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top string while the bottom two give off a thin, constant drone. For lonesome songs, she tunes the top string down a third to get a minor mode. Sample:
Down in some lone valley, in a lonesome place, Where the wild birds do whistle and their notes do
increase, Farewell, pretty Saro, I bid you adieu, But I'll dream of pretty Saro wherever I go.
THE COMPANY STORE. Some of the young people memorize age-old, unwritten hymns and sing them on a Sunday in the Baptist Church, but most of them soon turn to "that jump-up" music. "I hear that hillbilly music," grumps one old-timer, but it don't do me pretty much good." Many of the youngsters leave the Kentucky coal­mining country altogether. One miner's son who left, took along his guitar and kept his feeling for the old music, was Merle Travis of Beech Creek (pop. 788), across the state from Viper. Merle broadcast songs from Cincinnati's WLW before the war, served a hitch in the Marines and wound up in Hollywood. He remembered the long, workless summers when his father, deafened by years near the roaring "shak­er" screens, would get him to listen for the whistle that was the call back to the mines. If it blew, there would be work—and singing in the Travis house that night.
When Travis decided to record some coal miners' songs in 1947, there were hardly any to be found, so he wrote some—including "Sixteen Tons." It was recorded by Capi­tol recently by deep-voiced Tennessee Ernie Ford, and leaped to the top of the nation's bestseller lists as fast as any record ever made. It has a driving beat, like the cars clanking to and from the underground yard, and its words carry a kind of homey cynicism:
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.
"I wrote this song for purely professional reasons," says Songwriter Travis. "I simply needed a song. The chorus
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III