Songwriter Billy Ed Wheeler was born December 9, 1932 in Whitesville, West Virginia. While he is best know for writing the song “Jackson” (which won Johnny and June Carter Cash a Grammy for best duet in 1967), Wheeler’s song “Coal Tattoo” has been recorded by dozens of musicians ranging from the Kingston Trio to Kathy Mattea. As a result, “Coal Tattoo” has become a classic coal mining song. This song tells the story of the millions of mining families that left the Appalachian region during the 1960s to look for work in the factories of the Midwest. Scroll down for additional versions of the song by Kathy Mattea and fellow Hazel Dickens. Coal Tattoo by Billy Ed Wheeler: Kathy Mattea: Hazel Dickens:
Max Boyce is a songwriter and humorist from the former mining community of Glynneath, Wales. His song “Duw, It’s Hard” reminds us that “the pithead baths are supermarkets now”. This well-known performer made a cameo appearance at the Glynneath Rugby Club during a 2016 concert to celebrate the Welsh and Appalachian exchange. As he performed this song, the entire audience sang along, demonstrating the strength of the mining heritage in South Wales. This video clip was recorded at the historic miners’ institute in Treorchy, Wales
As the days shorten, this music Monday post features a classic Appalachian mining song about lack of light. Dark as a Dungeon has been covered by many country artists, including Johnny Cash. This 1951 recording features Kentucky songwriter Merle Travis performing one of the songs that made him famous. Scroll down for a version performed by the man in black. Merle Travis, Dark as a Dungeon Johnny Cash Dark as a Dungeon
Durham miner Ed Pickford wrote this song, which laments the demise of the coal industry in the UK. The chorus provides shout outs to all of the major coal mining regions throughout Great Britain and is a great sing along. The first version below is by the Portland, Oregon based group Press Gang. The following version is performed by Bill Elliot and Kevin Youldon in the Hetton Silver Band Hall, part of the Beamish Museum in England’s northeast coalfields. Press gang: Bill Elliot and Kevin Youldon:
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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