At Cypher’s Mine camp at Philmont Scout Ranch, they sang a lot of mining songs, including 16 Tons, but the one that came to my mind was Ballad of Springhill about the Springhill mining disaster in 1958. It was written by Peggy Seeger, with some help from Ewan McColl.
Luckily, I could only remember a few lines, because it probably would have caused some sleepless nights for our Scouts. Maybe for me, too. The words alone are enough, but when you hear the verse end on that unresolved chord …
In the town of Springhill you don’t sleep easy
sometimes the earth will tremble and roll
when the earth is restless, miners die
bone and blood is the price of coal,
bone and blood is the price of coal
Or the this verse:
Eight days passed and some were rescued,
leaving the rest to lie alone.
All their days, they dug a grave,
two miles of earth for a marking stone,
two miles of earth for a marking stone.
I remember it from Peter, Paul & Mary, but they trimmed a few verses. Here are two full versions, one from The Dubliners, which I think works better overall, and one from Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl, more spare with better phrasing and harmonies. You choose. But don’t forget the cost.
Two YouTube links:
The Ballad of Springhill by The Dubliners
The Ballad of Springhill by Peggy Seeger & Ewan McColl
And thinking of 16 Tons, is there anyone today who sounds like Tennessee Ernie Ford? Listen to Shenandoah or Children Go Where I Send Thee.
No folk songs (that I know of) about BP’s oil spill yet, but we’ve got Twitter. Somebody needs to figure out how to put this all to music.