Monday, April 09, 2007

COAL TATTOO - Billy Edd Wheeler

One of the best non-disaster songs about the coal mines was written by Billy Edd Wheeler. The song has a Phil Ochs edge to it, with Wheeler exploring the complex corruption that makes it such a poor-paying struggle: "I stood for the U.M.W. of A. now who's gonna stand for me?"

He also sings about the very primitive joy and pleasure of the miner's work ("the cool of the slate,") as well as the misery of bad times and trying to find work: "the traveling and looking I hate."
Wheeler's song probably got the most exposure via a cover version by Judy Collins, who sang passionately but...Judy? Working in a coal mine? Sporting a blue mark on the side of her head from getting slammed by a chunk of Number Nine coal? Ironically another Judy, Judy Henske, is strongly identified with Wheeler's other major effort, "High Flying Bird." That song also references the coal mines and a man who "never saw the sun but Lord, he never stopped tryin'." Mr. Wheeler is no longer in the mines; he's written a dozen plays and has mined the world of humor for joke book compilations.

COAL TATTOO, 1971, instant download. No waiting or code words.

UPDATE August 2011: With all the interest in this great's

Billy Edd's earlier (Kapp) version of COAL TATTOO, instant download. No waiting, no money per download going to the blogger, and no capcha code words.


Deborah Morse-Kahn said...

Billy Edd Wheeler!!! What a joy to hear Coal Tattoo by the original artist! Thank you...would love to hear High Flying Bird!


Ruth E. said...

Yes, I agree with Deborah.
I ccould not find Billy Ed singing Coal Tatoo on youtube and wanted to hear the original since my husband and I are working the song up to sing together.
So many sites have all the wrong words posted for one thing and not to mention,nobody sings it like Billy Ed!
I love this website...thank you for taking the time to gather together all these wonderful songs. I will return again and again to listen to the rest of the songs you have here.
Thank you,
Ruthie Hunter

Ill Folks said...

Thanks Ruthie. Billy Edd recorded "Coal Tattoo" at least twice. I think he stuck with his original lyrics both times!

The "folk tradition" seems to dictate that singers are "allowed" to change or adapt the lyrics. That might account for why you can go to different lyric sites and see wrong words. Judy Collins changed a word here and there.

Frank Brown said...

It is a joy to hear the original artist and the half verse about dues and hospital plans is completely new to me. Most artists seem to follow the Judy Collins version.
I love "High Flying Bird" too. I learned it from another folky back in the sixties. I've didn't know who wrote it and I've never heard the original. My lyrics have probably sucumbed to the "folk process" also.