Sixteen Tons: Tennessee Ernie Ford

Sixteen Tons” is a song about the life of a coal miner, first recorded in 1946 by American country singer Merle Travis and released on his box set album Folk Songs of the Hills the following year. A 1955 version recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford reached number one in the Billboard charts, while another version by Frankie Laine was released only in Western Europe, where it gave Ford’s version competition.

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 store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

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 store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

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 store

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

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 store

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About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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5 Responses to Sixteen Tons: Tennessee Ernie Ford

  1. layanglicana says:

    Part of all our yesterdays 🙂

  2. I remember those lyrics and singing them a child in Oklahoma, country music was played on the radio a lot. Of course I didn’t understand them, just loved singing them. Now as an adult I understand the harsh life, but they do bring back good memories. Thank you for a great post.

    • layanglicana says:

      Michelle, that was my experience too – I knew the song by heart without understanding it. What on earth could it mean to ‘owe my soul to the company store’? Now I understand the words and the literal meaning, but I think I did take in the harshness of a life of manual labour that it was describing. Such a powerful song. 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on michellegilstrap and commented:
    A song from my youth in Oklahoma, compliments of my friend Laura Sykes. Wonderful memories singing this song as a child, Now as I realize how hard of a life a coal miner had, I understand the song so much better.

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