Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

THIS DAY IN MUSIC………………………………..on November 2nd 0f 1955 Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” begins a ten week stay on the Billboard chart, where it will eventually reach #1. The record will become one of the biggest selling singles of the 1950s. This was written in 1947 by the Country & Western guitarist and songwriter Merle Travis. It is based on his coal miner father, whose favorite saying, “Another day older and deeper in debt,” became part of the chorus. A Kentucky man named George Davis claimed that he originally wrote the song back in the 1930s, long before Travis and Ford made it into a hit. In 1966, the radio station WKIZ in Hazard, Kentucky, recorded Davis’s version that featured slightly different lyrics and chord changes. However, there was no hard evidence to prove that Davis was the original author. According to the book 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Tennessee Ernie Ford was so busy with a five-day-a-week daytime show that he fell behind with his recording commitments for Capitol Records. He recalled, “Capitol told me I’d be in breach of contract if I didn’t record soon, but I was always thumbing through songbooks looking for music. I liked Merle Travis’ songbook. He’d lived in the coal mining community, and my grandfather and my uncle had mined coal. I showed Sixteen Tons to my conductor as I liked it very much. Capitol kept telling me to get over there so we went with Sixteen Tons and You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry and we recorded them with a six-piece band. Lee Gillette (the producer) said from the control, “What tempo do you want it in?” and I snapped my fingers to show him. He said “Leave that in,” and that snapping on Sixteen Tons is me.” At the time, this was the fastest-selling single in the history of Capitol Records – impressive when you consider they had Frank Sinatra on their roster. The song also topped the UK Pop Chart.