Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons”

Stars in the late 1950s didn’t come much bigger than singer Tennessee Ernie Ford. Before he had a monster TV variety show, he’d already had numerous chart singles that gained him a certain amount of popularity. But he became an A-list celebrity after he cut the song that is still on peoples’ lips today, the Merle Travis-written “Sixteen Tons.” When Travis – the same Merle Travis who was the namesake of the guitar technique known as “Travis picking” – wrote the song, it came from personal experience. He was born and raised in the coal country of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky (yes, as in the John Prine classic, “Paradise”), and had relatives and friends who toiled in the coal mines. Travis’ original 1947 recording of “Sixteen Tons,” which was just him and his guitar, included a recitation at the beginning that explained the premise of the song. When he sang the chorus You load sixteen tons, what do you get?/Another day older and deeper in debt/Saint Peter don't you call me ‘cause I can't go/I owe my soul to the company store, he knew what he was talking about. But his version of the song didn’t do much of anything with…

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