There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” is a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon…Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico…

A decade later, Guthrie’s poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman. Shortly after, folk singer Pete Seeger, a friend of Woody Guthrie, began performing the song at concerts, and it was Seeger’s rendition that popularized the song…

“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” has been described by journalist Joe Klein as “the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants ‘all scattered like dry leaves’ in Los Gatos Canyon.” The song has been recorded many times, often under a variety of other titles, including “Deportees”, “Ballad of the Deportees”, “Deportee Song”, “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” and “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)”.  (from Wikipedia- a great online resource-donate!)

I remember when I first sang this song: it was 1969 and a group of long-haired students from the college I was attending (after a fashion) carted their guitars from Belfast to the beach at Bangor, County Down. We had been asked to provide the “entertainment” for the occasion. This was my contribution. I knew the chords and remembered almost all of the lyrics- which I made up for by repeating the chorus more times than strictly necessary. Hey ho.

In our wee group, Sam the Man sings the verses and I chime in on the choruses. With Jim on mandolin and Mark weaving harmony magic on fiddle, this is one of our better arrangements.

But Lockdown Rules specify ( yes, I wrote the rules) that since Sam ain’t here, I get to do the vocal. This is nothing like the way we do it. Courtesy of Band-in-a-Box, this version features two session guitarist big guns, Brent Mason and Jason Roller, who take pride of place in the arrangement. I don’t double up in the chorus as I want to give full access to the great playing of these guys. I hope my rendition here is a bit better than the effort on Bangor beach fifty years ago…


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