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Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)

DigiTrad:
SIXTEEN TONS


Related threads:
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Lyr Req: Sixteen Stone (10) (closed)


Rick Fielding 30 Jul 01 - 11:43 AM
Mark Clark 30 Jul 01 - 12:20 PM
Mrrzy 30 Jul 01 - 12:37 PM
Don Firth 30 Jul 01 - 01:14 PM
Rick Fielding 30 Jul 01 - 02:18 PM
Jeri 30 Jul 01 - 03:18 PM
M.Ted 30 Jul 01 - 03:52 PM
Pinetop Slim 30 Jul 01 - 05:59 PM
Joe Offer 30 Jul 01 - 07:10 PM
Art Thieme 30 Jul 01 - 07:55 PM
Stewie 30 Jul 01 - 08:19 PM
Rick Fielding 31 Jul 01 - 01:18 AM
Joe Offer 09 Oct 07 - 05:15 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 09 Oct 07 - 05:33 PM
Joe Offer 09 Oct 07 - 05:39 PM
GUEST,Texas Guest 09 Oct 07 - 06:11 PM
GUEST,Frank Lee 09 Oct 07 - 06:28 PM
catspaw49 09 Oct 07 - 06:52 PM
Deckman 09 Oct 07 - 07:28 PM
Barbara Shaw 09 Oct 07 - 08:00 PM
Bobert 09 Oct 07 - 08:07 PM
frogprince 09 Oct 07 - 10:00 PM
GUEST,Texas Guest 10 Oct 07 - 01:03 AM
catspaw49 10 Oct 07 - 01:54 AM
Joe Offer 10 Oct 07 - 04:49 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 12 Oct 07 - 03:00 AM
catspaw49 12 Oct 07 - 03:42 AM
GUEST,jim gillson 17 Nov 07 - 05:52 PM
Stringsinger 17 Nov 07 - 06:04 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 17 Nov 07 - 06:37 PM
Effsee 17 Nov 07 - 09:40 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 17 Nov 07 - 10:16 PM
Effsee 17 Nov 07 - 10:41 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 17 Nov 07 - 11:43 PM
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Dirty Dee 07 Dec 07 - 12:14 PM
Jim Dixon 10 Jan 08 - 07:52 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Jan 08 - 08:37 PM
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Subject: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 11:43 AM

Boy, I'm gonna have to go back a long ways for this, so excuse me if some of the details are fuzzy.

Most catters will know how much I revere Merle Travis. As a matter of fact, a video I saw recently (of him from the forties) has confirmed in my mind that he may have been the most NATURALLY talented rural acoustic musician I've ever seen.

I had always assumed that "16 Tons" was his composition, from beginning to end, til I was loaned a Folkways album by George Davis "The singing miner of Hazard Kentucky".

Davis (and many of his friends agreed) claimed to have written the original, as "Twenty One Tons" and said he'd been singing it long before Travis' re-write. It's in a major key, and Davis is certainly not accurate, timing wise. The lyrics are quite similar to Merle's, and I have no reason to doubt that he actually DID write it. He sounds like a typical regional singer, country influenced, and his story is certainly credible.

Considering that several old time songs (Brown's Ferry Blues, Salty Dog Blues, Beautiful Brown Eyes, etc.) have conflicting stories connected to their authorship, there's a possibility that no DEFINITIVE answer may arise, but if anyone's got any info I'd love to hear it.

P.S. Thought of this, after reading Stewie's great research on the "You Are My Sunshine" thread.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Mark Clark
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 12:20 PM

Great thread, Rick. Do you have the original lyrics to Davis' "Twenty One Tons"? How about a few details on Davis such as date of birth, date of recording, musical influences, etc.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Mrrzy
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 12:37 PM

And here I thought you meant Merle WATSON and I was about to say No, it's much older than that... speaking of Merles to revere... what is un merle, anyway? A blackbird?


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Don Firth
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 01:14 PM

Walt Robertson once said, "If you want to hear some really colorful old-fashioned Kentucky cussin', walk up to Aunt Molly Jackson and say 'Merle Travis.' She says that she wrote most of the songs he claims he wrote."

I dunno. It strikes me that if one grew up in a particular area singing traditional songs, there is bound to be a lot of cross-fertilization, and no one can really say for sure who wrote what.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 02:18 PM

Nope Mark. I haven't had that album for twenty five years.

Yeah, Don. Apparently she even claimed that "Pistol Packin' Momma" was written about her. My friend Shelly Romalis just wrote her autobiography.

Yep, about the "cross-fertilization". But with 16 Tons there would have been a LOT of royalties at stake. I'll keep lookin'. hope someone has some better info than I've got.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Jeri
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 03:18 PM

Did your friend Shelly Romalis just write Aunt Molly Jackson's autobiography? Channeling?


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: M.Ted
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 03:52 PM

Merle's songs tended to be collections of phrases that were floating around in the air(as are most popular songs)-- The remark, "I owe my soul to the company store" was often made by the coal miners, and he said he often heard his dad say it.. Lines like, "One fist is iron, the other one's steel, if the left don't get you, then the right one will." Are "toasts"(I think I heard Mr. T say it once), the rhymed spoken couplets that were often turned into blues--Years ago, I played a gang member in a performance art theater piece, we chanted "if you see me coming, better step aside, a lot of men didn't and a lot of men died"--the artist/author was Latino, and said that it was something that they heard as kids(prsumably in Spanish), so this stuff definitely is not original, and is so widely used that it is hard to tell where it came from--

Given that, I think that Merle's 1st recording of 16 Tons was in about 1946, which was nine or so years before Tennessee Ernie Ford made a big hit out of it, giving Davis ample time to hear the original and write and play his own "21 Tons", not saying that he did, but he could have--

The big point though, is that it seems very unlikely that, given that 16 Tons is one of the biggest country hits of all time, if you had actually written it first, you would tell only the person who was writing liner notes to your Folkways album, as opposed to say, a lawyers who might be able to get you a cut of the royalties--


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 05:59 PM

It doesn't shed much light, but ... another Travis standard, "Roll on, Buddy (aka Nine Pound Hammer)" came out of the Hazard area (last line: "It's a long way to Harlan and a long way to Hazard just to get a little brew." Harlan and Hazard are the seats of two of the rare "wet" counties in eastern Kentucky.) Though the gulf between Travis's native western Kentucky and the Hazard area is about as big as the one between Massachusetts and Montreal, he may have done some collecting in the eastern hills. Still, I don't think Travis ever claimed to have written "Roll.."
I think there are some downloads of the Singing Miner's work on a Smithsonian site. He's on the CD "Mountain Music of Kentucky," a collection of recordings made in the Hazard, Hindman, Whitesburg, Ky., area by John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers in 1960 or so. Roscoe Holcomb and Banjo Bill Cornett are among the others on it.
I wouldn't be surprised if Jack Wright, who used to drop in at the cat from time to time, could offer some insight.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 07:10 PM

Just in case anybody wondered, the lyrics are in the Digital Tradition here (click).
Here's what Merle Travis said about the song (quoted in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, by Dorothy Horstman):

I had to do an album at Capitol Records, and Cliffie Stone said, "Do a folksong album." I said, "Well, Burl Ives has sung all the folksongs," and he said, "Write some." So that's how I came to write 'Sixteen Tons' - because I had to. There was an old saying around the coal mines in the Depression days. Somebody'd say, "how you doing?" And he'd say, "Well, all right, I guess. I can't afford to die, because I owe my soul to the company store." I just wrote around that.
I'd sure like to see lyrics to "21 Tons." Somebody got 'em?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Art Thieme
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 07:55 PM

I had the LP a LONG time back . It's gone now. Was that the era when Folkways combined with Verve for some releases and re-releases? Called the company "Verve-Folkways" and later "Verve Forecast". VanRonk was on one of those LPs and Sonny & Brownie---maybe a Phil Ochs album too unless I'm wrong. But it was pretty much said outright that Mr. Davis had the first version. I didn't like it the way he did it. It was a rougher song than 16 Tons. But I hated the way Tennessee Ernie did it too---that not very country back-up with finger snappin and noir lighting--suit-and-tie big city Ernie (as they'd have us believe)singing about the mines and de po folks down south.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Stewie
Date: 30 Jul 01 - 08:19 PM

Rick

Try to get hold of Archie Green's excellent 'Only A Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs' Uni of Illinois Press 1972. He has a chapter, entitled 'Two By Travis', in which he discusses 'Dark As A Dungeon' and 'Sixteen Tons'.

Green is convinced of Travis' authorship. He says that Travis was 'a folksong purist in his careful attention to origin and transmission' (p309). Travis told him that his technique was to 'fashion a good punchline and build the text around it'. Travis noted things such as his brother John writing him a letter containing the cliche 'another day older and deeper in debt', his father's reply to a query about his health 'I can't afford to die; I owe my soul to the company store' and 'strong back and weak mind' as belonging to the 'proverbial speech of all miners as well as other craftsmen'. Green states: 'With these keys Travis put "Sixteen Tons" together a few days before the June recording session. Had the song not become a fabulous hit in 1955, I doubt that anyone would have raised any question about its origin'

Green was aware of the Davis claim and dismissed it. He quotes Cohen's line notes to Davis' folkways LP which included a 'personalised "Sixteen Tons"': 'Davis claims to have composed "Sixteen Tons" during the 1930s and feels that Merle Travis and Tennessee Ernie capitalised on his song, though changing the chords somewhat'.

Green's comment is: 'I do not in any way wish to diminish Davis' creativity or the significance of having an LP of industrial songs performed by a miner. However, Cohen offered no evidence to support Davis' claim. Perhaps the matter is unimportant and only of pedantic interest to scholars who burrow into the song-origin underground. I commend "When Kentucky Had No Union Men" to all listeners who enjoy aural documentaries, but I retain my belief in Merle Travis' claim to "Sixteen Tons".

Green has much more to say about the song, but those are the key points of relevance to this discussion.

Green also has a chapter on 'Nine Pound Hammer' mentioned above by Pinetop Slim. This is mostly a member of the traditional 'hammer songs' family with an additional verse by Travis. Green says that he took it as a mark of Travis' sophistication that he carefully credited Texas Ruby as his source for 'Nine Pound Hammer' and did not ascribe it to some mythical strike veteran from Harlan. Green describes the process: 'When Travis accepted the assignment from Capitol Records in 1946 to put together an album of coal-mining songs, he pulled Texas Ruby's traditional song out of memory and extended it with a Harlan-Hazard stanza from his sure knowledge that Harlan conjured up visions of coal and mountaineers to many Americans'.

Cheers, Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 31 Jul 01 - 01:18 AM

Thanks a Ton Stewie. Damn Art, I wish I HAD kept that George Davis record. I'm not sure i dismiss his claim entirely but as you say, there's no DOCUMENTED evidence supporting it.

Now this is the Mudcat I luvvvv.

Rick


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Subject: ADD Version: Sixteen Tons (George Davis)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 05:15 PM

The entire Smithsonian Folkways catalogue is now available for download (for a price, of course), and the liner notes for most ablums are available for free online. Click here for the 1967 album titled When Kentucky Had No Union Men, Folkways FW02343, by George Davis, "The Singing Miner of Hazard, Kentucky." Here's the introductory note on the album:
    George Davis began working in the coal mines at thirteen. After he injured his arm in a mining accident, Davis knew he'd never be a great guitarist, so he concentrated on writing songs about the problems miners and their unions faced. This album presents eighteen of his powerful songs.


Here are the notes and lyrics for this song, titled "Sixteen Tons." No mention of Merle Travis in the album notes.

    According to George Davis, this song was first called "Nine-to-Ten-Tons," and he wrote it in reference to "this particular mine (which) had what is known as a Clean-Up System. This was before the days of the UMW (United Mine Workers Union). In a a clean-up system you either cleaned up your place every day, or brought your tools out (quit?). An old expression the operator used then was, 'We've got a barefooted man waiting for your job.' Here's the catch — each place would make nine or 10 tons, but where you loaded this coal was very low; most of them had water in them — as much as three or four inches and they had no pumps. On top of this you might have a cut of draw rock from 8 to 12 inches thick, 14 feet wide, and up to 9 feet long. All the coal, rock, and anything like wrecks, tore up track. All that was 'dead work' and it always had to be cleaned up, even if it took you 18 or 19 hours to do it."

^^ Sixteen Tons
(attributed to George Davis)

Chorus:
I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

I was born one morning, was a drizzling rain
A fussing and fighting ain't my middle name.
Well they raised me in a corner by a Mammy hound
I'm as mean as a dog but I'm as gentle as a lamb.
Chorus

Well I got up one morning, the sun didn't shine,
I picked up my shovel and I went to the mine,
I loaded sixteen ton of that number four coal
The face boss said, "Well bless my soul!"
Chorus

I loaded sixteen tons, I tried to get ahead,
Got deeper and deeper in debt instead.
Well they got what I made, and they wanted some more,
And now I owe my soul at the company store.
Chorus

Well I went to the office to draw some script
The man, he told me - was a wreck in the dip.
To clear the tracks would be a week or more
But your credit's still good at our company store.
Chorus

If you see me coming, step aside.
A lot of men didn't and a lot of men died.
I got a fist of iron, I got a fist of steel,
The left one don't get you then the right one will.
Chorus


So, is this a George Davis, song, or did Merle Travis write it? There are some differences between this and the Merle Travis version, but it's definitely the same song.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 05:33 PM

Growing up on a ranch in rural California in the 1940's and 1950's, I heard a lot of western swing,country and folk music. IT was mainly because nothing else was on the air at 5:00 AM or so, when I was doing my chores. We had a radio in the barn, and Merle Travis, Joe Maphis and Burl Ives were all familiar. What I most remember about Travis was his picking style, which was a great influence on Chet Atkins, among many others.

I did both "Sixteen Tons" and "Dark as a Dungeon" in my coffee house days, favoring the latter song. I've learned, over the years, that a lot of cross-pollination inevitably creates hybrids or more polished versions of songs and story lines that may have been around, in one form or another, for decades. I think it is less a question of theft than what we used to call "gleaning" or "re-constructing," not always for copyright reasons, but often simply to match someone's unique style and ability.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 05:39 PM

I don't have the George Davis album, but I do have the track on a wonderful recent compilation titled Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian Folkways. Here are the notes on the song from the Classic Mountain Songs CD:
    4. SIXTEEN TONS
    George Davis, vocal and guitar (Folkways 2343, 1967; recorded in November 1966)
    George Davis (1906-1992) was known as the "singing miner of Hazard, Kentucky." A composer of many mining songs, he was active as a Hazard disc jockey from 1947 to 1969, and at one point did five shows a day In 1933, after working as a coal miner, he began to compose songs and perform. He became one of the most popular performers in the region. "Ernest Sparkman, who worked for radio stations WSGS and WKIC, recalled that in a murder trial in the 1950s, the prosecutor asked a witness what time the crime had occurred. She said she couldn't remember exactly, but the Singing Miner was just going off the radio. The attorney had responded, 'Lady, you ain't told me nothin'. Any time you turn your radio on, the Singing Miner is either coming on or going off,' Sparkman recalled the attorney saying" (www.wsgs.com/singing.htm).
    Davis asserts that "Sixteen Tons" as copyrighted by Merle Travis was based on his song "Nine to Ten Tons," which he claims he composed in the 1930s. He says Travis and Tennessee Ernie Ford merely "changed the chords somewhat" (John Cohen, notes to FW 2343). There is debate about who first came up with the idea for the song. Labor historian Archie Green, who interviewed Travis in 1967, dismissed Davis's claim, believing there is no evidence to support it. He feels, instead, it fits closely into Travis's writing style, and believes Travis to have been the composer (Green 1972). This version is Davis's, as recorded by John Cohen.
The original 1967 Folkways George Davis album attributes the song to George Davis. The 2002 Classic Mountain Songs track listing attributes it to Merle Travis.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: GUEST,Texas Guest
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 06:11 PM

Hmmm,...interesting stuff. Also - unless misread - at a TEF website I read that his version of the song, released in 1955 is still the #1 selling American single of all time. Considering that the Beatles, Elvis, Beach Boys, Supremes, etc., all sold singles (45's)
do you think that's an accurate statement, or do you know of its
truthfulness? Cheers.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: GUEST,Frank Lee
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 06:28 PM

My father owned a '78' of Sixteen Tons in the mid '50s. We played it to death on our old wind-up 'new needle each play' gramophone. It was sung by Larry Cross, and had 'Travis' in brackets under the singer's name. Larry Cross had the deepest voice I'd ever heard, and we'd listen to the song just to hear the final word 'store' sung, it seemed to a 'D' in the third octave below middle 'C'. A far better rendition, to my ears, than Tennessee Ernie Ford's.
Frank


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: catspaw49
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 06:52 PM

Still a great thread with still nothing clear, but LOADS of great info.......Classic 'Cat at its best. Rick would love it!

RE: Best selling single.......I don't know who said that about "16 Tons" but its kinda' silly at face value considering the other artist the Texas Guest mentioned. Currently the Top Ten of All Time Worldwide:

#---Millions Sold---Title---Artist's Name
1---37---Candle In The Wind (Princess Diana Tribute)---Elton John
2---30---White Christmas---Bing Crosby
3---17---Rock Around The Clock---Bill Haley and the Comets
4---12---I Want To Hold Your Hand---The Beatles
5---12---Louie Louie---The Kingsmen
6---10---Hey Jude---The Beatles
7---10---It's Now Or Never---Elvis Presley
8---10---I Will Always Love You---Whitney Houston
9--- 9---Hound Dog---Elvis Presley
10-- 9---Diana---Paul Anka


Spaw


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Deckman
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 07:28 PM

To see a thread of this quality revived reminds me of the great value of MUDCAT! Thanks to everyone. Bob Nelson (still in Everett)


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 08:00 PM

This is very interesting, since my band ShoreGrass just recorded a version of this song on our newest CD. I paid a royalty to Harry Fox Agency which went to MERLE'S GIRLS MUSIC for the mechanical and download licenses. If anyone wants to hear a "bluegrass" version of the song, check track #13 at:

http://cdbaby.com/cd/shoregrass3

I still love the song, whoever wrote it. And I still miss Rick.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Bobert
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 08:07 PM

I don't much know fir sure who wrote "16 Tons"... All I know is that whoebver wrote it, as far as I'm concerned, it was never better covered than when Tennessee Earnie Ford did it...

B~


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: frogprince
Date: 09 Oct 07 - 10:00 PM

I'm fairly sure that what Ford's recording did do was set a record to that date for number sold within a short period of release; My memory was that it outsold any previous record by a substantial margin, but held that position only until the first blockbuster by the Beatles.
Ernie said that he recorded it as an offhand decision when he needed a "b" side for a release.+


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: GUEST,Texas Guest
Date: 10 Oct 07 - 01:03 AM

Ya know, Frogprince, you may be right about - "to that date" - as applied to the record. My understanding is that RCA (?) was more interested in having TEF record the song than he was so they
settled for it being released as the "B" side; however, the question is - what was the original "A" side?

Bobert, I agree; I haven't heard all of the different versions mentioned here, but Tennessee did one hell-of-a-job on that recording. Cheers.


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: catspaw49
Date: 10 Oct 07 - 01:54 AM

From an Ernie site:

"In September, reeling from a demanding road and television production schedule, Ernie was informed by Capitol that he was approaching breach of contract. He needed to record two sides for a single release immediately. Armed with a box of fan mail, Cliffie Stone convinced Capitol head Lee Gillette to allow Ernie to record "Sixteen Tons", and Gillette agreed; it would be the B side of a country-blues swinger titled "You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry", a tune that Gillette and others at the label believed would be Ernie's biggest hit yet. On September 17, 1955, both songs are recorded at Capitol's Melrose Avenue Studios in Hollywood. To kick off the tempo for arranger Jack Fascinato, Ernie began snapping his fingers...mistakenly left on the master tape by Gillette and the engineers."

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Did Merle write Sixteen Tons? Maybe.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Oct 07 - 04:49 AM

You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry was a modest hit for a girl group called the Caravelles. I can't quite picture Tennessee Ernie Ford singing it, if it's the same song.
-Joe-

P.S. Barbara Shaw, I enjoyed the samples of your recording.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 12 Oct 07 - 03:00 AM

Repeat Question

Mr. Catspew49 - October 09, 2007, 6:57 WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE?????

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

previous posting with Wiki-link appears to have been removed by a clone-on-the-throne.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: catspaw49
Date: 12 Oct 07 - 03:42 AM

You really are a dipfuck Garg.......You can find at least half a dozen with ease that match the one I posted because I checked before I posted it, There are many others which are similar with only one or two variants and NONE, repeat for your Royal Dumbfuckedness --- NONE, that mention "16 Tons" which was the point of the post. That one I believe came from HERE.

You may now rest easy and continue in your constantly failing efforts to remove your head from the depths of your incredibly lame ass.

(Happy to) Spew (all over you)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,jim gillson
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 05:52 PM

Sixteen Tons
(attributed to George Davis)

Chorus:
I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

I was born one morning, was a drizzling rain
A fussing and fighting ain't my middle name.
Well they raised me in a corner by a Mammy hound
I'm as mean as a dog but I'm as gentle as a lamb.
Chorus

Well I got up one morning, the sun didn't shine,
I picked up my shovel and I went to the mine,
I loaded sixteen ton of that number four coal
The face boss said, "Well bless my soul!"
Chorus

I loaded sixteen tons, I tried to get ahead,
Got deeper and deeper in debt instead.
Well they got what I made, and they wanted some more,
And now I owe my soul at the company store.
Chorus

Well I went to the office to draw some script
The man, he told me - was a wreck in the dip.
To clear the tracks would be a week or more
But your credit's still good at our company store.
Chorus

If you see me coming, step aside.
A lot of men didn't and a lot of men died.
I got a fist of iron, I got a fist of steel,
The left one don't get you then the right one will.
Chorus

I did find a site that had other verses to this song by a female
singer. I've been searching for it, but can't remember the site.
I'll let you know when I do find it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Stringsinger
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 06:04 PM

there was a version:

"If you see me comin' you better step aside,
Plenny men didn't and plenny men died.
I got one fist of steel and the other iron
and no white man is gonna' call me 'shine"

Frank


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 06:37 PM

Post 19 Nov. repeats post by Joe Offer. As someone said above, a good song regardless of who wrote it.
Merle Travis is given the credit by Encyclopedia Britannica.

Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, "Songs of Work and Freedom," pp. 52-53, 1960, reproduce sheet music as copyright by American Music Co., 1947. Words and music are credited by Fowke and Glazer to Merle Travis. In their notes to the song is this statement:
"The key line, "I owe my soul to the company store," was a favorite expression of Travis's father who worked in the coal mines of Beech Creek, KY. Travis said: "My Dad never saw real money. He was constantly in debt to the coal company. When shopping was needed, Dad would go to a window and draw little brass tokens against his account. They could only be spent at the company store. He used to say: "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store."
"There were two coal mines in Beech Creek. One was called No. 5, the other No. 9. You were lucky if you worked in No. 5 because No. 9 had a low ceiling which made it harder to dig your daily quota of sixteen tons."

Does anyone know the source of these quotes from Travis?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Effsee
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 09:40 PM

"Merle Travis is given the credit by Encyclopedia Britannica."

Not so!

"Words and music are credited by Fowke and Glazer to Merle Travis."

Totally different statements.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 10:16 PM

Tis so-
Encyclopedia Britannica online credits Merle Travis:
Sixteen Tons Merle Travis


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Effsee
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 10:41 PM

So they contradict themselves!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 17 Nov 07 - 11:43 PM

A class in basic English for non-English speakers might help FC.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 10:56 PM

Anybody notice that Merle Travis played guitar on Ernie Ford's hit recording?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Dave'sWife
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 11:33 PM

My fave Merle Travis mining song is Dark as Dungeon which has already been mentioned. It bears repeating however, that this is a wonderful song. if you've not yet heard it, you can track it down most easily on one of the more recent Cheiftans CDs. They did a nice version with Vince Gill singing lead. Whenever Vince Gill sings with them it reminds me what a wonderful voice he has and how often he wastes it on trivial music. (in my humble opinion of course)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons - No One
From: Mysha
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 04:35 PM

Hi,

I think the top position this held and still holds is: Fastest Millionseller ever. May have taken something like three weeks to sell a million.

                                                                   Mysha


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Dirty Dee
Date: 07 Dec 07 - 12:14 PM

Here is the link to the page that explains the George Davis claim of authorship to the original version of 16 Tons, with the lyrics. It wasn't called 21 Tons though it was called "9 to 10 tons"
I don't know when it got changed to 16 tons. But in any case, as you'll see from the book reference on the page, he didn't just tell this to the guy doing liner notes for a Folkways release years later (as someone said above), but to the author of the book "Coal Dust on the Fiddle" (George Korson) in 1959. He claimed to have written it in the 1930s which was before either Travis or Ford. The top part of the page is about the company store system, but if you scroll down a little ways you'll come to the passage from the book.
http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/sixteen2.html
I think it's very likely, especially considering the fact that Travis had only 4 days to write songs before his big recording session, that he indeed would have lifted some lyrics from a song he'd heard but knew hadn't been recorded as yet, change the chords and hey presto! There is a certain amount of appropriation in songwriting it's true and especially in folk and blues. Though I haven't heard Davis's version, I understand that the Travis version as recorded by Ford is a better song.

It's also possible that when (if this is true) Travis' brother wrote him the letter containing the line "it's like in the coal mines - you get 16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt" that he was actually quoting the earlier Davis song, in which case perhaps Merle thought it was his brother's original sentiment, if he didn't in fact remember the old Davis song. It reads like a quote because it rhymes and people don't usually rhyme in letters unless they're referencing a saying or something, you know what I mean?

As for the phrase "i owe my soul to the company store" being a phrase of Travis' coal miner father, I have also heard, and this seems probable that it was in fact a common phrase among those unfortunate to work in that industry at that time. So again, not an original line, just one used to great effect in the song.

My conclusion: I don't think Davis would have made up the story and people didn't go around suing eachother as much back then as they today, plus publishing and copyright laws weren't as tight as they are now. There are lots of reasons why he wouldn't necessarily have pursued a lawsuit to get his share of the song. Not least of which - he may not have had ironclad proof to present. After all, he hadn't recorded the song yet by the time Ford did. And finally - it's even more likely that even the Davis version was itself a folk appropriation of some even earlier tune and lyric that was going the rounds. Many times folk songs will go through a lot of successive evolution before they arrive at their final version. Nobody knew then that you could make gazillions by having your name on a tune - they just got passed around. In fact, it was the Ford recording of this tune that probably changed all that for the first time!


And finally, the Encyclopedia Brittanicca contains loads of errors. I've found some myself and contacted them and tried to get corrections made and it's like a monolith, so don't count on it being accurate!
Cheers!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 10 Jan 08 - 07:52 PM

To hear George Davis' recording of SIXTEEN TONS as part of an archived radio program, click here to play and then skip to 54 minutes from the beginning of the sound file.

In verse 3, line 1, I hear this:
    I loaded sixteen ton to try to get ahead,
In verse 4, line 1, the word is "scrip" not "script."

Davis varies the wording somewhat when he sings the chorus. To document all the variations without printing 6 copies of the chorus, I am experimenting with a notation I learned years ago for documenting computer language syntax. A single word in brackets means he either sings the word or omits it. Alternative words in brackets means he sings one or the other or neither. Alternative words in braces means he sings one or the other:
    [I loaded] sixteen ton[s], [and/now] what do I get?
    Another day older, {and/little} deeper in debt.
    Saint Peter, don't you call me {'cause/for} I can't go,
    ['Cause] I owe my soul {at/to} the company store.
If George Davis claims he wrote this song, and furthermore claims he called it NINE TO TEN TONS, I wonder why the phrase "nine to ten tons" doesn't appear anywhere in his recording?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jan 08 - 08:37 PM

The word is scrip, but many people mistakenly add the 't'


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,Janice in Western NY State
Date: 10 Jan 08 - 10:07 PM

According to Soviet "history," in 1935, Aleksei Stakhanov mined 102 tons of coal in less than 6 hours, 14 times his quota. However, his record would soon be "broken" by his "Stakhanovite movement" followers. On February 1, 1936, Nikita Izotov supposedly mined 607 tons of coal in a single shift. Just a guess, but there must have been lots of songs about these "heroes of Soviet labor." Does anyone know any? And would anyone care to complete these lyrisc? You mine 607 tons and what do you get?...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,PMB
Date: 11 Jan 08 - 03:41 AM

The original song was from France:

On comprend soixante mille deux cent cinquante-six virgule soixante-quinze kilogrammes, et qu'est-ce qu'on obtient?
Encore un jour en plus de l'age, et plus profondement danse la dette...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: 2581
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 12:35 PM

I collect coal mining songs and have 100+ versions of "Sixteen Tons". One of my favorites is the 1987 recording by Tom Bledose & Rich Kirby on their album "Twins" (Swallow Records). Of all the versions I have listened to, Tom & Rich's version is the only one that uses the following line:
"Ain't no COAL OPERATOR make me walk the line!"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 11:13 AM

Or the researcher chap in Oregon who mined 150 tons of coprolites from a cave deposit...or was that just another load?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Mr Happy
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 11:23 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIfu2A0ezq0


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Mr Happy
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 11:25 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mQnB6vVVhc


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Bluegrassman
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 08:44 PM

You mine 607 tons and what do you get
Warn out arms and a pain in the neck
You go tell Ilgya and what will he say
Make it 700 or you wont get paid

You work real hard trying to up your score
But then Ilgya says you got to do some more
Your back is broke and your arms are sore
And you still owe your soul to the company store


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,JT
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 09:19 PM

Things have changed the other day my brother said they mined 34000 tons of west Ky coal in a day. A long way from 16 tons. They would fire the whole mine if that is all they got.
cya
JT

PS
I don't care what anyone says Merle Travis wrote 16 tons. I am sticking by my man to quote Tammy Wynette


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,maxsmith3123charter.net
Date: 19 Sep 09 - 09:04 PM

i worked at the hazard radio station from april 1948 to october 1950 and george davis was singing 16 tons when i got there in 1948. george wrote a number of coal mining songs among them were "coal miners boogie" "when kentucky didn't hacve any union men" " and " the little lump of coal" he also wrote all the singing commercials for his daily radio shows. he wasextremly popular in the east kentucky mountain area..max smith baxter minn,.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST,Sean
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 12:27 AM

I've been comparing the writing styles and trying to get down to the heart of the matter. I am leaning towards Merle "borrowing" from the song that was probably heard by him in oral tradition, related probably 2-3-4-5-6 people down the line from the author. He apparently occupied some of the same places as GD did and I think that it's likely if the song existed, he would have had some exposure to it. It's interesting to note that he was told to "write some songs" with a session to record scheduled allegedly the "next day". In that night apparently he brainstormed the song, as well as a re-writing of Nine Pound Hammer, Dark as a Dungeon, and one other song in a night and recorded them the next day. It's also possible that many of the lyrics in both songs were standard slang, or cliche's that had been around for a long time. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that the lyrics that were changed in Nine Pound Hammer, were found to be borrowed from another song as well.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Mark Ross
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 11:19 AM

I had the pleasure of meeting and playing with Mere Travis at the Philly Festival in '76. He showed up driving a big red Cadillac convertible with a license plate that read 16 TONS. When he sang the song, he ended the last chorus singing, "I owe my soul to Tennessee Ernie Ford."

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: mayomick
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 12:33 PM

I know the tunes are different but the song's overall mood and the sentiments of the lyric suggests to me some connection to Drill Ye Tarriers Drill . Would Merle Travis have been aware of that older song when he wrote 16 tons ?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Jayto
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 12:59 PM

As several on here know I am from the same place as Merle Travis. Bill Monroe is from a few miles down the road as well. The reason I bring up Bill Monroe and Merle Travis is there is a common storiy around these parts. The same story repeated by different people depending on where you are around here. That story is that "I wrote this", "This person wrote that", "He was just ripping off ...insert name)". It is very common to come across an older person and they claim to have written songs or know someone who wrote them. Then turn around and claim that Travis, Monroe, even The Everly Brothers (they are from here too) stole the song or style. I have really looked into some of the claims. Sometimes I walk away confused and wondering if the story was true and other times I leave thinking "No way on Earth.". Cleaton Ky was a stronghold for music in the early 1900's. It was a stronghold for music and moonshine but that is about it. Every weekend musicians from all over the area would gather drink and play music all night. These musicians included Mose Rager, Merle Travis, Ike Everly (The father of the Everly Brothers), and many more that have or have not been remembered locally. There are rumors that Bill and Charlie Monroe would come and sit in. I have never found anything to support that but that is the rumor. Rosine's close proximity to Cleaton makes it possible though. Knowing Bill and Charlie's rounder side I am sure the shine and music appealed to them. Songs were swapped and guitar licks traded off every weekend for years. No tapes exist of these jam sessions only memories of the ones that were there. Merle Travis recorded a bunch of the songs he picked up at the jam sessions at Cleaton. He gave credit to the authors on a bunch of them. He talked about them and the jam session alot as well. I don't think Travis intentionally ripped someone off. You all know how confusing it can be sitting around with a bunch of great musicians trying to learn the words, how to play the song, the title, who wrote it, etc... If Travis did I am sure it is was out of confusion. I still think Travis wrote it though. His father (just like my father, brother, and grandfathers back for 5 generations) were coal miners here in W.KY. That whole CD (Folk Songs from the KY Hills) had an inside knowledge that could not be faked. Little things that others may not even pick up on. I know the historian he mentions on the record. I pass the the towns he talked about all the time. I know stories that accompany the songs from people that were actually there or had fathers or grandfathers that were there. The Browder Explosion song is a prime example. There are minute details that really shows the validitiy and an intimate knowledge of the subject matter. I know the other man was a coal miner from KY but the details were very specific to Merle's area. I am not arguing to change anyone's mind or anything. I am really just stating why I feel Merle wrote the song. Take all the info into consideration not just my points and decide for yourself. In the end though I really believe Merle Travis wrote 16 tons.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Mark Ross
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 02:11 PM

Jayto,

Monroe often credited Arnold Schultz as a big influence. Didn't Schultz also influence Rager, and in turn Travis?

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: Arkie
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 04:18 PM

I would doubt that the question of authorship of Sixteen Tons will ever be be determined to everyone's satisfaction. My time around Merle Travis was very limited but one thing that impressed me was how quickly and how easily he credited others for their influences and accomplishments. He may have borrowed phrases but there was a distinctiveness in Travis expressions in songs that is consistent with Sixteen Tons.

The main reason I am commenting here is that there is a similar situation here in Stone County Arkansas. Jimmy Driftwood, who is known to many Mudcatters is from this area. There are many admirers here but also at one time when Jimmy was active there was a segment that believed Jimmy had "stolen" the Battle of New Orleans and other songs for which he was credited. There were those who would not sing songs passed through their family in public gatherings out of fear Jimmy or someone else would 'steal' the songs. I know of no evidence that Jimmy had taken credit for someone else's song but the stories circulated. Jimmy may have borrowed a phrase or taken an idea and put it to use but he had a distinctiveness about his lyrics that was identifiable and there were versions of several older folk songs done by local people that I knew had been rewritten by Jimmy before it was ever verified.

It is a fact that some people take songs they hear from others and claim them as their own, but it is also true in communities where there are famous singers or songwriters claims are also made about where they got their songs. The claims might well originate because of a common phrase or expression. There may even an underlying family rivalry. I have found the human memory to sometimes be very selective and very unreliable in certain cases. As Uncle Floyd Holland, a local singer who lived into 90s would say, "When he's telling the truth you can believe every word he says. When he is lying you can't put any confidence in him at all."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis?)
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jul 10 - 04:24 PM

'Spaw, I don't even think 16 tons was even the biggest single of'55.wasn't "The ballad of Davy Crockett" song of the year in '55? Mike


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