Album:Classic Mountain Songs From Smithsonian Folkways
Most music fans should be familiar with Sixteen Tons as it was a huge hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford. Some fans may also be aware that the song was written by country music legend Merle Travis. But George Davis known as the Singing Miner claimed for many years that Travis based Sixteen Tons on one of his songs of the 30s. The problem was Davis didn't copyright it or record it. So no one knows for sure. Davis was born Aug. 19, 1906 in La Follette, TN but he grew up in Hazard, KY which is coal mining country. Everyone worked in the coal mine and Davis was no exception. He began work at the Crawford Coal Co. in 1920. He got married and raised a family. Davis worked in the mines for 28 years. But in 1933 he helped organize the United Mine Workers Union. He also messed around with the guitar. In Oct. 1933, he suffered a serious arm injury so he wasn't able to play guitar. So instead he started writing songs. There were songs like Coal Miner's Boogie, When Kentucky Had No Union Men and Nine To Ten Tons. This is the song that Davis claimed Travis used to write Sixteen Tons. Travis has denied this. He says Sixteen Tons is influenced by his father who was a coal miner. Davis never recorded his song so he couldn't prove anything. Davis left the coal mines in 1947 to work at the local radio station. He was a DJ for many years. In 1967, he recorded an album for Folkways Records that included his own recording of Sixteen Tons. This album is available on CD. But you can get Sixteen Tons on this various artists budget comp. George Davis died on Nov. 3, 1992 at age 86. Here's a video of Sixteen Tons by George Davis.