Thursday, November 29, 2007

Somewhere Down the Road

The attraction of the open road isn’t limited to long haul truckers. Many of us long for the freedom of an open road. It may be a bit of wanderlust, the romance of destinations unknown, the urge to visit a faraway companion, or a means of escape. Whatever the motivation, nearly everyone has felt the draw of the road.

Here on the Bus we have a special reverence for the open road. After all, I’ve been on the road longer than Jack Kerouac.

Charlie Moore and Bill Napier - Long White Line.mp3

Dan Fogelberg - Down The Road / Mountain Pass.mp3

John Starling - White Line.mp3

Bill Staines - Down the Road.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend, and enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Keep on Truckin'

© R. Crumb
For those of us of a certain age (most of the riders on the Bus, I suppose) “Keep on Truckin’” has another connotation that has absolutely nothing to do with vehicles. Although “Keep on Truckin’” is most often associated with Mr. Natural, that bearded, down-to-earth dispenser of simple philosophy, the phrase didn’t originate from the underground comics of the ‘60s.

“Keep on Truckin’” appears in the lyrics of songs recorded in the 1930s. The phrase was popular with the double-entendre laced hokum blues. The first use of the phrase that I could locate is Blind Boy Fuller’s “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” I don’t know if the phrase was in common slang use before Fuller recorded his song, but it has appeared in more than a few songs in various genres since. The most influential of the early Piedmont blues artists, Fuller’s records were top sellers. If he did originate the phrase, it soon entered common usage.

The extremely talented R. Crumb is the creator of Mr. Natural and the man responsible for the resurrection of the phrase “Keep on Truckin’.” Although he is legendary as a cartoonist, Crumb is also a musician with an appreciation of the classic recordings of the ‘20s & ‘30s. In the late 1970s, R. Crumb & the Cheap Suit Serenaders recorded three records of great string band and blues numbers that showcased their respect for those great, timeless songs.

Wherever it first originated, “Keep on Truckin’ has entered the American language thanks to Blind Boy Fuller and remained a part of our vernacular thanks to R. Crumb.

Blind Boy Fuller - Truckin' My Blues Away.mp3

Hi Neighbor Boys - Keep Truckin´.mp3

Tampa Red and His Chicago Five - Let's Get Drunk And Truck.mp3

Modern Mountaineers - Everybody's Truckin'.mp3

Smokey Wood & The Wood Chips - Keep On Truckin'.mp3

I have been a fan of R. Crumb for as long as I can remember. Two of the three albums by R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders are in the collection on the Bus, as are an assortment of original issues of underground comics featuring works by R. Crumb. To order prints, posters, t-shirts, and books directly from the artist visit

Keep on Truckin’

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Pour Me Another Cup of Coffee"

It starts with the bright yellow Tonka trucks we push around the kitchen floor as a toddler. Many men, your humble driver included, find themselves drawn to machinery. The bigger it is, the bigger the attraction. That little fellow in the picture is just starting his journey. Like him, I was at Brookview Farm with my family to pick up some grass fed beef and fresh eggs, but I couldn’t resist walking over to admire their compost delivery truck.

At some point in their life, nearly every little boy has thought about being a truck driver when he grows up. The freedom of the open road, watching through the windshield as the sights of the world pass by, a different town at the end of each day, and eighty tons of powerful machinery under his control. It’s the modern equivalent of the cowboy’s solitary adventure.

In the world of country music, truck driving songs have got to rank second only to “somebody done me wrong”/”cryin’ in my beer” songs. The life of the truck driver has been romanticized in song for as long as there have been trucks.

Jim & Jesse - Truck Drivin' Man.mp3

Moore and Napier - Truck Driver's Queen.mp3

Townes Van Zandt - White Freightliner Blues.mp3

Gary Stewart - Caffine, Nicotine, Benzedrine.mp3

Alvin Crow - (The Texas Kid's) Retirement Run.mp3

The Twangbangers - Truck Drivin' Man.mp3
Buy it at HighTone Records

Dale Watson - Good Luck 'N' Good Truckin' Tonite.mp3
More at and Hyena Records
Dale Watson will be featured on NPR’s World Café December 12th. Check local listings for air time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Drivin' Wheel

The car has become an essential part of daily life for all but the most hardcore urban dweller. More than just a means of getting around, the automobile has become a status symbol, mobile workplace, concert hall, and movie theater. For many, their car is an expression of their personality, either real or wishful projection. Men tend to have a special affinity for their cars. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, than cars must be a boy’s.

Everyone has fond memories of their very their first car. Mine was an old Pontiac with a hood as big as a football field. I swear you could have fit twelve hormone-filled teenagers on the big bench seats in that thing. Most of my friends drove souped-up muscle cars. They spent most of their free time tuning and trying to squeeze a little more horsepower out of those massive V8s. I was never much of a gearhead as a teen, but I was too poor to pay a mechanic to properly fix that old wreck of mine, so I learned how to keep it running myself.

During the first gas crunch of the early ‘70s I couldn’t afford to fill the tank in that big old Pontiac and I sure couldn't afford one of those new little Japanese cars that got much better mileage, either. I bought an old VW with a blown engine from the scrapyard and a few weeks later found a matching engine to marry with it.

While my wife has always had a late model car to drive, I have driven old junkers. For the past twenty-some years I have been driving old Volvos. You can always pick up an old 240 for next to nothing, they seem to last forever and when they do require some attention, they are easy to work on. For a few years I was buying old Volvos, fixing them up while driving them, and then selling them for a profit when I’d found another project. My wife, being the smarter half of this partnership, said that if I was going to drive an old piece of junk, I ought to get something that was unique. It wasn’t long after that I found a 1970 Volvo 1800E rusting away in a field. I bought that hulk of a car for $600. That was eighteen years ago and I’m still driving it. Two years ago our younger son bought a 1968 Volvo 122S. I guess it runs in the family.

Ever since Henry Ford made automobiles affordable for everyone, the car has become part of our way of life. And part of our music as well.

John Sebastian and the J Band - Got No Automobile.mp3

Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band - Chevrolet.mp3

Sam McGee - Chevrolet Car.mp3

KC Douglas - Mercury Boogie.mp3

Uncle Dave Macon - On The Dixie Bee Line (In The Henry Ford Of Mine).mp3

Billy Jack Wills - Cadillac In Model A.mp3

Woody Guthrie - Car Song.mp3

Sunday, November 25, 2007

[Shopping] Season Kick-off

The spirit of Thanksgiving Day is unique amongst holidays in the U.S. As our friend and long time rider, Greg, pointed out; Thanksgiving is the rare holiday that has not been overly commercialized. It has remained a day of humble reflection and gratitude as originally conceived.

But, that joyous celebration of grace and kinship comes to an abrupt halt not long after the dishes have been washed and put away. Beginning as early as midnight, eager shoppers across the United States huddle in long lines awaiting the unbelievable bargains that herald the start of the next holiday; Black Friday.

Black Friday is the shopping frenzy that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Some may decry this surge of consumerism as a sign of our times, but the two have been tied together nearly since the beginning. Thanksgiving has been officially observed in the United States every year since 1863. In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November be set aside for Thanksgiving. Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the celebration to the next-to-last Thursday during the Great Depression (1939) to allow merchants an extra week of sales before Christmas. Merchants, many of whom operate at a loss (in the ‘Red’) for most of the year, hope that the enormous increase in business brought on by the official start of the Christmas shopping season will put their coffers in the ‘Black.’

Janis Joplin - Mercedes Benz.mp3

Steve Goodman - Vegamatic.mp3

Tom Waits - Step Right Up.mp3

Happy Shopping, folks!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Gathering of Friends and Family

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”
- Frederick Keonig

The bus will be parked behind the shed out back for the long holiday weekend while I share some good song, food, and drink with family and friends.

I am thankful to you, dear riders, for your support, feedback, and friendship that have made this journey so enjoyable. My best wishes to all of the riders on the Bus for a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ll leave you with three special songs that have become something of a tradition on the Bus at Thanksgiving.

Barry & Holly Tashian – Friends and Kin.mp3

Mustard's Retreat - Gather the Family.mp3

Paul & Win Grace - Farewell My Friends.mp3

Y'all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Share the Harvest

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart amongst all of the holidays that we celebrate throughout the year. You see, a dozen years ago I found myself homeless and living in a tent at a county park with my wife and three young children. My job had been outsourced three years earlier and while we managed to get by for a couple of years, it was difficult having to choose between paying for food and paying the mortgage. We sold the house for a loss, as everyone else in the neighborhood was out of work as well. That year our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals were provided by the local food bank.

I have always contributed to the food bank, and being on the other end of their generosity is not something I care to repeat, nor wish upon anyone, but I was very thankful for their help during a time I could not provide for myself.

As we gather over the next month to feast and share festivities with family and friends, please take a moment to remember those of fewer means.

J. E. Mainer - Shortnin' Bread.mp3

Cheryl Wheeler - Potato.mp3

Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong - Barnyard Dance.mp3

Steve Goodman - Chicken Cordon Bleus.mp3

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's Really Important

"Friendship is a sheltering tree."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. As the holiday approaches I am reminded of all the things that make life worthwhile. While I am always grateful for all that I have, it is too easy to take these things for granted while one’s mind is occupied with the day-to-day concerns of making a living. Thanksgiving is a much needed pause from the workaday world in order to reflect upon the things that truly matter most in life.

While I have a long list of things that I am thankful for, none of it would mean near as much without family and friends.

Although I have not met most of you face to face, I count the riders on the Bus amongst my friends. I must thank my very good friends Joey and Dale, who encouraged me to create this virtual Old Blue Bus as a way to share the good music and good times as we had when the original bus was my home so many miles and years ago. Several folks have been riding since the Bus first pulled away from the curb; some have just recently hopped on for a ride, but all have added so much to make this journey such a joy.

Blind Willie McTell - Pal Of Mine (take 2).mp3

The Country Gentlemen - He Was A Friend Of Mine.mp3

John Starling and Carolina Star - Prayer For My Friends.mp3

Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert - Music in My Mother's House.mp3

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pinch the Tail & Suck the Head

The weekend has rolled around a day early here on the Bus. I’ve already left a voice mail to let my boss know that I’ll be out sick Friday.

Several riders on the Bus have let me know that my complaints about work have become all too regular in my daily posts. As you riders are all too aware, I have been working way too much overtime for the past year. As the year end approaches I realized that I haven’t taken any of my allotted sick leave this year. Any unused vacation hours can be rolled over into the new year, but unused sick days are lost. Perhaps I’ll be sick every Friday until Christmas! Besides, I’ve already logged 48 hours from Monday through Thursday.

All of these hours at the plant have left me precious little time to put together something coherent for these pages each night, and for that I apologize. I don’t really plan the posts on the Bus ahead of time. I prefer to find inspiration for each post from my daily encounters. Recently, my job has become a much more prominent part of my daily life and that influence has been reflected in these pages.

Tonight I came home from the plant with the thought of a three day weekend ahead of me. I just knew I could find something unrelated to work as inspiration for this evening’s post. As I walked into the kitchen I was overtaken by the wonderful aroma of a kettle of gumbo on the stove. My wife and daughter had prepared my favorite Louisiana supper: boiled crawfish, gumbo, fresh bread, and a couple of cold beers to wash it all down. I had found the inspiration I needed!

Oscar Doucet and Alius Soileau - Oh Baby!.mp3

Lawrence Walker - Boscoe Stomp.mp3

D.L. Menard - Lacassine Special.mp3

Bruce Daigrepont - Laissez Faire (Let It Be)-Bruce Daigrepont.mp3

If you are not familiar with the phrase, the title of today's post comes from the time honored method of eating crawfish.

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sounds of Virginia: Jim & Jesse

For an amazing 55 years, no last name was needed. Mention the names Jim & Jesse to any bluegrass fan and they will most likely begin telling you of the many times they have seen the brother duet at various festivals over the years. When I started attending bluegrass festivals on a regular basis in the 1970s, Jim & Jesse were a major draw and it seemed they were headliners at all of the bigger festivals.
Jim & Jesse McReynolds were raised on a family farm in the small community of Carfax, near Coeburn, Virginia. The steep slopes and dark hollows of Wise County are steeped in traditional mountain music. The McReynolds brothers were immersed in this traditional music from birth. Their grandfather, Charlie McReynolds, was one of the mountain artists recorded during the historic sessions in nearby Bristol in 1927.

Jim & Jesse began playing professionally in 1947. Jim’s high tenor and guitar offset nicely with Jesse’s deep lead and unique mandolin style. Their harmonies were rich and full as is often the case with brother duets. In 1952 they landed their first contract with a major label, Capitol Records. Their first chart-climbing hit came in 1960 with a single released for Columbia. With the success of "The Flame of Love" / "Gosh I Miss You All The Time", Jim & Jesse were invited to replace the Stanley Brothers as hosts the Suwannee River Jamboree on radio station WNER in Live Oak, Florida. The show was syndicated throughout the southeast and Jim & Jesse became household names in the South.

Their band, the Virginia Boys, was always made up of some top notch musicians. For a short period fiddle great Vassar Clements was a member of the Virginia Boys. Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys toured extensively, including a world tour in the mid 1980s. As I mentioned above, they were very popular on the festival circuit, often headlining bigger festivals.

Of all the labels that they recorded for, including Capitol , Columbia, Epic, Opryland, CMH, and Rounder, I have always preferred the albums they released under their own Old Dominion label.

Tragically, both brothers were diagnosed with different types of cancer in 2002. Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002, ending the longest active professional brother duet in country music history. Jesse has continued to tour with the Virginia Boys.

Jim & Jesse - Cotton Mill Man.mp3

Jim & Jesse - When The Wagon Was New.mp3

Jim & Jesse - Diesel Train.mp3

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Release:
Corb Lund - Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!

Raised on his family’s 100 year old farm and ranch near Taber, Alberta, Corb Lund’s roots are deep in the fertile Canadian Prairies. The son of a bronco bustin’ father and a barrel racing mother, Corb Lund grew up with horses and their influence on his life is evident on nearly every song on this, his fifth release.

Youtube video: Corb Lund - "I Wanna Be In The Cavalry"

Corb Lund was one of the founding members of the The Smalls, a punk/metal band with jazz and country influences. Lund had studied jazz guitar and bass while in college in Edmonton and when The Smalls disbanded in 2001, after twelve years of extensive touring, Lund took a break and moved to Austin, Texas. The audiences in Austin were very receptive to Lund’s unique blend of cowboy/country/folk/jazz/rock and his second band was formed.

Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans’ first four CDs have received critical acclaim, winning ‘Album of The Year’ (2006) and ‘Roots Artist or Group of the Year’ (2006 & 2007) at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards.

On Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! Corb Lund’s songsmithing skills are turned to warfare, but these songs are not ripped from today’s headlines. Lund leads the listener on a worldwide over the battlefields history. Not all of the songs are of military conflict though. Lund portrays the traditions and culture of his native Alberta on several songs. “The Horse I Rode In On” is a wonderful country lament of lost love and horses, as well as a tidy play on words. “Family Reunion” is an amusing poke at life in rural Alberta complete with mandolin and banjo. “Especially A Paint” is Lund’s personal lament for the ranching life he left behind for the bright lights of the stage.

Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! is a very solid work and thoroughly satisfying release by the latest of Canada’s great regional songwriters. Corb Lund’s musical storytelling, tales of life on the Canadian prairies join the maritime songs of Stan Rogers, the small town Canada songs of Stompin' Tom Connors, and John K. Samson's Winnipeg, to paint a melodic picture of rural Canada.

Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! is on record store shelves throughout Canada as of yesterday (Nov. 13th.) In the States, the CD can be found at CD Baby. Don’t forget to check out Corb Lund’s four previous releases while you are there.

Corb Lund – Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier.mp3

Corb Lund - Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!
Label: Stony Plain Records
Available from:
CD Baby

Monday, November 12, 2007

Variants on the Lee Highway

As many of the riders on the Bus know, one of my all time favorite fiddle tunes is the classic ”Going Down the Lee Highway” (aka “Lee Highway Blues”) by Henry Whitter and G.B Grayson. I have posted the original (probably more than once) and many covers over the past few years.

”Going Down the Lee Highway” was one of G.B. Grayson’s signature tunes. He used it to secure himself a place on the winners stand at many a fiddler’s convention. It’s a fairly simple little tune really, but sometimes the simple things are the best.

Fidders, especially around Virginia, have been playing the ”Lee Highway Blues” (as the tune is more commonly called) as a showcase piece for the past eighty years. The song has been recorded by the likes of Scotty Stoneman, the Highwoods String Band (with dual fiddlers), and the great David Bromberg. Judging by the number of fiddler’s that have “borrowed” the tune for use in other songs, I’d say ol’ G.B. had a bit of influence on a bunch of hoss hair pullers.

I’ve kept a list in my head over the years of all the tunes I have heard that include the unique fiddle part that makes ”Going Down the Lee Highway” so enthralling. Here’s a small sample of the songs that, to my ears, have borrowed G.B. Grayson’s fiddle line. Give a listen to the original that has so enchanted your humble driver for so many years. Then give a listen to these other fiddlers as they pay the highest honor to G.B. Grayson’s catchy little contest winner.

Grayson & Whitter - Going Down The Lee High Way.mp3

Roane County Ramblers - Hometown Blues.mp3

Mainers Mountaineers - Country Blues.mp3

Jack Youngblood - Hitch Hiker's Blues.mp3

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hard Luck, Hard Workin' Man

Back to work already? Man, I was just settling into weekend mode when Sunday night rolled around.

That old alarm clock is set for 4:30am, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it. I’ve been getting up at the same time for so many years that I wake up a few minutes before the alarm and shut it off before it has a chance to sound.

Shuffle out to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee and climb into a hot shower to get the blood flowing again. It’s the same routine every morning. I used to enjoy doing what I do for a living, but, lately I seem to be making a living more than living one.

Knoblick Upper 10,000 - Hard Luck Man.mp3

Carolina Tarheels - There Ain't No Use Me Working So Hard.mp3

Del McCoury - Loggin' Man.mp3
For our friend Mr. Beer N. Hockey, hoping the strike is settled and and he's back at the mill.

Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons.mp3

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Before Electricity

The weekend is at hand! Time to get off my soapbox and let the worries of the world melt away.

A few weekends ago we made a trip to Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to pick apples and stock up on fresh cider. There is a carboy in the pantry, filled with six gallons of cider and yeast happily fermenting. I reckon it will be ready to bottle up in another week or so.

The other day I found myself involved in a conversation with a few younger folk and the subject turned to great guitarists. Most of the names that these kids mentioned were from my generation; Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, and some where their own contemporaries, a few that I was not familiar with.

One of the youngsters wondered aloud why there were no well known guitarists before the ‘60s. Before I could answer, the others reminded him that there was no electricity and therefore no electric guitars(!), and the conversation turned to other subjects.

I didn’t get a chance to remind them that Les Paul (born in 1915) was playing his electric guitar way back in 1936 and several generations of musicians would be thrilled to play just half as well.

Back in those dark days before electricity, there were a few old timers who could wrangle some wonderful sounds out of those old hollow-body, wood acoustic guitars. And there are quite a few still doing it.

Melvin Dupree - Augusta Rag.mp3 [1929]

Sam McGee - Buck Dancer's Choice.mp3 [1926]

Kenny Baker & Josh Graves - Carroll County Blues.mp3 [1973]
a special thanks to rider Laurel for sharing this wonderful album

Bayless Rose - Jamestown Exhibition.mp3 [1930]

Bill Carlisle - Bell Clappin' Mama.mp3 [193?]

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Crazy Days

I had planned to step down off my soapbox today and post some obscure, but interesting, bit of history and a few songs to go with it. My good intentions were disrupted once again by the day’s headlines.

Now that the US dollar has dropped below the Canada dollar, it continues it’s freefall toward parity with the Mexican peso. News of GM’s record $39 billion 3rd quarter loss and supermodel Gisele Bundchen’s rejection of payment in US dollars sent the stock market into a tailspin, with the DJIA losing 360 points.

Pat Robertson, the man who blamed the attacks of 9/11 on America’s tolerance of abortion and internet porn, endorses a twice divorced, pro gay rights, cross dresser as the moral majority’s choice as the next president.

A retired AT&T worker says that he helped set up a secret room at one of the NSA’s offices where domestic internet, email, and phone traffic was monitored. This news comes just as Congress is debating giving the telecommunication companies retroactive immunity, while at the same time telling us that no laws were broken.

Is it just me? Or is the daily news just getting a bit too crazy?

Here's a few songs from three of my favorite female folksinger/songwriters.
As good as therapy.

Cheryl Wheeler - Is It Peace or Is It Prozac.mp3

Cindy Kallet - Hang in There.mp3

Cosy Sheridan - Therapy.mp3

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields

After I had completed yesterday’s post I realized that I had neglected to mention some sources for the music that had inspired my post.

The coalfields of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee are as rich with traditional music as they are with the dirty black rock that is both a blessing and a curse. As with most rural areas, the coalfields have been experiencing a migration of its youth to the bigger cities. The Lonesome Pine Office on Youth, of Lee, Scott, and Wise counties Virginia has put together an amazing collection of traditional music from the mining region to help support their youth progams in this mining region.

Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields is an extremely well produced 2 CD set accompanied by 74 pages of liner notes. Producer Jack Wright calls the music "industrial- and working-class poetry." Cheryl Truman, of the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader says “the first time listening to the CDs can be draining. But the second time you're listening for the music and artistry and lyrics. It’s Appalachian history set to music. And it's mesmerizing.”

I couldn’t have said it better. The collection of music includes painstakingly re-mastered classics from the Carter Family, Aunt Molly Jackson, Dock Boggs, Jean Ritchie, Carter Stanley, Hazel Dickens, and a host of rare and wonderful old recordings. Joining these old classics are new recordings made especially for this collection. Randall Hylton, the Reel World String Band, Blue Highway, and others donated there time and talents to this project. All of the tracks are exceptional; picking out a few favorites is a difficult task. A few that come to mind are Ralph Stanley & Dwight Yoakam’s duet on “Miner’s Prayer”, Robin & Linda Williams – “Blue Diamond Mines”, Rev. Joe Freeman – “There Will Be No Black Lung (Up In Heaven)”, The Reel World String Band – “Come All You Coal Miners”, Jim Ringer – “Black Waters”... Jeez, I could go on until I have listed them all. This is truly a great collection.

Read more about Music of Coal and listen to a few clips at NPR.

Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields can only be ordered from The Lonesome Pine Office on Youth. Proceeds help support the youth oriented programs of the organization.

Click here to order a copy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Redneck Army and the Battle of Blair Mountain

The American industrial revolution brought about rapid and radical changes in the way Americans lived and worked. People who had lived a largely agrarian lifestyle of growing most of their own food and producing or bartering for needed goods had to adapt to the fast-paced, and often dangerous environments of the factory and mill.

Accidents and disabling long term health problems were fairly common, but with a constant supply of cheap, willing workers companies were not inclined to be overly concerned with the safety of the workers as they were with increasing production and profits.

In New England, women and children labored in the textile mills where they breathed cotton dust in unventilated rooms lit only with smoky oil lamps. Most of the workers in the factories and mills across the country were rural folks anxious for the promise of a better life for their families; most found nothing more than long hours in appalling conditions for little pay.

The entire industrial revolution was driven by coal. It was the cheap and abundant coal of the Appalachian region, from Pennsylvania to Tennessee that powered the steel mills, railroads, and factories. Working hundreds of feet below the surface, miners not only faced the most dangerous working conditions, but were often at the mercy of the coal companies. The coal companies set up company towns, rented houses to miners and their families, and paid in company script that could only be exchanged for goods at the company store. Many miners found themselves in debt to the company. Unable to get ahead or even to get out from under their debt to the company, they were really not much better off than indentured servants.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the United Mine Workers and other unions began fighting for reasonable pay and safer working conditions. By 1920 the union had made some inroads in many mines in northern and central West Virginia, signing up nearly half of all the miners in the state. But the mining companies in the southern part of the state had nearly complete political control and fought to keep the union out. As part of their efforts to keep the union out the coal companies hired the Baldwin-Felts private detective agency. The armed agents of Baldwin-Felts evicted miners’ families from their homes if it was even rumored that the miner had spoken of organizing.

Early in 1921, a group of Baldwin-Felts agents arrived at the town of Matewan on a coal company train. The armed thugs (as the miners called them) removed and destroyed all of the belongings of several miners homes and were on their way back to the train when they encountered Sid Hatfield, police chief of Matewan and union sympathizer. Sid Hatfield told the Baldwin-Felts agents that guns were not permitted in town and that he would have to confiscate them. In the shootout that followed several Baldwin-Felts agents were killed.

Police chief, Sid Hatfield, has arraigned on charges of murder, although no one was sure who had fired the first shot. As he was climbing the courthouse steps of Welch, West Virginia for his first court appearance he was met by a group of Baldwin-Felts agents and shot dead. His body had been riddled with eighteen bullets and no charges were brought against the company agents.

The murder of Sid Hatfield was the catalyst that brought tensions to a boil. At a rally on August 7th, 1921, Mother Jones called on union miners to march into Logan and Mingo counties and bring the union in by force. By the end of August a mass of armed union miners was on the move southward, each one wearing the symbolic red bandana around their collar, a symbol often used by unions at the time to identify themselves as union members. Some place the number of marchers in this Redneck Army, as they were dubbed, at 7,500 other accounts place the numbers closer to 13,000 strong.

Ready for the invasion, Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County and whose pay was subsidized by the coal companies, had set up heavy fortification along the ridge on Blair Mountain. The defenses included several machine guns and several thousand armed agents.

On August 27th the mass of miners started to climb the steep slopes of Blair Mountain only to be met with rapid and continuous gunfire. Sheriff Don Chafin had even paid the local private owners of a bi-plane to fly over the houses and towns at the bottom of the mountain and drop crudely made bombs. By August 30th the area was fully engulfed in warfare not seen on U.S. soil since the Civil War.

President Warren Harding ordered federal troops into the area to restore the peace. The first of the troops arrived on September 1st, Sheriff Chafin handed control over to the federal troops. By September 3rd, miners began their surrender to the federal troops. Entire train cars were filled with the bodies that had littered the mountainsides and were returned to their kin.

The coal companies may have won the battle, but the Battle of Blair Mountain set the stage for many of the workplace laws we all take for granted such as the standard forty hour workweek and workers compensation.

The Carter Family - Coal Miner's Blues.mp3

Dock Boggs - Prayer of a Miner's Child.mp3

The Wright Brothers - Island Creek Mine Fire.mp3

David Rovics - The Battle of Blair Mountain.mp3

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Urge to Wander

“Here’s to you, my ranblin’ boy
May all your ramblin’ bring you joy”

The lure of the open road called to me at an early age. I hit the road while in my teen years and have preferred not to stay in one place long enough to set roots.

I’ve enjoyed my gypsy lifestyle. After all, for many years the Old Blue Bus was the only home I knew. Fortunately, my chosen profession has allowed (forced?) me the freedom to criss-cross the country for the past thirty-some years. My wife claims I have itchy feet. For years she was convinced that once I had learned all of the backroads between our temporary home and the jobsite, I was ready to move on.

The music, history, and cultures that I try to share with the riders on the Bus have been collected during my rambling. To me, that is part of the draw to this wandering.
“When that open road
starts to callin’ me,
there’s somethin’ o’er the hill
that I gotta see”
- Hank Williams, Ramblin’ Man

We have been in Virginia for ten years now. The reason we pulled off the road here, south of Richmond, was to allow our children to complete their schooling without the disruption of changing schools. Our eldest son was born in Augusta, Georgia. We had moved from Georgia to Connecticut to Alabama and Florida before we celebrated his 2nd birthday. Both boys are off to college now, and our daughter, the youngest, will finish high school this coming spring.

Lately, I started to hear the call of the open road once again. It’s still a faint voice carried on a gentle breeze, but I suspect it will grow louder, it always does. We have discussed what we will do once all three children are on their own. There has even been some talk of converting another old bus...

Highwaymen - Ramblin' Boy.mp3

Ian & Sylvia - Rambler Gambler.mp3

Patrick Sky - Many A Mile.mp3

Hank Williams - Ramblin' Man.mp3

Woody Guthrie - Ramblin' Round.mp3

Merle Haggard - Ramblin' Fever.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!