Sunday, February 1, 2015

Album Notes for "When Hymns Bled Red: Words of Joe Hill in Red"

How many of us found the Wobblies through Joan Baez singing "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night?" I did not delve deeper for many years, but the seed was planted. Pete Seeger watered that seed. Years later I heard U. Utah Phillips. Decades later I finally heard Joe Glazer. I began thinking about recording my favorite IWW songs and  the source songs from which the melodies came for the great Wobbly parodies.
Joe Hill, the great Swedish immigrant was only one of many songwriters who took melodies from popular hymns and other songs of the day and turned them into anthems for worker's rights and economic justice. Joe Hill, the martyr, I read about first, but when I encountered Joe Hill the songwriter he came to life in my mind. 
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a singing union. The story goes that early members of the IWW, the Wobblies, sang their own lyrics when the street Salvation Army bands were playing their hymns. Now both the popular folk songs and the hymns are now fading from our culture, so what will become of the great International Workers of the World (Wobbly) songs? Would they not be better understood if people remembered the source song? As a folksinger, I want the original songs remembered, too.
I believe that knowing the original song helps appreciate the parody. On Top of Old Smoky deserves to live out it’s truth independently of On Top of Spaghetti, not just as “the source melody of …” I believe authorship and copyrights are to be honored but that, in the Public Domain, Mr/Ms Anonymous can tear it up! 
I begin each song with the first verse of the original hymn. If you detect from my singing that I love the old hymns, you are right. I grew up singing them in the Southern Baptist Church. "Power in the Blood" is one old hymn that is, in my mind, a rock song! It is fun to sing. All these songs have gone into the public domain and any changes I have added are not copyrighted. If my performances of these songs ever make money, I'll happily donate it to the still-active IWW. 
I call the EP When Hymns Bled Red: Words of Joe Hill in Red. The title plays upon those New Testament editions that print the words of Jesus in red.  
This is my second album recorded at Elephonic Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Jesse Korman, engineer and Jared Putnam on that fine upright bass. It's my fifth album since turning 60 in 2010.
I have no use for the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s affiliated churches; my last tie to them would be the hymns. But it was through these hymns and my early Christian faith that I connected with the Civil Rights Movement and came to love and honor Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. It was through his speeches that I came to understand what the battle between rich and poor was all about and the relationship between war and capitalism. So, let's keep the hymns and let them live out their own truth, and let's know the sources also to understand all the nuances of the Wobbly songwriters.
I left out some verses and added whole verses or words to these songs. I will not go into the kind of documentation that is readily available in the Little Red Songbook (Check out used book sources for reprints of older editions) and the Big Red Songbook. Most words you hear that vary from the 1923 songbook are changes I made. I wrote two new verses for this first song and took out some of the originals.
Here is the way I sing the most famous of all wobbly Songs:
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum
Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock
from Revive Us Again
(Revive Us Again, William P. Mackay)

We praise Thee, O God, for the Son of thy love         
For Jesus, who died and is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the Glory! Revive us again.

Why don’t you work like other men do?
How the hell can I work, ain’t no jobs to do.

Hallelujah, I’m a bum, Hallelujah, bum again;
Hallelujah, give us a handout to revive us again!

Oh why don’t you save all the money you earn?
If I didn’t eat I’d have money to burn.

Whenever I get all the money I’ve earned,
The boss will be broke and to work he must turn.

Oh I like my bosses, tell ‘ya how nice they are,
They drive me to the food bank ‘cause I can’t afford a car.

Why don’t you use that degree you earned?
They don’t want to pay - they hired an intern.

Wobbly Joe Hill picked some mighty fine melodies for his parodies.  Sweet By and By, melody by Joseph P. Webster, is pure beauty. I made some changes, all intended for the Public Domain.  (see the Little Red Songbook)

Sweet By and By
 G                        C                 G
There’s a land that is fairer than day
And by faith we can see it afar
     G                      C            G
For the Father waits over the way
                           C  G/D D      G
To prepare us a dwelling place there
In the sweet by and by
                D7                                        G
We shall meet on that beautiful shore
                     G7/B   C
In the sweet by and by
                G/D              D7          G
We shall meet on that beautiful shore

The Preacher and the Slave 
By Joe Hill
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
What's wrong?  You need is a job and something to eat
They answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

You can work hard for children and wife –
No guarantee you’ll make it in US life–
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight:
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

Last Chorus:
You can eat bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry;
Chop some wood, ‘twill do you good,
And you can eat in the sweet bye and bye.

I first heard Joe Hill's Last Will sung in a pub in Dublin. That musician (can't remember his name, sorry) sang it to some melody of his own, I think. I put the words to the tune of Sweet Hour of Prayer. Unlike the songs whose words I tinkered with, there is no excuse to tinker with a last will and testament. Ain't it funny how Christian in nature this "dangerous communist's" last will is?


If you grew up singing, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow..." like I did, you may enjoy this little nugget from Australia. As in other songs I got from the Little Red Songbook I made my changes according to our beloved folk process, but I sure as hell did not change the emotion!
Dump the Bosses Off Your Back
Dump the One Percent. Let's start there, shall we? Once again, I changed a few words. Changes can be detected by buying and reading a Little Red Songbook. My changes are Public Domain, intended to stay that way. The original song What a Friend We Have in Jesus was adapted by John Brill.
The simple truth is that the poor, forlorn, and hungry did have a great friend in Jesus, but most of today's "Christians" are not followers of Jesus. They are not "a thousand points of light." 
Neither is the United States an anti-Communist country. Why? Because Nixon went to China. 
So don't be afraid to sing the Wobbly songs even if you aren't a "Red." Do you want your children to have healthcare? Do you think if you work hard at the best job you can find that you should be able to support your family in a decent life? Then sing for economic justice my friends. That's not communism and don't let the 1% fool you that it is.

What a friend we have in Jesus                                   
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back
By John Brill 
Are you poor, forlorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the one percent off your back.

Are your clothes all patched and tattered?
Are you living in a shack?
Would you have your troubles scattered?
Then dump the one percent off your back.

Are you almost split asunder?
Loaded like a long-eared jack?
Mule!  why don’t you buck like thunder?
And dump the one-percent off your back.

All the agonies you suffer,
You can end with one good tax..
Buck up! You orn’ry voters,

And dump the one percent off your back.

If you can, get a copy of the reissue of the 1923 songbook in addition to the latest one.

Joe Hill's Power In a Union
Singing Power in the Blood (at Trinity Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas) was thrilling. Some hymns soothe, others exalt, this one ROCKS!
Get the latest edition of the Little Red Songbook or the others still out there as reprints and you'll see the changes I chose to make to Joe Hill's words. My changes are in the public domain. The edition I used most was the 1923 version.

A                                            D              A
Would your be free from your burden of sin?
           E                            A
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood.
                            D         A
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
           E                               A
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
                            D                      A
There’s pow’r, pow’r wonder working pow’r
           E                 A
In the blood of the Lamb
                             D                         A                 E7                               A
Ther is pow’r, pow’r, wonder working pow’r in the precious blood of the lamb.

 There Is Power In a Union
By Joe Hill     

Would you have freedom from wage slavery,
Then join in the grand industrial band;
Would you from mise’y and hunger be free?
Then come! Do your share, like a man.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of workingmen,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

Would you have mansions of gold in the sky,
And raise your kids in a shack, way in the back?
Would you have wings up in heaven to fly
And starve here with rags on your back?

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working women,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

If you believe corporations and all they’ve said
Then don’t organize, all unions despise,
If you want nothing before you are dead,
Shake hands with the boss and look wise.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working humans,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

Come, all ye workers, from every land,
Come join in the grand Industrial band,
Then we our share of this earth shall demand,
Come on! Do your share, like a human.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working humans,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

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