Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Tennessee Ernie Ford

Sixteen Tons

Written and first recorded by Merle Travis (1946).
Other hit versions by Johnny Desmond (US #17 1955),Tennessee Ernie Ford (US #1/C&W #1/UK #1 1955), Frankie Laine (UK #10 1956).
Also recorded by The Weavers (1955), B.B. “Blues Boy” King and His Orchestra (B-side 1956).

From the wiki: “‘Sixteen Tons’ was written in 1946 by Merle Travis about a coal miner, based on life in the coal mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. First recorded in Hollywood, CA, in 1946, ‘Sixteen Tons’ was released in July 1947 by Capitol on Travis’s album Folk Songs of the Hills, widely regarded as one of Travis’ finest achievements. The album became a gold record.

“According to Travis, the lyric from the chorus, ‘another day older and deeper in debt’, was a phrase often used by his coal miner father. This, and the line ‘I owe my soul to the company store’, are a reference to the truck system and to debt bondage. Under this scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers that could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings. Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. In the United States the truck system and associated debt bondage persisted until the strikes of the newly formed United Mine Workers and affiliated unions forced an end to such practices in the 1960s.

The Ballad of Davy Crockett

First performed by The Wellingtons (1954).
First released by Bill Hayes (US #1/UK #2 1955).
Other hit versions by Fess Parker (US #6 1955), Tennessee Ernie Ford (US #5/C&W #4/UK #3 1955), Mac Wiseman (US #10 1955), Max Bygraves (UK #20 1955).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ was introduced on ABC’s television series Disneyland, in the premiere episode of October 27, 1954, sung by The Wellingtons but performed on-screen by Fess Parker, playing the role of Davy Crockett, accompanied by similarly attired musicians. The song would later be heard throughout the follow-up Disneyland television miniseries, Davy Crockett, first telecast on December 15, 1954. The Wellingtons were originally called The Lincolns, and recorded for Kapp Records. As The Wellingtons, they were signed by Walt Disney to record the theme song for Disney’s The Wonderful World of Color and, subsequently, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’.

“Trivia: Gilligan’s Island producer Sherwood Schwartz, working with composer George Wyle, came up with a Folk song theme song that told the back story of the castaways, and hired The Wellingtons to sing it. The song was a hit. The Wellingtons appear in a second season (1965–66) episode of Gilligan’s Island as a Rock group called ‘The Mosquitoes’.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

First performed by Claramae Turner (1954).
Hit version by Tony Bennett (US #19/MOR #7 1962 |UK #25 1965).

From the wiki: “‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ was written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, by George Cory and Douglass Cross, two amateur writers nostalgic for San Francisco after moving to New York. The song was originally written for opera singer Claramae Turner, a personal friend of Cross, who often used it as an encore. However, she never got around to recording it. The song found its way to Tony Bennett through Ralph Sharon, Bennett’s longtime accompanist and friends with the composers. Sharon brought the music along when he and Bennett were on tour and on their way to San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

“Prior to Bennett hearing it, though, the song was first pitched to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who Turner first suggested Cross take it to. Ford turned the song down (but, in a coincidental turn of events, later purchased a ranch in Lake County, California, north of San Francisco, owned by Cross’s family).

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