Music Monday: Big Bad John

This Music Monday we feature a 1961 hit from Jimmy Dean, a Texas born singer radio host, and actor. Although he had no direct connection to coal mining, Dean played a role in promoting the image of the miner who would sacrifice his life to save his comrades. Big Bad John was a crossover hit from country to rock and roll and scored number one on the billboard charts in the US (and number 2 on the UK singles charts).

As an interesting side note, Jimmy Dean later became famous as the spokesman for the sausage family he founded with his brother in 1969. These commercials were resurrected after he died in 2010.

Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean

Music Monday: Black Waters

This Music Monday we feature an original song by Kentucky songwriter Jean Ritchie. She wrote Black Waters as a response to strip mining she witnessed near the home she grew up in Viper, Kentucky. At the time, she was worried that no one would take a woman’s word seriously about an issue as serious as strip mining . As a result, she credited Than Hall (the name of her maternal grandfather) as the songwriter for Black Waters.

Ironically, many of the leaders of eastern Kentucky’s anti-strip mining movement during the 1960s were women who adopted Black Waters as one of their anthems. The song is still relevant today and has been covered by numerous country, folk and bluegrass musicians. Scroll down for Jean Ritchie’s version, followed by a newer version by country artist Kathy Mattea

Black Waters Jean Ritchie

Black Waters Kathy Mattea

Film Clip Friday: Miners’ Hymns

This film Clip Friday we feature a 2010 film commissioned by The British Film Institute (BFI). The BFI invited American Filmmaker Bill Morrison to sort through their archives of coal mining films. Morrison then collaborated with Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson to create a soundtrack that helps provide a dramatic structure for the film. The Miners’ Hymns uses historic footage to illustrate the history of mining in the coalfields around Durham England. While the film has received plenty of critical acclaim, it has not been widely distributed.

The Miners’ Hymns by Bill Morrisson

Music Monday: Nine Pound Hammer

For this week’s Music Monday post, we feature legendary Kentucky guitarist Merle Travis performing his arrangement of the traditional song “Nine Pound Hammer”.

Travis’s version of “Nine Pound Hammer” shares verses with the song “Take This Hammer”. Folklorists trace the roots of this song to African American work songs sung by sharecroppers and railroad workers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Versions have been recorded by blues musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt and Taj Mahal as well as blue grass musician such as Bill Monroe. Travis adapted Nine Pound Hammer to reflect his roots in a coal mining community. The following video clip features Travis performing the song in 1951.

Merle Travis, Nine Pound Hammer

Film Clip Friday: Coal Miner’s Daughter

This Film Clip Friday we feature Coal Miner’s Daughter, director Michael Apted’s feature film based on the life country singer Loretta Lynn. The film was released March 7, 1980. Much of the film was shot on location in the eastern Kentucky coalfields that were home to Loretta Lynn, and actress Sissy Spacek won the academy award for her portrayal of the country superstar.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: “What’s refreshing about “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is that it takes the basic material (rags to riches, overnight success, the onstage breakdown, and, of course, the big comeback) and relates them in wonderfully human terms. It’s fresh and immediate.” A trailer for the film is featured below:

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Music Monday: 42 Years

This week’s Music Monday post features Appalachian coal miner, ballad singer, and trade unionist Nimrod Workman performing an original ballad titled “42 Years.” The song describes Workman’s career in the coal mines, including his struggles with black lung disease. This clip is from Barbara Kopple’s documentary Harlan County, USA, but the original sound recording of Nimrod workman singing 42 Years was released on June Appal records in 1974 and a film about his life was released by Appalshop films the following year.

Nimrod Workman, 42 years

Film Clip Friday: Dal Profondo

This week’s Film Clip Friday post features Italian director Valentina Pedicini’s 2013 documentary Dal Profondo, which loosely translates to “From the Deep” in English.
Pedicini’s award winning film explores one of Italy’s last coal mines where 150 men and one woman (Italy’s only female miner) work in increasingly difficult conditions. In a dramatic twist, the miners all band together to protest the imminent closing of the mine. This documentary received awards from several major European film festivals, but has not been widely distributed in the US.

Dal Profondo by Valentina Pedicini

Dal Profondo – Trailer from Jakob Stark on Vimeo.

Music Monday: Buffalo Creek

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Buffalo Creek flood. In this video, West Virginia musicians Mike and Carrie Kline perform the song “Buffalo Creek” by Ruth Baker and Doug Yarrow in the Baker family Kitchen. The lyrics describe the tragic flood of February 26, 1972 that killed 125 people and left more than 4000 people homeless in Logan County West Virginia. Three coal waste dams owned by Pittston coal company failed. Although the company reached a legal settlement with survivors, no new laws were passed to regulate coal waste impoundments, and today hundreds of coal waste impoundments still threaten Appalachian coalfield communities.

Buffalo Creek performed by Mike and Carrie Kline

Film Clip Friday: The Buffalo Creek Flood (1975)

For Film Clip Friday, we feature director Mimi Pickering’s documentary The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man. This 1975 film examines a mine waste disaster that took place on February 26, 1972.

This award winning documentary tells the story of a failed coal waste impoundment in Logan County, West Virginia. After several days of heavy rain, three coal waste dams at the head of Buffalo Creek broke and the resulting flood killed 125 people and left more than 4,000 homeless.

After the disaster, a grassroots effort pushed for new laws to regulate coal waste impoundments. Unfortunately, no laws were passed in the wake of this disaster. Today hundreds of coal waste impoundments still threaten Appalachian coalfield communities.

The complete film, as well as a sequel titled Buffalo Creek Revisited, is available from Appalshop Films

Excerpt from The Buffalo Creek: An Act of Man

Music Monday: The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore

The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore may be one of Kentucky folk musician Jean Ritchie’s most popular songs. This tune has been recorded by country music giants including Kathy Mattea and Johnny Cash. When Ritchie released the song in 1965, coal employment was in steep decline in her native Perry County, Kentucky. The L & N is short for the Louisville and Nashville railroad, which was built to take coal from eastern Kentucky to ports along the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.

Here is a rare live video of Jean Ritchie performing The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore at the Hindman Settlement School’s family folk week. She is accompanied by fiddler Art Stamper and guitarist Sonny Houston.

Scroll down to hear additional versions of The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore from Kathy Mattea and Marty Stuart.

Jean Ritchie, The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore

Kathy Mattea, The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore

Marty Stuart, The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore