Tennessee Ernie Ford: 16 Tons

TDR-Early Novelty Hit: 16 TONS, by TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD. Ernest Jennings Ford was a well-known Country Singer in 1955, when he recorded a song written and sung by the Country Star Merle Travis back in 1946.

Merle, whom I coincidentally met a few years later on a Johnny Cash Tour, said that he wrote the song about his families lives in the Coal Mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. It was the kind of song that would fit well with bass/baritone voice, but Merle's recording was a bit mournful, and Ernie wanted to pick it up.

His Music Director, Jack Fascinato, had the idea of Ford snapping his fingers, and charted an unusual Clarinet-led Pop arrangement that gave the song a distinctive sound. At that moment Sugary Pop Ballads (How much is that doggy in the window) and the new Rock and Roll songs were driving the market, and 16 Tons contrasted with it's fatalistic tone.

It was one of those songs that when you first heard it kind of touched your soul, and the nation's Disc-Jockeys as well as the General Public loved it, and it stayed for 10 weeks at #1 on the C&W Chart and 7 weeks at #1 Pop. It was a Hit beyond Solid Gold selling an estimated 20 Million pieces and making Tennessee Ernie a Cross-Over Star.

Scott found a great video from The Hollywood Palace in 1965 with good black and white picture and augmented sound, of Tennessee Ernie Ford doing his signature tune, although like most Variety TV Shows at that time they felt it important to surround him with Go Go Girls while he sang a song about Working in the Coal Mines...to be honest I found it amusing and Ernie’s live singing impressive. @therealdonrocks

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