"Nine Pound Hammer," Merle Travis
The great Merle Travis singing his song, "Nine Pound Hammer." Travis was born in 1917 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, coal country made famous in the John Prine song "Paradise." Travis often wrote songs about the hard life and exploitation of coal miners, and his hits include "Sixteen Tons" and "Dark as a Dungeon," as well as this classic. (Full disclosure: We named this blog after the song.)
"Nine Pound Hammer" is related to "Spike Driver Blues," another hammer-swinging song, recorded in the twenties by Mississippi John Hurt, and loosely based on "John Henry," the mythical steel-driving man. "This is the hammer that killed John Henry," he sings, "but it won't kill me." This is a song of defiance, a song of resistance...and, ultimately, escape. "Take this hammer," he tells his co-worker, another spike driver, "and take it to the captain. Tell him I'm gone."
"Spike Driver Blues" by Mississippi John Hurt
These songs are country folk and blues, people's music, not the stuff that got on the radio, not the candy-coated production numbers that placated the masses and assured them "happy days are here again." These songs told simple secret truths and people played them themselves, with no intermediary business making once red cent off the transaction.
Plenty of people have covered these songs over the years from Chet Atkins to Marianne Faithful to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and we have a few "new" favorites of these old classics.
The Stable Jammers do a nice loose Hammer--something for Thanksgiving, maybe.
The Stable Jammers are alive and well over at Steam Powered Studio, a listener-sponsored studio you should visit. (Sponsorship costs $20-50 a month). Check it out here.
And here's our p;d pal Laura "Two Beers" Veirs with a sweet slow version of Spike Driver: