Posted tagged ‘American folklore’

Sing a Song for Joe Hill

2010/11/19

Some say Joe Hill died on this day. In 1915. He was executed by a firing squad in the state of Utah. One night two men had been murdered in what seemed like a tale of revenge, and Joe Hill got the blame. He didn’t have no reason for killing those two men, but then again he didn’t have no alibi for why he had suffered a gunshot wound that same night.

The two men, they said, had been murdered by a man who had got himself shot too. Joe Hill hadn’t been a friend of the state of Utah – he was a Wobblie – a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The I.W.W. still exists today, and in Hill’s time they were leading the charge for workers’ rights (for little things like the weekend and an eight hour work day). Hill served as the I.W.W.’s songsmith – he took old gospel standards and turned them into worker anthems.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine to go back and find out the truth about Joe Hill. But many folks believed then, and many folks still believe now, that the trial of Joe Hill was a farce. That he wasn’t guilty of no murders, but he was being blamed because he organized workers, and that meant less money for the Big Wigs, Fat Cats, and those otherwise involved with getting rich off the poor. They saw their chance to get rid of Hill and they took it.

And why didn’t Hill have an alibi? Well some would tell you that Joe Hill was in the arms of a married woman, and revealing the affair would have ruined her life. So he gave his life to save her.

But some say Joe Hill didn’t die that day.

And some sang songs about him. Here’s a few of ’em.

(more…)

he’s so cool he was in the 27 club before it was even a club

2010/08/13

Out of all the musicians in the morbid “27 Club,” the figure perhaps the most mythologized is Robert Johnson.  On 16 August 1938 he died under mysterious circumstances – and this murky haze surrounding his death hasn’t become any clearer with time. The legends about his life and his music, however, grew strong and became immersed in the American blues musical consciousness.

Johnson is the man that supposedly sold his soul to the devil down at the crossroads. In return, the devil taught him how to play the guitar. Real bluesy like. The crossroads Johnson apparently made his Faustian bargain at was located in the Mississippi Delta.

(And as every good fiddle player knows, Faustian legends from the American south don’t always stick to the guitar.)

(more…)