Recent Work

Title: Live Wire
Woody Guthrie Live in Performance 1949
Label: Woody Guthrie Publications
Street Date: September 2007


In 2001, The Woody Guthrie Archives received two tiny spools of wire recordings from a live Woody Guthrie performance held in Newark, New Jersey in 1949. With the help of many talented recording engineers, the Woody Guthrie Foundation transferred this rare live performance from a delicate wire recording to digital audio, and, with state-of-the-art technology, restored it to near-perfection. This is one of the most significant recent finds in folk music history.

"It looks wonderful! Really warms my heart. Really. I can't think of any other production we've ever done that is this special... intimate, informative, beautiful. It's a complete meal!

Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie Archives

For portfolio shots of the book taken by Bradly Brown, go to page 2.

In the Spring of 2005, I received a lead to contact the Woody Guthrie Archives about doing a special box set. Nora Guthrie had seen my work on the Goodbye, Babylon set at Airshow Mastering, and Ann Blonston recommended me and put me in touch with them. I met with Nora and Archivist Jorge Mateus Arevalo at their office on 57th and Broadway in Manhattan. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest I was so excited and nervous. Nora was just as excited as I was, she had never heard her father live in a show setting before and she was stoked about the historical implications of the newly discovered recordings. She and Jorge had lofty ideas for the package. But Nora already had two projects in the works with the Klezmatics, and she was working on a book showcasing Woody's Artworks. So it actually took quite awhile to get to the wires. Nora sent scans of Woody's lyric sheets and photos of Woody, including some from her private family collection so I could familiarize myself with the material at hand. We discussed several different options for framing the material and finally came up with the book format with a pocket on the inside cover for the cd and standalone sleeve.

one of Woody's original lyric sheets

the back of a wire spool

Marjorie, at center, with Woody at her right, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (cowboy hat)

I asked Bradly Brown, a photographer I had been working with at Table of The Elements, to shoot the wire spools for me. The spools are about 2 1/2" in size, and the wire itself is very fragile. They came in small khaki green boxes. Nora decided she wanted the colors of the book to reflect the colors of the wire spools and the box, especially the powder blue of the tape and the magenta of the wire leader. She wanted to avoid the 'stereotypical" image of Woody in khaki and flannel.

She also had a great photo of her mother that she was interested in using as an anchor for the set. The relationship between her mother Marjorie and Woody was very important to Nora. Her mother was pregnant with her when this recording was made, and it was through these recordings that she was able to hear evidence of the dynamics of her parents' marital relationship.

Nora refers to the project as miraculous, because these recordings just showed up at the Archive's door. In another miraculous circumstance, the producers of a documentary about the Music Inn, in Lenox, Mass, contacted the Archives to get permission to use images they had found of Woody at a performance in 1951, only about a year and a half after the wire recording. They reached an agreement to trade use of the photos for our book and their film. The only problem for our production was that the photographic evidence was a series of contact sheets, with images only 1 inch tall. We decided to use the degraded imagery and capitalize on the "documentary" feeling by blowing the tiny shots up big. Along with never-before-heard sound, we had never-before-seen photos of Woody playing. Woody was joined at the event by Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, and the Reverend Gary Davis.

Woody from the Music Inn contact sheet

My favorite shot from the Music Inn, not used in book (check her shoes!)
The final design element I incorporated was the type given to me by Richard Kegler at P22 Type Foundry. One of Woody's first ways of making money was as a sign painter, and I wanted an old-fashioned broadside look. I asked Kegler about digital type with a letterpress feel, and he said that he was currently working on making digital type from a letterpress he worked with in Buffalo -- Paradise Press -- part of the Western NY Book Arts Collaborative, which Richard has an interest in. He sent me sheets that he had pulled from Paradise's press, and i scanned them and 'set' the letters for my titling in Photoshop. I also used P22's Typewriter font, as Woody was a prolific typist, covering the Guthries' Mermaid Avenue apartment with sheets and sheets of journal entries, lists, stories, instructions, and poems as well as his song lyrics.

One of the few complaints I hear about the special box sets that I've worked on is that they aren't portable, it's too much trouble to take the music with you, because the boxes are so big.... With this set, I wanted to devise a system so the cd would be in its own durable sleeve. I've heard complaints about the vellum sleeves in the Ayler set, so I used vellum for the pocket, and card stock for the sleeve.

For portfolio shots of the book taken by Bradly Brown, go to page 2. You can see my pocket and sleeve solution.

Aside from the people I have mentioned above, I have to thank Jeff Hunt for hue, tint, and brightness advice, but mainly Nora for being a super client and a totally supportive artistic liaison. Her passion drove the whole process, and I will always be grateful to her for inviting me to collaborate on such a great project.


For more information:
Woody Guthrie Archives
Woody Guthrie Artworks
Bradly Brown, Photographer
P22 Fonts
Western NY Book Arts Collaborative