Music Monday: Working In A Coal Mine

This lively melody from New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint makes the difficult conditions underground sound almost fun. The song was included in Elizabeth Barrett’s award winning film Coal Mining Women (Appalshop films, 1981) and has been covered by musicians ranging from soul and funk artist Lee Dorsey to the post punk band Devo.

Scroll down to see live versions of the song from Toussaint and Devo.

Allen Toussaint Working in a Coal Mine

Devo Working in a Coal Mine

Music Monday: Pound a Week Rise

This folk song by Durham miner Ed Pickford voices the concerns of coal miners in the United Kingdom during the nineteen sixties. During this period competition from oil reduced coal’s share of global energy markets. Lord Robens, the head of the National Coal Board from 1961 to 1971, made several controversial decisions that resulted in a steady loss of coal jobs. Miner Ed Pickford shared his memories of those difficult times in this song.

This video features a new arrangement by the accapella group Wee Heavies.

Wee Heavies, Pound A Week Rise:

After Coal Book Launch

The After Coal Book officially launches today, and we invite you to order your copy from West Virginia University Press.


After Coal focuses on coalfield residents who are working to build a diverse and sustainable economy after mining jobs have disappeared. It tells the story of four decades of exchange between mining communities in Wales and Appalachia, and profiles individuals and organizations that are undertaking the critical work of regeneration.

Publishers Weekly notes that “Hansell promises no easy answers, but his optimistic work showcases multiple community-building efforts.”

Denise Giardina, author of six novels, including Storming Heaven, says After Coal is “a badly needed analysis of the situation where post-coal Appalachia finds itself. Books like Hansell’s are necessary to help the region move forward.”

We hope that our book can support local efforts to create healthy communities in former mining regions in Appalachia, Wales, and around the world.

Music Monday: Better You Find My Devil, Lord

Today’s Music Monday post is about the power of human voices singing together. This song by Kentucky native Justin Taylor was recorded during a performance of the Higher Ground of Harlan County theater group in 2013. The multitude of voices in this intergenerational, interracial choir adds strength to Taylor’s moving song.

Although not specifically a coal mining song, Taylor wrote the song to reflect on the impact of prescription drug and opioid abuse in coalfield communities such as Harlan County, Kentucky.

Justin Taylor: Better You Find My Devil, Lord

Better You Find My Devil, Lord from AfterCoal on Vimeo.

Salt of the Earth Chris King

Songwriter Chris King is from the former coal mining community of Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales. He wrote Salt of the Earth to honor his grandfather, Bill King, a Welsh coal miner who became a union leader. This music video is illustrated with footage from the historic 1984- 1985 miners’ strike recorded by After Coal project advisor Richard Davies. The end of the video features Bill King speaking to miners from the Merthyr Tydfil Lodge during the 1984 national miners’ strike.

In 2016, Chris King came to Kentucky and performed Salt of the Earth at Appalshop’s Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival and in the Kentucky Theater in Lexington. The story of the Welsh / Appalachian music exchange is featured in the After Coal book, now available via West Virginia University Press.

Music Monday: Sixteen Tons

Sixteen Tons is a classic coal mining song was written by Kentucky musician Merle Travis. Capitol Records released the song in 1947, and it quickly became a gold record. A recording by Tennessee Ernie Ford shot to number one on the Billboard charts in 1955.

Since then, Sixteen Tons has been recorded by thousands of musicians. Today we are sharing three different versions of the song. Scroll down to watch Merle Travis’ original version of the song, followed by a version by Tennessee Ernie Ford and an unique recording of ZZ top and Jeff Beck performing Sixteen Tons at a benefit for trade unions in 2016.

Merle Travis Sixteen Tons

Tennessee Ernie Ford Sixteen Tons

ZZ Top w. Jeff Beck Sixteen Tons

Music Monday: The Bells of Rhymney

The Bells of Rhymney is based on a poem by Welsh coal miner and author Idris Davies. American folk singer Pete Seeger turned the poem, originally titled Gwalia Deserta, into a song. Davis wrote that the poem was inspired by two major events in the Welsh coalfields: The Senghenydd disaster, and the 1926 general strike. The lyrics highlight the difficult and dangerous conditions that faced Welsh miners during the early twentieth century.

The Byrds made the song into a folk rock hit in 1965. Scroll down to compare their version with the original version from Pete Seeger and a version from The Alarm, a group from Wales during the 1980s

The Byrds:

Pete Seeger:

The Alarm:

Music Monday: Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole sounds like a traditional union anthem, but the song was written by filmmaker John Sayles and composer Mason Daring for the film Matewan (1987). West Virginia musician Hazel Dickens performed the song for the movie. Recently, Kentucky songwriter Brett Ratliff adapted the song to reflect present day struggles for working people. Here are video clips of two impressive versions of this vibrant song:

Hazel Dickens:

Brett Ratliff:

Tunes Tuesday: Blackleg Miner

Blackleg Miner is a traditional song from the northeast of England. Most folklorists trace the songs’ origin to nineteenth century labor battles. More recently, the song was performed to support the National Union of Mineworkers during their historic 1984-1985 strike. The video clip below features miners’ wife Lynn Dennett performing her version for the 1990 documentary From The Shadows of Power, directed by Jean Donohue. An excerpt of her song was included in soundtrack of the After Coal documentary, and the lyrics appear in the After Coal book. Scroll down for other versions of this traditional song performed by Richard Thompson as well as The Decembrists.

Black Leg Miner from AfterCoal on Vimeo.

Richard Thompson

Offa Rex (members of The Decemberists)

Music Monday: When Coal Was King

This song is part of the soundtrack of the After Coal documentary. It is an original tune from Foddershock, a self described “dysfunctional folk rock band” from Dickenson County, Virginia — where coal was king for most of the twentieth century. When Coal Was King is a nostalgic look back at the 1970s coal boom, when thousands of union miners worked in southwest Virginia.

This music video was recorded live at Wiley’s Last Resort on top of Pine Mountain in Letcher County, Kentucky on July 20, 2014.

When Coal Was King from Tom Hansell on Vimeo.