COTTON MILL COLIC

(DAVE McCARN) (1926)

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McCarn wrote this song in 1926. Released on record in August 1930, it was soon being sung by striking Piedmont mill workers. It was collected by Alan Lomax in 1939 and appeared in FOLKSONGS OF NORTH AMERICA and OUR SINGING COUNTRY. It's recording history is long and includes versions by Lester Pete Bivins (Decca), the Blue Sky Boys (Capitol) and both Pete & Mike Seeger (Folkways). Probably it is McCarn's best composition; revealing with wry humour the often grim situation of the millhand unable to get straight financially.

Mike Paris, liner notes for "Singers of the Piedmont," Folk Variety/Bear Family Records 15505. 1970s.

Recorded May 19, 1930, Memphis, TN (Vi 40274).
Lyrics as reprinted in liner notes for "Singers of the Piedmont," Folk Variety/Bear Family Records 15505, 1970s.

When you buy clothes on easy terms,
Collectors treat you like measly worms.
One dollar down, then Lord knows,
If you can't make a payment, they'll take your clothes.
When you go to bed you can't sleep,
You owe so much at the end of the week.
No use to colic, they're all that way,
Pecking at your door till they get your pay.
I'm a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
'Cause you can't make a living at a cotton mill.

When you go to work you work like the devil,
At the end of the week you're not on the level.
Payday comes, you pay your rent,
When you get through you've notgot a cent
To buy fat-back meat, pinto beans,
Now and then you get turnip greens.
No use to colic, we're all that way,
Can't get the money to move away.
I'm a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
'Cause you can't make a living at a cotton mill.

Twelve dollars a week is all we get,
How in the heck can we live on that?
I've got a wife and fourteen kids,
We all have to sleep on two bedsteads.
Patches on my britches, holes in my hat,
Ain't had a shave, my wife got fat.
No use to colic, everyday at noon,
The kids get to crying in a different tune.
I'm a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
'Cause you can't make a living at a cotton mill.

They run a few days and then they stand,
Just to keep down the working man.
We can't make it, we never will,
As long as we stay at a lousy mill.
The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer,
If you don't starve, I'm a son of a gun.
No use to colic, no use to rave,
We'll never rest till we're in our grave.
I'm a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
'Cause you can't make a living at a cotton mill.

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