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Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Sun Aug 18, 2013 12:31 am

FULL STORY :arrow: 8) Love this guy's music and this song alot, great guy.

Image Image

Record sleeve cover for January 1956 Capitol album that included ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Cover of 'TV Guide' in March 1957, one of four he would appear on.

The top song in America during late 1955 and early 1956 was a tune about coal mining – a song about the hard life and poverty of being a coal miner. Its title was “Sixteen Tons” and it was made popular by a singer named Tennessee Ernie Ford. The song had actually been written in the 1940s, its verse grown piecemeal from oft-heard phrases and the lives of miners dating to the 1930s. And although the song had been previously recorded in the 1940s, it wasn't until the 1950s that it became a big hit.

No. 1 Hit

“Sixteen Tons” hit Billboard’s Country Music charts in November 1955, and held the No. 1 position for ten weeks. By December 15, 1955, more than 2 million copies were sold, then making it the most successful single to date. It then crossed over to the pop charts, and held the No. 1 position there for eight weeks into early 1956. Ford later gave some background on the song’s recording in an interview he did with the Saturday Evening Post:
Last edited by SUN-RCA on Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Mon Aug 19, 2013 8:49 pm

Nice post, Clay,

However, let's all remember the creator, and original performer (1946) of this song : Merle Travis.

Travis' career was too rich and important to be dispensed by poor ole me in a few lines here. His role within modern American music, not just country, is enormous. A true genius.

Dig him singing his song in 1958. Thanks again ! :

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Tue Aug 20, 2013 3:02 am

What a voice Ernie Ford had.

One of the best I've heard.

I didn't know about Merle Travis.

He wrote a great song and even performed it well.

Thanks both of you for the clips.


Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Tue Aug 20, 2013 3:30 pm

Great version by a great artist. Thanks for posting!

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Sun Mar 02, 2014 2:18 pm

Last week I was listening to a VA 50's compilation, and along came a brilliant different version of Sixteen Tons.
The booklet gave no information about it at all, but after a little search I found out Ford re-recorded this song in 1965.
While trying to find this later version, I got intrigued by the man and his troubled personal life.
However, most of his discography consist of gospel music, which is not really my cup of tee.

But this song, both of his versions, are incredible.
And with lyrics like this, one can imagine why this young dude from Tupelo put it on his setlist in late 55/early 56:

"If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't get you, then the left one will"

Here is the '65 version.
Ignore those dancing ladies with their typical 60's dancemoves.
But check Ford's shaky legs (and how smoothly he moves backwards), listen to those drums, and notice especially that haunting female backup voice!
I love this version!

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Sun Mar 02, 2014 6:04 pm

That was neat, thanks Bob. :smt023

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Mon Mar 03, 2014 1:50 am

On the Clash's 1980 U.S. visit, they often entered to "Sixteen Tons" playing over the PA, and called it the "Sixteen Tons" tour.

800300_Clash 16 Tons tour.JPG

How cool is that?

Even more importantly, some very significant artists besides Ford covered this wonderful tune.

551219_Ellis Auditorium_Memphis.JPG

Elvis Presley
KWKH Radio - "Louisiana Hayride"
Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport, LA
Saturday, December 17 1955

Baby Let's Play House
Sixteen Tons
Only You (And You Alone)
I Got A Woman
Tutti Frutti
That's All Right

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Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Mon Mar 03, 2014 2:05 am

Mitch wrote:What a voice Ernie Ford had.

You can say that again, beautiful resonance.

Re: Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” 1955-1956

Mon Mar 03, 2014 4:01 am

My buddy said some people consider 16 tons a soul record too.