Sixteen Tons

Browns Ferry Four, Merle Travis

About Sixteen Tons

"Sixteen Tons" is a song written by Merle Travis about a coal miner, based on life in mines in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Travis first recorded the song at the Radio Recorders Studio B in Hollywood, California, on August 8, 1946. Cliffie Stone played bass on the recording. It was first released in July 1947 by Capitol on Travis's album Folk Songs of the Hills. The song became a gold record. The line "You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt" came from a letter written by Travis's brother John. Another line came from their father, a coal miner, who would say: "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store."A 1955 version recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford reached number one in the Billboard charts, while another version by Frankie Laine 1956 was released only in Western Europe, where it gave Ford's version competition. On March 25, 2015, Ford's version of the song was inducted into the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry. 


Year:
2008
2:51
103 
#1

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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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Merle Travis

Merle Robert Travis (November 29, 1917 – October 20, 1983) was an American country and Western singer, songwriter, and musician born in Rosewood, Kentucky. His lyrics often discussed the life and exploitation of coal miners. Among his many well-known songs are "Sixteen Tons", "Re-Enlistment Blues" and "Dark as a Dungeon". However, it is his masterful guitar playing and his interpretations of the rich musical traditions of his native Muhlenberg County, Kentucky for which he is best known today. "Travis picking", a syncopated style of finger picking, is named after him. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977. more »

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Written by: Merle Travis

Lyrics © DistroKid, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind


13 facts about this song

Song Origin
"Sixteen Tons" was initially written and recorded by Merle Travis at the birth of his solo career in 1946.
Lyrics' Inspiration
Merle Travis was inspired to write this song due to his own experiences of growing up in a coal mining town in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
Cover Success
Despite originally being written and performed by Merle Travis, one of the most popular versions of "Sixteen Tons" was recorded by Frankie Laine in the 1950s.
Song Theme
The song offers a bleak perspective on the life of a coal miner, illustrating the hard and often dangerous work conditions that they endure.
Other Versions
Even though Merle Travis and Frankie Laine produced notable versions, "Sixteen Tons" has been covered by a variety of artists including Tennessee Ernie Ford, whose version became a number one hit on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts.
Awards- Tennessee Ernie Ford's Version
In 1998, Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of "Sixteen Tons" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Song Popularity
"Sixteen Tons" is considered an iconic representation of working-class America, and has made its way into popular culture, being featured in films, TV series, and commercials.
Legacy
The song has survived through the decades, illustrating the enduring nature of folksongs.
Cultural Impact
More than just a popular hit, "Sixteen Tons" raised public awareness about the struggles and hardships faced by coal miners.
Influence on Other Artists
The song has influenced numerous singers and songwriters in different genres. Artists like B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Tom Jones all credit the song as having an impact on their work.
Record Label
Merle Travis's original recording of "Sixteen Tons" was released on Capitol Records.
Song Position Historically
"Sixteen Tons" is quoted in historical and academic works as a popular example of the music and struggles of the working class during the mid-20th century.
Iconic Lyric
The song contains the famous lyric, "You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt." This captures the harsh realities faced by many working-class people of the era.

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