The Gather
Wylie Gustafson

The sun is peekin’ over the ridge
The air is crisp and the sky is big
Leaves are fallin’, the cattle are bawlin’
Ridin’ out on the gather
A cowdog is creepin’ with his head slung low
Hooves are squeekin’ on the fresh fallen snow
Morning is breakin’ and my soul is awakened
Ridin’ out on the gather
My pockets are empty, but I don’t care
I know that I’m winning when I’m out here
Where the magpies are talkin’ in the cottonwood trees
And the river is tickled by a cool northern breeze
I’m floatin’ like a feather when I’m sittin’ on leather
Ridin’ out on the gather

recordings of „The Gather“:
Wylie and the Wild West. LIVE! At the Tractor 2005
Wylie and the Wild West.Ridin' the Hi-Line2000

Wylie and the Wild West: “The Gather”
Wylie Gustafson Profile
Wylie as rodeo cowboy

The Gather
This songs speaks of the time in the fall when the cattle are gathered, the roundup. The work of a cowboy remains hard, but Wylie Gustafson still sees the beauty.
„This is the time of year that is my favorite time up in Northern Montana, especially there on the Two Medicine River. The trees are turning colors. Mornings are getting crisp and sometimes you see a little snow in the morning. It’s the time of year when the weather starts coming in. And this time of the year when we start shipping the calves out, shipping them to points back in the Midwest, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio…
“It’s a beautiful place up there and I tried to put it all into words, what it is like on an October morning on roundup.” [from: Wylie and the Wild West. LIVE! At the Tractor 2005]

back to stories behind the song








Sailing Down My Golden River
Pete Seeger

Sailing down my golden river
Sun and water all my own
Yet I was never alone
Sun and water old life givers
I'll have them where e'er I roam
And I was not far from home
Sunlight glancing on the water
Life and death are all my own
Yet I was never alone
Life to raise my sons and daughters
Golden sparkles in the foam
And I was not far from home
Sailing down my winding highway
Travelers from near and far
Yet I was never alone
Exploring all the little byways
Sighting all the distant stars
And I was not far from home
Sailing down my golden river
Sun and water all my own
Yet I was never alone
And I was not far from home

recordings of “Sailing Down My Golden River”
Greg Brown, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Wandertüte 74321456952, CD
Sarah Guthrie, More Together Again, Vol. 2, Rising Son RSR 0008, CD
Pete Seeger, Circles & Seasons, Warner Brothers BSK 3329, LP
Pete Seeger, Pete, Living Music CD32, CD
Pete Seeger, Rainbow Race, CBS S 64445, LP

musical notation:
Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Pete Seeger. A Sing Out Publication, 1993.

Arlo Guthrie: Sailing Down My Golden River
Sarah Lee Guthrie: Sailing Down My Golden River


Sailing Down My Golden River

Pete Seeger loved to sail on the Hudson River. But the river was dirty, stank of chemical wastes, and the shores littered with old tires and junk. It is said that Pete sailed more often after Bob Dylan’s departure from folk music. One evening he was sailing alone. “The sun was first gold and a few minutes later it was orange and a few minutes later it was beet red, and then the sky was all purple and finally it got dark.“[ David Dunaway, How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger, New York: Cd Capo Press, 1980. S. 283. S. 283] While sailing, he imagined how the river would be if it were clean and he made the song „Sailing Down My Golden River.“ For the first part of the melody, he had unconsciously borrowed from the Christmas song „Deck the Halls.“
In 1965, Pete was invited by the teachers of Beacon Hill to sing at a benefit concert for a scholarship at the local high school. Pete’s willingness to help was, however, not welcomed by everyone in the community. He was branded a subversive. A „Stop Pete Seeger Committee“ was formed, sponsored by the VFW and other „patriotic“ organizations. Even the local fire department offered the committee their support. Petitions were circulated against Seeger’s performance in the high school. His music was branded anti-American. Even neighbors who had known the Seegers for years signed the petition. Mistrust was widespread. The fact was that Pete was rarely home; many residents had never seen him, but knew about his troubles with the Committee on Un-American Activities.
Then a conservative doctor offered Pete his support and the teachers renewed their invitation. He was allowed to sing, but the situation was tense and Pete Seeger realized how isolated he was in his own home. Pete searched for ways to break out of the isolation.

back to stories behind the song





Henri LeBlanc
Bill Staines

Well, I go by the name of Henri LeBlanc
And a-trapping is my trade.
Now, my daddy was French and my momma was a squaw;
I was born in the hemlock shade.
Forty-four years in the northern woods
From Quebec to Hudson’s Bay,
Forty-four years in the northern woods
Where the bear and the beaver stay.
Well, it ain’t very warm in November’s storms;
Still, it’s off to the traps I’ll go
And the whistle of the jay in the trees on the way
Breaks the hush of the falling snow.

From my piney log shack with my traps on my back
To my hills of evergreen,
The music that I know is the north wind’s blow
And the cry of the wolverine.
When it’s early in the spring and the high geese sing
Heading up to the northern Grounds,
When it’s early in the spring and the river breaks up
With a moaning, groaning sound –
Then it’s off on the road with my furs in a load
For the ladies around the town.
Well, they’ll look very nice for a very fine price
And be warm when the wind blows down.

And my life goes along like a song and a river
Flowing down along the way.
Through the months and the years and the smiles and the tears
I find a friend in every day.

Je suis connu par le nom LeBlanc
Et je suis un trappeur.
Fils de francais, ma mère était indienne,
Je suis né sous les épinettes.
Quarante-quatre ans dans les bois du nord
De Québec jusqu’à d’Hudson,
Quarante-quatre ans dans les bois du nord
Où se trouve le grand élan.

Forty-four years in the northern woods
From Quebec to Hudson’s Bay,
Forty-four years in the northern woods
Where the bear and the beaver stay.


recording of “Henri Leblanc”:
Bill Staines, Whistle of the Jay, Folk Legacy CD-70, CD

musical notation:
If I Were a Word, I’d Be a Song. Songs by Bill Staines, Sharon, Connecticut: Folk-Legacy Records, Inc., 1980.


Henri LeBlanc

Henri LeBlanc is a song about the Métis. The Métis live in Canada and sections of the northern United States. The word comes from French and means to mix. Originally, the Métis were only people of French-Indian heritage, but today the term is often used for all people of European-Indian heritage and has replaced the perogative term „halfbreed.“
The Métis were the product of the French fur trade, which prospered in two areas, along the St. Lawrence River in French Canada and around Hudson Bay. During the early stages of the fur trade, French coureurs de bois lived and traveled with the Indians. As a result, the French took Indian wives, for certain tasks were considered below a man’s dignity. The children of these couples were the first Métis. The „real Métis,“ that is to say those with ancestors, are mostly of Ojibway or Cree heritage.
Contacts between Englishmen and Indian women were fewer. The Hudson Bay Company even forbid its employees from marrying Indians.
The Métis developed their own way of life, which was neither European nor Indian. They developed the consciousness of being a „new nation.“ Catholic missionaries encouraged the Métis to retain the French language and their catholicism.
After 1818, many Métis settled along the Red River in what is today Manitoba. Because agriculture in the area was not successful and of little interest to the Métis, they took to hunting buffalo, which meant that they retained a nomadic way of life. A second means of income was a hauler with two-wheeled hand carts or canoe to St. Paul or Canada.
But the number of buffalo dwindled and the railroad was built and the Métis way of life was doomed. Soon they had to choose between the White and the Indian way of life. When the Red River area was annexed to Canada, the Métis resisted and there were armed uprisings in 1869 and 1885. They were unsuccessful and the cohesiveness of the Métis crumbled thereafter. They moved to the North and the West. Some lived with Indians. A few crossed the border into the United States. Rural Métis settlements became slums. Up until the mid-twentieth century, many Métis tried to deny their identity. Poverty demoralized them and in the larger Canadian society „halfbreeds“ were looked upon as inferior beings.
Since the 1960s, the Métis have been politically active and formed several organizations to represent their interests. Today, their situation is still difficult. They seek recognition as a distinct group, like Indian tribes, but continue to be dealt with as individuals to face their special problems alone.

The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture

back to stories behind the song







Pastures of Plenty
Woody Guthrie

It's a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed,
My poor feet have traveled a hot, dusty road.
Out of your dust bowl and westward we roll,
And your desert was hot and your mountain was cold.

I've worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes,
Slept on the Ground in the light of the moon,
On the edge of your city you've seen us and then,
We come with the dust and we go with the wind.

California, Arizona, I make all your crops,
Then it's up north to Oregon to gather your hops,
Dig the beets from your Ground, cut the grapes from your vine,
To set upon your table your light sparkling wine.

Green pastures of plenty from dry desert Ground,
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the water runs down,
Every state in this union us migrants have been,
We come with the dust and we're gone with the wind.

It's always we ramble, that river and I,
All along your green valley I will work til I die,
I will travel this road until death sets me free,
'Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free.

It's a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed,
My poor feet have traveled a mighty hard road.
On the edge of your city you've seen us and then,
We come with the dust and we go with the wind.

recordings of “Pastures of Plenty”:
Fly by Night String Band, Fly By Night String Band, Frettless 146, LP
Dick Gaughn, Woody Lives! A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Pläne 88619, LP
Woody Guthrie, The Ashe Recordings, Vol. 1, Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40103, CD
Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory, Folkways FA 2481, LP
Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land, Folkways FTS 31001, LP
Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie "Columbia River Collection", Rounder CD1036, CD
(Jim) „Hos“ Hoswell, Blue Dog Cellar Project No. 1, Kimberly RINC 1245, LP
Cisco Houston, Cisco Houston Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie, Vanguard VSD-2131, LP
Krater Brothers, Singin' for Fun, Flight, LP
Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert, Lifeline
Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert, Woody Guthrie Hard Travelin’ (soundtrack), Rloco Records ARL-284 LP
Tom Paxton, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Warner Brothers 9 26036-2, CD
Solas, The Words that Remain, Shenachie, CD
Dave Van Ronk, Just Dave Van Ronk, Mercury SR 60908, LP
Dave Van Ronk, Somebody Else, Philo CD1065, CD
Weavers, Travel On

musical notation:
The Best of Folk, New York: Ludlow Music. N.D.
The Bells Of Rhymney And Other Songs And Stories, Pete Seeger. New York: Oak, 1964.
Carry It On! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America, Pete Seeger & Bob Reiser. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
Sing Out! 7/2

“Pastures of Plenty” on youTube:
Woody Guthrie
Pete Seeger
Jack Elliott
Arlo Guthrie

Pastures of Plenty

„Pastures of Plenty“ was one of the songs Woody wrote while working for the Bonneville Power Administration. Traveling around the area, he ran into Okies who had come to the Northwest by way of California. Some had managed to get a piece of land and were trying their hand at dry-land farming. Others were living in government „labor camps.“ It was for these people that Woody wrote „Pastures of Plenty.“ As with so many of his songs, he used an older melody, in this case from the murder ballad „Pretty Polly.“

back to stories behind the song







Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Jack Norwich, Albert Von Tilzer

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

youTube: "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" (1908 recording)
youTube: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in St. Louis stadium
Jerry Silverman, The Baseball Songbook
Ken Burns, Baseball - 1846 To 2000, DVD.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame
In sat in a café with my wife and some friends at the marketplace in the old Hanseatic city of Wismar. An organ grinder made his way from cafè to café. He played, or rather his organ played the usual tunes one hear from an organ grinder in Germany. But then I noticed he also had some old rock and roll melodies and even “Yes, We Have No Bananas” among his rolls.
Maybe half an hour later – the organ grinder had moved on to another cafè – over the chattering voices around us and the sounds of the cars, I heard a tune I had never heard in Germany. Yes, there was no doubt, that German organ grinder was playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a song dear to the heart.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is, alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday”, one of the most widely-sung songs in America, a true folksong if there ever was one, a piece of American culture, and an essential element of America’s “favorite past time”, one of the things I truly miss about America: baseball.
I doubt that there is an American past infancy who does not know the song. It is sung during the “seventh-inning stretch” of every baseball game, a ritual without which one could not imagine American life.
What we sing, however, is but the chorus of a song written by a man who had never seen a baseball game. In 1908, while riding the New York subway, Jack Norwich (1879-1959) saw a poster advertising a baseball game at the Polo Grounds. In fifteen minutes, he wrote the words which were put to music by Albert Von Tilzer (1878-1956), who was identified with vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley, and who did not see his first baseball game until 20 years later. In the case of Norwoch, it was not until 1940 until he saw a game.
In 1927, Norwich, who together with his wife also wrote the classic “Shine On, Harvest Moon”, wrote a new version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” That was of little consequence. The chorus remained the same and that is what people know and sing.
The song has been recorded numerous times, from Carly Simon to Frank Sinatra, and has been used in any number of movies, but unlike other well-known songs, it is also sung by normal people and is a part of their lives that they would not want to do without.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, “God Bless America” was often substituted for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or played first during the seventh-inning stretch. When I visited my brother and attended games of the Missoula Ospreys I accepted my brother’s habit of demonstratively remaining seated and not singing during “God Bless America”, but then standing and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” loudly. Fortunately, the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch was eventually given up.

back to stories behind the song









Spinning Mills of Home
Si Kahn

Early Monday morning
I keep thinking that I'm late to work
Why didn't someone wake me
Guess the mills are down again
Three years I've been trying to raise
My kids on cardroom wages
Guess it's time to hit the road and try
My luck up north again

On the highway heading south
On the highway heading north
Just back and forth, sometimes I feel like a rolling stone
From the rolling mills of Gary
o the rolling hills
And spinning mills of home.

All along the river
Railroad tracks turned red and rusty
Cotton fields all dry and dusty
You can taste it in your mouth
Now you've heard people say
How they've got one foot in the grave
Well, I got one in Indiana
And the other in the South

I wish that they would write it down
The way someone that knows their work
Can have their labor bought and sold
Like cotton by the pound
It’s just to hard to choose between
a job at home for lousy pay
In some northern factory town

recordings of „Spinning Mills of Home”
Si Kahn, Home, Flying Fish Records
Art Thieme, On the Wilderness Road, Folk Legacy FSI-105, LP

musical notation:
Si Kahn songbook, Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Company, 1989.


Spinning Mills of Home

Millions of people have left the rural South looking for work in the North or the larger cities of the South. Many have become commuters, working in the North and always returning home. It is a hard road, but Si Kahn sees a positive side: „Many folks who spent time working away from home - in the Army, in the unionized auto plants, in slightly less segregated Northern cities - came home with a new sense of possibilities, the idea that things could be other than tthe way they‘d always been. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Brookside Strike, it was often these people whose leadership and experience made the difference“ [Si Kahn Songbook, p. 64.]

back to stories behind the song






Only a Pawn in Their Game
Bob Dylan



recording of "Only a Pawn in Their Game":
Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are A-changin'"

Only a Pawn in Their Game
Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925 near Decatur, Mississippi. After serving in Normandy during the Second World War, he and his brother Charles attended Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, majoring in business administration. After graduation, Evers, who had married Myrlie Beasley, moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where until 1954 he worked as an insurance agent. Evers began organizing chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) throughout the Delta and organized boycotts of gas stations which denied Blacks the use of their restrooms. Despite a Supreme Court ruling, he was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School. The case attracted the attention of the NAACP national office and Medgar Evers was appointed the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi. Evers and his wife moved to Jackson to set up the NAACP office. They began investigating violent crimes committed against Blacks. He organized a boycott of Jackson merchant in the early sixties and attempted to get James Meredith admitted to the University of Mississippi. The effort was successful, but an ensuing riot left two dead and Evers became an object of hatred for white racists. On June 11, 1963, he was shot dead in front of his house in Jackson, Mississippi by a white man named Byron de LaBeckwith. On the same day, President John Kennedy held a scheduled television speech about equal rights for all races. Among other things, he said,
„We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
„The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy die full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?” [John F. Kennedy, The Burden and the Glory. New York: Popular Library, 1964. p. 184.]
A few days later, at the funeral, Roy Wilkins, director of the NAACP said, „A man pulled the trigger, but the whole southern political system stood behind the gun.“ Medgar Evers was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At the memorial service, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sat next to Medgar Evers’ brother Charles. President Kennedy invited the family to the White House for the day. Charles Evers took over the post as first secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. In 1968 he led the biracial delegation that unseated the all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic National Convention and became the first black to hold elected office in Mississippi since Reconstruction. He served as mayor of Fayette, Mississippi from 1969 to 1981 and again from 1985 to 1989.
Bob Dylan wrote „The Ballad of Medgar Evers“ shortly after the deed, perhaps inspired by the words of Roy Wilkins. It was sung for the first time in July 6, 1963, at a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi. Dylan recorded it in New York on August 7, 1963 for the album The Times They Are A-Changin’. But the real premiere was on August 28, 1963, at the Washington Civil Rights March, where a million people heard Dylan sing it.

back to stories behind the song





Pretty Saro
traditional/Jean Ritchie

Down in some lone valley
In some far lonesome place
Where the wild birds do whistle
And their notes do increase
Farewell Pretty Saro
I'll bid you adieu
And I'll dream of Pretty Saro
Wherever I go.

My love she won't have me
But I understand
She wants a freeholder
And I have no land
I cannot maintain her
On silver and gold
Nor buy all the fine things
That a big house can hold.

If I were a scholar
And could write a fine hand
I'd write my love a letter
That she'd understand
But I'll wander by the river
Where the waters o'erflow
And I'll dream of Pretty Saro
Wherever I go.


Pretty Saro

In this song we hear the spirits of many other songs. It is typical of the lonesome lovesongs of the pioneer period, but with a difference. Most of the lovesongs of the Appalachians are from the perspective of the woman. Here, the man bemoans the fact that he cannot win the pretty Saro because he is not a property owner. In those days there was a surplus of men. Women bemoaned in song there lot as a wife. Many men never found a partner.
This is Jean Ritchie‘s version of the song. Her sister had heard the song in Berea, Kentucky. Cecil Sharp collected several versions of the song in North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

back to stories behind the song





Red, White and Black
Jimmy Curtiss, Terry Phillips

America, you invite the redman
To sit at your table and be your guest
To justify the guilt that you are feeling
Now you tell us that you like us the best
And the black man waiting on the sidelines
For the chance to get into your game
To show you that he’s just as good as you are
To show you that he can be the same
And the triangle that you have created
Keeps you by yourself and keeps you paranoid
For the red, white and blue that you keep flying
For the red, white and black that you avoid
Cause the redman was here before you,
While the black man was a slave you brought ashore
And the redman was killed to free the frontier
While the black man was killed for sport and nothing more
And you wonder why the redman won’t be like you
You should wonder why the black man wants to be
And you came to this land because you wanted freedom
But that you have forgotten now that you are free.

recordings of “Red, White and Black”:
Floyd Westerman, Custer Died for Your Sins, Trikont US-40, LP
Floyd Westerman, The Land is Your Mother/Custer Died for Your Sins, Trikont US 0170-EU,

Red, White and Black

Since the final mititary defeat of the last tribes, Indians have tried to improve the situation by exercising political pressure. During the 1960s and 1970s, however, they developed a new form of activism. Many of the new activists had been to college and were radicalized. The Black civil rights movement and the general cultural uproar of the sixties had left their mark on them. Many were urban dwellers and did not agree with what they considered to be the conservative path of the previous Indian leaders. These young activists were disgusted not only with broken treaties and the paternalistic attitude of the federal government, but also with racial discrimination and the often brutal way Indians were treated by the police. They did not want to wait for reforms by the white bureaucracy, but believed in other forms of political action, lobbying, demonstrations, and if need be vandalism and violence, in order to direct the attention of the white population to their problems and bring about change.
As early as 1964, there were „fish ins“ in states whose supreme courts had lifted the treaty fishing rights of the tribes. Out of this came the organization Survival of the American Indian Association. During the years following, numerous other organisations were founded.
The most important organization for the „Red Power“ movement was the American Indian Movement (AIM), founded in 1968 in Minneapolis by the Chippewa Dennis Banks, George Mitchell and Clyde Bellecourt and the Lakota Russell Means. AIM emboded the new Indian militance. Its first major action was the occupation of Alcatraz Island. Unused federal land was supposed to be returned to the Indians and when the prison had been closed, the occupiers claimed the island. In 1971, after public interest in the occupation had died down, the occupiers were forced to leave the island. With similar arguments, AIM members occupied Mount Rushmore, Ellis Island and other sites. In 1972, they occupied the Washington office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In 1973, AIM members and supporters occupied the village Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where the US Army had massacred Lakota in 1890. It was originally intended to be a demonstration against a corrupt tribal leadership. It grew to a 71-day siege. Soon the occupiers were demanding an investigation of all treaties between the United States and the tribes. Roads were blockaded and federal marshals were brought in. Shots were exchanged. In the end, two Indians were dead and one federal marshal injured.
The song "Red, White and Black" appeared on Floyd Westerman's album Custer Died for Your Sins, the name taken from the influential book of the same name by Westermann's friend Vine Deloria, Jr.
Floyd Westerman war born on August 17, 1936 as Floyd Kanghi Duta Westermann on the Lake Traverse Reservation, home of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Dakota tribe in South Dakota. Kanghi Duta means “Red Crow.” His mother tongue war Dakota, one of three “Sioux” dialects. At the age of ten, he was sent to an off-reservation Wahpeton Boarding School, where was forced to cut his hair and was forbidden to speak his native language. There he met Dennis Banks, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM). After spending two years in the Marine Corps, he studied secondary education at Northern State University in South Dakota.
Before his went in acting, Westerman was a country singer. His first album, released in 1970, was titled Custer Died For Your Sins, after the influential book of the same name by his friend Vine Deloria, Jr. The album was a political expression of his activism and his connection to AIM, with songs like “Red, White and Black.” He later released the albums Indian Country (1970), a re-recording of Custer Died for Your Sins (1982), The Land is Your Mother (1982), Oyate (with Tony Hymas) (1990). His last recording was A Tribute to Johnny Cash (2006). He also worked with Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and others. In the 1990s, Westerman toured the world with Sting to raise money to preserve rain forests.
In the late 1980s Floyd Westerman began a second career as an actor, playing in numerous television series including Walker, Texas Ranger, Northern Exposure, Roseanne, The X-Files, and L.A. Law. He was also in more than 29 movies, among them as the Shaman in The Doors and as Ten Bears in Dances with Wolves. Shortly before his death, he had just finished work on the Kevin Costner film, Swing Vote.
Floyd Westerman died of complications related to leukemia in Los Angeles on December 2007.

Singer/songwriter Jimmy Curtiss is said to be a footnote in the history of rock and roll. Curtiss was born and raised in Queens, New York City and first became known in 1959 as a member of the doo wop combo the Enjays. In 1961, he released a solo Album, “Without You” on United Artists. The record company attempted to cast him as a teen crooner, like Bobby Vee or Paul Anka, but his musical efforts met little success and he was dropped from the record label. Curtiss sold songs to Bobby Darin and others, then worked in advertising. In 1965, Curtiss attempted a return to music full-time with a new group, the Regents. He signed with Laurie Records and issued “Not for You” and “The Girl from the Land of 1000 Dances,” but soon faded into obscurity again. Two years later, he released the bubblegum classic “Psychedelic Situation.” The recording was licensed to Ariola in Germany, where it became a hit. He signed with Decca Records and worked with producers Jerry Vance and Terry Phillips, he put together the studio group the Hobbits, but their records did not sell well. After being dropped from the Decca list, Curtiss formed his own production company and label, Perception Records. The record company had success with King Harvests’s Dancing in the Moonlight, but Curtiss’s own remained unsuccessful. One of the projects of Perception Records war the LP Custer Died for Your Sins by Dakota singer Floyd Westerman. Curtiss produced the record and wrote or co-wrote with his former partner Terry Phillips most of the songs. Jimmy Curtiss finally returned to advertising.


back to stories behind the song







Brookside Strike
Si Kahn

I’m tired of working for nothing
And bad top that’s ready to fall
If we can’t dig this coal without danger
We ain’t gonna dig it at all.

And the wind blows hard up the holler
Through the trees with a whistling sound
But the sun’s gonna shine in this old mine
Ain’t no one can turn us around

If it weren’t for the underground miners
Not a light in this country would burn
You’d think that they’d work with the union
But they fight us at every damn turn

The bosses drive Cadillacs and Lincolns
The miners drive Chevys and Fords
There ain’t but three things you can trust in
The union, yourself and the Lord

I’m making my stand here at Brookside
And I’ll use every tool I can find
You can lock me up tight in your jailhouse
But you can’t put a chain on my mind.

Lawrence Jones
Si Kahn

The air is thick as silence
You can cut it with a knife
A man lies in the hospital
Draining out his life
The trucks are in the backroads
In the dark their headlights shine
There’s one man dead
On the Harlan County line

Anger like a poison
Is eating at your soul
Your thoughts are loud as gunfire
Your face is hard as coal
Bitterness like buckshot
Explodes inside your mind
There’s one man dead
On the Harlan County line

A miner’s life is fragile
It can shatter just like ice
But those who bear the struggle
Have always paid the price
There’s blood upon the contract
Like vinegar in wine
There’s one man dead
On the Harlan County line

From the river bridge at Highsplint
To the Brookside railroad track
You can feel a long strength building
That can never be turned back
The dead go forward with us
Not one is left behind
There’s one man dead
On the Harlan County line

The night is cold as iron
You can feel it in your bones
It settles like a shroud upon
The grave of Lawrence Jones
The graveyard shift is walking
From the bathhouse to the mine
There’s one man dead
On the Harlan County line

recordings of "Brookside Strike" and "Lawrence Jones":
New Wood, Philo Records

Brookside Strike
By the early 1970s the situation in Harlan County, Kentucky was desperate. Since 1960 the population of the county had dropped by more than a third, the infant-mortality rate was extremely high, only a fourth of all adults had a high school education, people were living in poverty, only about half the homes had indoor plumbing, many were unemployed and those who had work probably worked in the mine, an employment which virtually destined them to an early death of black lung disease.
The conditions at the Brookside mine, which lies about 20 Miles von Harlan, Kentucky, were bad. Safety conditions were abominable, accident rates being more than a three times higher the national average. Although required by law, there was no safety committee.  In June 1973 the miners at Brookside voted 113 to 55 to affiliate with the United Mine Workers and open negotiations with the Eastover Mining Company, which ran the mine and was fully owned by Duke Power, based in New York and North Carolina and with assets in excess of 2.5 billion dollars. Up to that point the miners had belonged to a company union, the Southern Labor Union. Where the Southern Labor Union represented the workers, wages varied from mine to mine, but were a third to two-thirds lower than in the mines represented by the United Mine Workers. Medical and retirement benefits were minimal.
Negotiations with Norman Yarborough, president of Eastover, quickly broke down. The miners walked out on June 30. The strike was to last 13 months.
The miners began to picket the mine and Duke Power hired men to guard the mine. They were prisoners from the Kentucky prison on work release.
Harlan Country had first become famous in 1931 during a violent labor struggle which earned the county the name “bloody Harlan.” A shootout on May 4, 1931 left many dead and wounded. The strike also gave birth to the song “Which Side Are You On?”
The miners of the Brookside Mine demanded their own safety committee to monitor federal inspections, the standard UMW wage of $45 dollars a day as well as improved medical and retirement benefits.
Duke Power brought in scab labor, but that was not the only challenged faced by the striking miners. The police sided clearly sided with the company as did the courts. Judge F Byrd Hogg limited the number of picketers to six, three at each entrance to the mine. That Hogg sided with the mine owners was no surprise as he too was a mine owner. The state police beat the picketers to make it possible for the scabs to enter the mine. The miners shot at the tires of the cars of scabs.
Peter Biskind: “The structure of power that runs Harlan County is no secret, of course, to those who live there. The class struggle is raw and bloody, out front for everyone to see, undisguised by rhetoric. People in Harlan County know which side they're on. Most of them learned it back in the 1930s, or imbibed it with their mothers’ milk.” [from Jump Cut, no. 14, 1977, pp. 3-4, copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1977, 2004]
The strike drug on, the major point of contention being a no-strike pledge demanded by the management.
The turning point of the strike when one of the miners, Lawrence Jones, was shot in the face by a scab and killed. The union men mobilized to fight and were joined by their wives and mothers, who turned by a convoy of scabs. The company gave in, the side ended and the union had won a small victory, temporarily. Today there is not a single union mine in Harlan County.

back to stories behind the song






Which Side Are You On?
words by Florence Reece
music: “Jack Munro,” “Lay the Lily Low”

Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
And I'll stick with the union
'Til every battle's won.

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don't scab for the bosses,
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

Which Side Are You On?
(as sung by Florence Reece)

Come all you poor workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

We’re starting our good battle
We know we’re sure to win
Because we’ve got the gun thugs
A-lookin’ very thin.

You go to Harlan County
There is no neutral there
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

They say they have to guard us
To educate their child
Their children live in luxury
Our children almost wild

Gentlemen, can you stand it?
O, tell me how you can.
Will you be a gun thug?
Or will you be a man?

My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Til every battle’s won.


recordings of “Which Side Are You On?”
The Almanac Singers. Talking Union Keynote K 302 A (Keynote album 106), July 1941
Coal Mining Women, Rounder Records.
Natalie Merchant, The House Carpenter’s Daughter. Myth America.
Dropkick Murphys, Sing Loud, Sing Proud. Hellcat Records.

musical notation:
Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Protest, New York, NY, 1973, p. 55.

“Which Side Are You On?” on youTube:
Florence Reece

Florence Reece/Natalie Merchant:

Natalie Merchant:

Natalie Merchant:

Pete Seeger

Billy Bragg

Rebel Diaz

check: Black Lung; Black Waters; Buddy, Won't You Roll Down the Line; Dark as a Dungeon;
The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore
; Paradise

Which Side Are You On?
It was long known, that the Harlan County area contained enormous amounts of coal. The first coal began was dug there about 1800. But until 1911, when the railroad came to Harlan County and roads were built, which opened up the hills, the people lived there a most isolated life. The last decades of the 19th century and the first three of the 20th saw the transformation of the Appalachians from an agricultural to a mining economy. The increased mining activity, which the improved infrastructure had made possible, led subsistence farmers to leave the isolation of their land to make money in the coal mines. The mines also drew Blacks and foreign immigrants to the county, changing the demographic makeup of the area.
The war in Europe caused the price of coal to skyrocket from 1915 and the market boomed. Coal boomed in Harlan County until 1918 and every poor man in the area went to work in the mines. In 1919 the prices dropped as the war came to an end, but rose again the following year due to the coal shortage in Europe. The boom had attracted not only labor but capital to the eastern Kentucky coal fields. When the price of coal dropped again, production remained high, though employment levels dropped. New machinery had reduced the need for human labor. The miners were, however, reluctant to leave the coal fields, hoping to be reemployed, but also because many had no place else to go. The return to subsistence farming was not an option.
The miners lived in “company towns”. There had been no settlements for them to come to when they left the land. These were built, owned and run by the coal companies. There were no elected officials. The miners lived in house owned by the company, bought their supplies in stores owned by the company with so-called “script” issued by the company and useless elsewhere. The miners were captives of the company. The company limited the miners’ access to certain critical newspapers and even opened and sometimes destroyed their letters.
During the 1920s men began to join the unions in increasing numbers. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) led from 1920 to 1960 by John L. Lewis, had been active in Harlan County in 1917, at the time organizing 90% of the miners. The UMWA returned during the twenties and in 1931 the union again concentrated on the miners of Harlan County.
As soon as they joined a union, the miners were blacklisted, barred from company commissaries and evicted from their company-owned homes. Tensions mounted.
By mid-April 1931, there was a make-shift union organization of 17,000 and the miners in Harlan County went on strike, a strike marked by violence on both sides. The violence which accompanied the strike gave the county the name “Bloody Harlan”. The was a rash of burglaries at company stores, thefts of dynamite and copper from the companies. The coal companies hired armed thugs in May began to terrorize the coal-mining communities.
On May 5, 1931, carloads of armed deputies and other men working for the coal company drove from Black Mountain to Evarts, a town just a few miles from Harlan. Angry miners were along the road and shots were fired. Two deputies, a commissary clerk and a miner were left dead. The following day troops rode into Harlan and Governor Flem Sampson claimed that Communist outsiders had caused the violence. The commandant of the National Guard, however, saw no evidence of Communists in Harlan County.
Evarts became a rallying point and unemployed and blacklisted miners were drawn their. Soon, the population of the little town has risen from 1,800 to 5.000. Obviously, everyone was poor and hungry und desperate.
The miners did not feel that the NMWA supported them and when in June 1931 the first organizer of the Communist-backed National Miners Union (NMU) came to Harlan County, the miners joined in large numbers. The NMU held rallies and distributed food and clothing to destitute miners and their families. After just a few weeks, the NMU had as many as 4000 members.
Six months after the “Battle of Evarts” the National Committee in Defence of Political Prisoners, headed by writer Theodore Dreiser, came to the region to investigate, the “reign of terror.” Though the committee found conditions to be worse than expected, it was powerless to affect any change.
The miners appealed to the new Kentucky governor, Ruby Laffoon, with a list of requests, which included financial support for unemployed miners, improved unemployment insurance, the release from prison of all miners and strike leaders, a cessation of evictions of striking miners, no discrimination against Black miners or deportations of foreign miners. The governor acted on none of these requests, which exacerbated the situation. At the same time 44 men were on trial in relation to the “Battle of Evarts”. A lawyer hired by the NMU was thrown out of the state.
Not until three years later did Governor Laffoon admit that a virtual “reign of terror” existed, carried out by public officials and backed by mine owners.
By July 25, 1931, Sheriff John Henry Blair had deputized 65 men in Harlan County, men who were however on the coal company payroll. The miners, for their part, were tough, independent men, willing and able to defend themselves. Bullets flew and heads were bashed on both sides.
One of the union leaders was Sam Reece. Sheriff Blair came with his thugs to Reece’s house to look for him, but found only his wife, Florence, and the couple’s seven children. Florence confronted the sheriff and his men defiantly. "What are you here for? You know there's nothing but a lot of little hungry children here." ( The sheriff’s men ransacked the house and then posted guards to await Reece’s return. Sam Reece, however, had been informed of the visit and did not return home that night.
Legend has it that while she waited for her husband’s return, Florence Reece tore a page from the calendar hanging on her kitchen wall and wrote the words to the song “Which Side Are You On?” It is usually said that the tune is from the Baptist hymn “Lay the Lily Low”, but British folklorist A. L. Lloyd noted its similarity to the British ballad “Jack Munro”, which used “Lay the Lily Low” as a refrain.
Florence Reece was born on April 12, 1900, in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee. Her father, like her later husband, war a coal miner. She grew up in a coal camp in Fork Ridge, Tennessee. She met her future husband at the age of fifteen. When Sam Reece dies of black lung (pneumoconiosis) in 1978, the couple had been married for 64 years. Florence Reece remained active and vocal in support of the unions and social welfare issues until she died of a heart attack in Knoxville, Tennessee on April 3, 1986. When a second violent wave of strikes had broken out in 1973, Florence Reece had again supported the miners.
At the beginning of 1932, the NMU called for a general strike. A meeting was called at Harlan on the 16th of January, but Sheriff J. H. Blair and Mayor L. O. Smith prevented it, leading the sheriff to declare that “The Red revolt in Harlan County has been crushed.” (Day, John. Bloody Ground. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 1981., p. 298-299).Soon the basically conservative people of Harlan County became aware of the Communist backing and the accompanying atheistic ideology, the NMU lost support. It ended its efforts in Harlan County at the end of March 1932.
In 1937, a subcommittee of the United States Senate began looking at alleged violations of worker’s civil rights. The violence in Harlan County continued, with the governor sending in the National Guard to protect the property of the mine owners. On June 16, 1933, the National Recovery Act was passed. Section 7(a) of the bill protected collective bargaining rights for unions. Union organizers worked throughout country to organize coal miners. 1939, however, the UMWA was recognized at the bargaining agent for the state’s miners.
Around 1940, Pete Seeger learned “Which Side Are You On?” from a coal miner by the name of Tillman Cadle. The 1941 recording of the song by the Almanac Singers made the song famous. The song’s structure led to many adaptions for other strikes and it has been covered my many singers, among them Natalie Merchant, Billy Bragg and Dropkick Murphys.
In the documentary film about the 1970s strike in Harlan County, Harlan County, USA, which won an Academy Award, Florence Reece appeared singing “Which Side Are You On?” She can also be heard singing the song on the CD Coal Mining Women on Rounder Records.
The violence in Harlan County continued throughout the 1930s, but was lessened somewhat after the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) and the National Labor Relations Act (1915), which gave protection to union organized workers. But as the 1940s began, there was still no peace in Harlan County.
In an article which appeared in The New York Magazine on June 26, 1938 one could read. “For in Harlan County, as nowhere else in the county, except possibly on the cotton plantations of the Deep South, the visitor encounters feudalism and paternalism which survive despite all efforts to break them down.

Florence Reece, Against Current: Poems and Stories. Knoxville: private imprint. 1981
Interview with Florence Reece in Kathy Kahn, Hillbilly Women: Mountain Women Speak of the Struggle and Joy in Southern Appalachia. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1973.
Which Side Are You On? The Harlan County Coal Miners, 1931-1919, by John W. Hevener. University of Illinois Press.
Harlan County, USA

back to stories behind the song






7 Stacks of the Neversweat
Mark Ross

7 Stacks of the Neversweat
Silhouetted against the sky.
A union man dead on the Ground,
Can somebody tell me why?
I was born on Dublin Gulch
In the year of 1910.
No question that I would go underground,
All I could ask was when.
How I wish I could forget that day,
‘I was only ten years old.
I was staring out the window at Dublin Gulch,
The sky was gray and cold.
12,000 men are out on strike
And the mines are all shut down.
„Portal to portal“ was the battle cry,
before we go underground.
Here comes Roy Alley with a pistol in his hand,
And the company thugs behind,’
Marching down to the Neversweat gate,
down to the picket line.
You SOB’s, Roy Alley said,
‘And he fired his pistol in the air.
Gettin’ damn sick of you union men
Gettin’ in my hair.
Now if you took all those company thugs,
You wouldn’t find half of a brain.
The strikers, they were all unarmed,
They were shot down just the same.
15 men on the Anaconda Road,
Lying in the dirt and the mud.
15 miners all shot down,
One who won’t get up.
Those miners, they were all unarmed,
But the Butte police they say,
These men were shot by persons unknown,
So Roy Alley gets away.
In Butte, if you’re a company man
You can drink champagne so fine.
But you’d better learn to enjoy small beer
If you’re working in the mines.
Butte, Montana is a mighty fine place,
Given you’re a company man.
But if you’re shot down on the Anaconda Road,
The company don’t give a damn.
7 Stacks of the Neversweat
Silhouetted against the sky.
On the richest hill on earth,
A lovely place to die.

recording of "7 Stacks of the Neversweat":
Mark Ross, Look for Me in Butte, Smokestack Records


7 Stacks of the Neversweat

There had been unrest in Butte for years. Again and again, the workers had gone out in strike and again and again the huge Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) had broken the strikes. From 1917 in, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had gradually been gaining a foothold in Butte.

On the evening of April 16, 1920, the IWW called a meeting. It was decided to go out on strike the following day. The IWW organized pickets in the streets leading to the mines. The tension in the city was enormous. The governor of Montana asked the army to send troops.

The ACM hired watchmen to stand guard at the entrances to the mines and protect those men who wanted to work. These watchman were, needless to say, armed. On the first day on the strike, they beat striking miners. The ACM seemed to welcome the strike as an opportunity to deliver the radical IWW a decisive blow. Roy Alley was a lawyer employed by the copper company. In 1917, his name had been mentioned in connection with the murder of IWW organizer Frank Little. Now Alley told Governor Stuart, „the revolutionary movement in Butte has grown to such proportions that the Government must soon take cognizance of it“ ( On April 20, the leftest newspaper Butte Bulletin claimed that Alley had supported murder. Thereafter, the treatment of the strikers by the company guards became even more brutal.

At 4:30 on the afternoon on April 21, the sheriff and several deputies were faced with a tense situation in the Anaconda Road. The road went through Dublin Gulch to many of the biggest mines: the Neversweat, the Anaconda, the High Ore, the Diamond and the Speculator. Several dozen guards had occupied the railway embankment in front of the Neversweat Mine. They were verbally harrassed by the picketing strikers on the road. The sheriff ordered the road cleared. The miners refused, arguing that their taxes had built the road. They demanded that the sheriff arrest the guards who had beaten striking miners. The sheriff promised to look into it.

At that moment, the guards opened fire. The Butte Bulletin later claimed that Roy Alley had given the order to fire. The workers fled down the road. Sixteen (Mark Ross’s song says the number was 15) were hit, all in the back. A few days later, one of them died

The investigation of the incident showed that only the guards had fired. Because it was not possible to prove which guard had fired the fatal shot, on one was charged with the deed. The Bureau of Investigation (BI), forerunner of the FBI, worked together with the company and pointed out that eight of the wounded men were, after all, foreigners and that all of them were members of the IWW, as though those facts could justify the shooting.

The day after the incident on the Anaconda Road, soldiers entered Butte. The IWW pulled ist picketers off the streets and roads and sought support from the other unions, but none were willing to back the strike. Some of the men began to go back to work. Only a minority of the miners belonged to the IWW. Of their members, the majority were immigrants and single men who moved from job to job. On May 13, the IWW ended the strike. The ACM announced that it would no longer hire members of the IWW. The power of the IWW in Butte had been broken because the BI and the ACM had effectively infiltrated the union and were well-informed about all internal matters. Resignation and mistrust crippled the union.

The Anaconda Copper Mining Company, the Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army and the governor had worked together to beat the „revolutionary movement“ in Butte and above all, to strengthen the position on the company.

About how he came to write „7 Stacks of the Neversweat“ Mark Ross wrote: „I first heard the story from this old-timer here. His name was George Foley aned I met him in 1990 sortly after I moved here. I was walking the picket line twice a day with the Greyhound bus drivers who were on strike at the time. The Public Library at the time was across the street. I was in the library checking out some books when I noticed the old man in front of me in line was in the process of checking out some fairly radical books on Montana history himself. Naturally we got to talking. He‘d seen me on the picket line and he said to me, ‘You really want to stop those buses?‘ I said, ‘Sure.‘ He replied, ‘Roofing nails, about that big.‘ And he spread his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. I said, ‘You were a Wobbly weren‘t you.‘ He then, quietly, admitted he had been. And over the next year talking to him he told me that story and many others. I never could get him to talk into a tape recorder though, he said it was still too dangerous.“(

back to stories behind the song