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Sixteen Tons (1955) - Tennessee Ernie Ford (Tennessee Ernie Ford): All about the song

After the release, the song did not have much success, and, most likely, it would have remained forgotten by everyone ... If not for Tennessee Ernie Ford!

"Sixteen Tons": A song celebrating the work of the miners...

First released in 1947, "Sixteen Tons" tells the story of the hard and very poor conditions of American miners in 1929-1939 (the period of the "Great Depression").

We offer to recall the history of this old, but in its own way beautiful work.

The cover of the early single...
The cover of the early single…

History of creation

The generally recognized author is Merle Travis, an American songwriter. He recorded "16 Tons" in 1946, and a year later it appeared on the album Folk songs of the hills. Rumor has it that the first time the radio station did not let the song on the air. Although given its message, this was not surprising at the time: apparently, "Sixteen Tons" was regarded as "communist propaganda".

A curious fact, but Travis' father worked as a miner. Because of this, many critics are sure that Merle addressed the line “Another day older and deeper in debt” to him ...

The further fate of the song...

After the release, the song did not have much success, and, most likely, it would have remained forgotten by everyone ... If not for Tennessee Ernie Ford!

Tennessee Ernie Ford
Tennessee Ernie Ford

After serving, Tennessee got a job as a radio announcer. He could boast of a chic baritone voice, which determined his career as a performer ... The Capitol label drew attention to Ernie, and soon a contract was signed!

In the fall of 1955, 8 years after the release of the original version, Tennessee recorded a cover of "Sixteen Tons"! In his performance, the audience quickly fell in love with this song.

Ford's version topped the country music chart, and stayed at number one for a staggering 10 weeks!

In just a few months, the song was sold in 2 million copies, and subsequently covered more than once by a variety of performers! In general, the disc has sold over 20 million copies worldwide!

Track cover
Track cover

Curiously, admiring Ford's success, Merle Travis later rewrote the last line of the song: "I owe my soul to Tennessee Ernie Ford."

Copyright controversy...

Subsequently, a certain George Davis, widely known in Kentucky as "The Singing Miner", decided to challenge the copyright. The man claimed to have written "Sixteen Tons" back in the 1930s! Only the song was called not “16 tons”, but “From 9 to 10 tons” - this was exactly the daily rate of coal mining. The Singing Miner claimed that Merle Travis only slightly altered the song's lyrics and chords before passing it off as his own work.

Speaking of George Davis, it would probably not be superfluous to tell his short biography.

From the age of 13, George worked in the coal mines, dreaming of building a career as a musician. But after a serious injury to his hand in 1933, he realized that he would have to forget about the guitar ... Davis focused on writing songs about the hard everyday life of miners ... In his piggy bank there are such thematic works as "Coal Miner's Boogie", "Little Lump Of Coal", "Miner's Dream Come True"...

George Davis released his version of "Sixteen Tons" in 1967 as part of the album George Davis: When Kentucky Had No Union Men. The album was recorded at the WKIC radio station, where the performer temporarily worked as a shift engineer.

Popular cover versions by other artists…

And now we offer to recall the most successful and popular covers of "Sixteen Tons":

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