playing. He oh so casually wandered into the bathrooms, tuned up his guitar a bit, and declared loud enough for all to hear that the acoustics in the bathroom were just absolutely perfect, so that’s where he would play.

    After about five minutes or so of him playing, the white soldiers all left their quarters and joined the black soldiers in the bathrooms, where much dancing and carousing ensued. Questions of race were forgotten, at least for an evening.

    If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never show the grace Woody Guthrie could show.

  • I’d never known much of anything about him until recently. I didn’t even know this song was by him until years after I first heard it, but it’s been a favorite of mine for a long time.

    Grace is the word.

  • The Uncanny Canadian

    It’s sometimes so sad how poorly schooled we are in music history. My first encounter with the poetry of Woody Guthrie was via the songs of Mermaid Avenue, and that was only because I’m suck a Wilco freak. But this song is truly sublime.

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