COAL MINER'S BLUES

(trad./A. P. CARTER & THE ORIGINAL CARTER FAMILY)

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"Coal Miner's Blues" is on the surface only a cheerful and catchy rhythmic piece, but it is as well an accurate social reminder of primitive bituminous-mining days in the South. The recorded performance itself -- a vocal duet with two accompanying guitars (lead voice by Sara and lead guitar by Maybelle) -- was made June 8, 1938, in New York and released on a 78 rpm disc, Decca 5596....

Who made up "Coal Miner's Blues?" From whom was it collected by the Carter Family? Bill Clifton... queried A. P. Carter and reported:

"He learned it from several miners in Wise County, Virginia, some years back. Naturally he does not remember the names of the men who taught it to him, but it existed as a true mining song, and I imagine that it served a useful purpose around the local Wise County coal mines."
... Maybelle's memory of this song is sharpest, for she remembers a drive in the spring of 1938 from A. P.'s home at Maces Spring through Pennington Gap to nearby St. Charles, Lee County, Virginia, where A. P. got the words from an old man. Lee County is adjacent to Wise County and lies directly south of the rich coal fields of Harlan County, Kentucky.

Archie Green, Only a Miner, Urbana, IL, 1972, pp. 388-393.

Lyrics as reprinted ibid., p. 390.

Some blues are just blues, mine are the miner's blues.
Some blues are just blues, mine are the miner's blues.
My troubles are coming by threes and by twos.

Blues and more blues, it's that coal black blues.
Blues and more blues, it's that coal black blues.
Got coal in my hair, got coal in my shoes.

These blues are so blue, they are the coal black blues.
These blues are so blue, they are the coal black blues.
For my place will cave in, and my life I will lose.

You say they are blues, these old miner's blues.
You say they are blues, these old miner's blues.
Now I must have sharpened these picks that I use.

I'm out with these blues, dirty coal black blues.
I'm out with these blues, dirty coal black blues.
We'll lay off tomorrow with the coal miner's blues.

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