Protest Poetry: Sixteen Tons

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Protest Poetry: Sixteen Tons

Origin of the LyricsMany of the song's original lyrics by Merle Travis stem from quotes by his family that involved the desolate mining conditions at the time. For example, the phrase “You load sixteen tons and what do you get?another day older and deeper in debt” was taken from a letter written to Merle by his brother, who was serving in WWII at the time and likened it to working in the coal mines. The last line of the chorus is a phrase used by Merle's father, jokingly saying that due to the consatnt debt he was in, that "I can't die. I owe my soul to the company store."

Story of Sixteen Tons:1. In 1946, a country singer by the name of Merle Travis produced an album of four disks during a deal with Capitol Records of folk songs that often focused on life in the coal mines of Muhlenberg County, where his father once worked.2. This version was released by Capitol Records in 1947, but ended up not recieving much notoriety, so Travis continued on with his music career.3. Ernest “Ernie” Ford of Bristol, Tennessee knew the “Sixteen Tons” song from working with Merle Travis who had appeared on Hometown Jamboree. Ford’s grandfather and uncle had also worked in the mines. In early 1955, Ford did a version of “Sixteen Tons” on television. 4. Within five days, the song exploded in popularity, and Ford had multiple requests to record the song in many albums, beginning with two-sided single disk released in 1955.5. Though Sixteen Tons was mostly remembered for its sharp contrast to most other songs at the time, it did, in part, bring the plight of miners more into the public eye at the time.

Sixteen tons is a song about a coal miner frustrated with his inability to get anywhere in his job. The song itself is based on real-life situations in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and is a protest statement about the ramped-up prices used at company stores to keep miners in debt to ensure that they would keep working.Travis found himself motivated in some ways by these conditions and the large impact they had on his childhood when his father became a coal miner.

Protest Poetry: Sixteen Tons

Song Lyrics1. Some people say a man is made outta' mud/A poor man's made outta' muscle and blood/Muscle and blood and skin and bones/A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong/You load sixteen tons, what do you get?/Another day older and deeper in debt/Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go/I owe my soul to the company store2. I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shineI picked up my shovel and I walked to the mineI loaded sixteen tons of number 9 coalAnd the store boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"3. If you see me comin', better step aside/A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died/One fist of iron, the other of steel/If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will


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