Artist & Tune
About the Song
This is Woody's take on the story of Jesus - describing him as an organizer of the poor and workers - just as Ewan MacColl did in "Ballad of the Carpenter". On an early dated version of the manuscript for this song, Woody wrote:
“I wrote this song looking out of a rooming house window in New York City in the winter of 1940. I saw how the poor folks lived, and then I saw how the rich folks lived, and the poor folks down and out and cold and hungry, and the rich ones out drinking good whiskey and celebrating and wasting handfuls of money at gambling and women, and I got to thinking about what Jesus said, and what if He was to walk into New York City and preach like he use to. They’d lock Him back in Jail as sure as you’re reading this. ‘Even as you’ve done it unto the least of these little ones, you have done it unto me.'”
- Woody's original studio recording was made in January 1945 by Mo Asch. This was released by Folkways on LP in 1961 as "This Land Is Your Land: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1" (re-released on CD in 1997).
- The 2nd version was released on "Bound for Glory" by Folkways Records in 1956.
- The 2nd of Woody's recordings is a much more informal one of unknown date.
- Cisco Houston recorded the song in 1961.
- Arlo performed his dad's song live in 1968 with Dylan & others singing backup on choruses. He also recorded it in 1972 for "A Tribute to Arlo Guthrie Part Two"
- The bootleg recording of Dylan below was made in 1960 when Dylan was 19.
- I have not as yet been able to date Merle Haggard's recording.
- U2 recorded the song in 1988 for the Folkways album "A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly"
Discography of covers on Second Hand Songs: https://secondhandsongs.com/performance/969121
Blogpost on Sing Out! website by Ken Bigger: https://singout.org/they-would-lay-jesus-christ-in-his-grave/