Monday, May 8, 2017

The First Song I Ever Learned

"Hello big boy."
I was two years old when Tennessee Ernie Ford appeared on the Dinah Shore program and sang his #1 hit song, an old folk tune called Sixteen Tons (below). The song's about a career coal miner. I must have heard it a lot on Mama's radio, because it was one of the first songs I ever remember singing.....that and a politically incorrect Pat Boone number called Speedy Gonzales.  My sister tells me my Dad used to play guitar and sing that song. I don't really remember that. I was vaguely aware he played guitar, but I don't remember what songs he sang.

For some reason Sixteen Tons was one of the best selling records of the 50s, giving even old Elvis a run for his money in total sales. Ernie Ford did a lot of Grande Old Opry and even did a turn on I Love Lucy as her country cousin. Lucy tries to scare him back to the country by dressing up as a wicked city woman with the usual disastrous results - Cousin Ernie liked it. In the episode, he delivers the classic line, "Vamp me!" to a black-wigged, slinky dressed Lucy and it was off to the races. 

Ford had a wonderful bass voice. When I was two I was rather less than a bass, but I still remember singing the first verse and chorus and still can sing it after all this time. As a toddler I was to also pick up "Jesus Loves Me" and "Dare to be a Daniel", but for some reason Sixteen Tons was to be my life's first soundtrack music. As it turns out, at the age of 63, I can identify with the line, "St. Peter don't you call me cause I can't go. I owe my soul to the company store."

If you do a search of Youtube, you'll also find a version where Ernie sings his signature song with Go-Go dancers and perkier music. How they talked him into that, I'll never know. But then the TV show, "Hollywood Palace" was never known to be a sophisticated venue anyway. Here's Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sixteen Tons.  - Tom King

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