A song written by Merle Travis, Travis recorded the song for the first time at Radio Recorders Studio B in Hollywood, California on August 8, 1946. But the best-known version is the one that Ernie Ford recorded in 1955 for the Capitol label. I reached number one on December 17, 1955.
Story behind the song:
The song is based on life in coal mines in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. According to Travis, the phrase “another older and more indebted day” of the choir was a phrase often used by his father, a coal miner. This and the line “I owe my soul to the store of the company” are a reference to the truck system and debt bondage. Under this writing system, workers were not paid in cash; instead, they were paid with non-transferable credit bonds that could only be exchanged for products sold in the company’s store.
This made it impossible for workers to accumulate savings in cash. The workers also used to live in dormitories or houses owned by the company, whose income was automatically deducted from their salary. In the United States, the truck system and associated debt bondage persisted until strikes by newly formed United Mine Workers and affiliated unions forced the end of such practices.
John Neher 1955 (Bell Records)
Red Sovine 1955 (Decca)
Eddie Arnold 1956 (RCA)
Harry Nilsson 1964 (Tower Records)
Hank Thompson 1967 (Warner)
Johnny Cash 1988 (Mercury)
Eric Burdon 1990 (Empire Records)
LeAnn Rimes 2011 (Curb Records)
Cousin Harley 2017 (Little Pig Records)
… and many more.
Miquel Batlle Garriga