Joe Hill songs

Down in the Old Dark Mill (1913)

Tune: “Down By The Old Mill Stream” (Tell Taylor)
First published in 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

How well I do remember
That mill along the way,
Where she and I were working
For fifty cents a day.
She was my little sweetheart;
I met her in the mill —
It’s a long time since I saw her.
But I love her still.

Down in the Old Black Mill,
That’s where first we met.
Oh! that loving thrill
I shall ne’er forget;
And those dreamy eyes,
Blue like summer skies.
She was fifteen —
My pretty queen —
In the Old Black Mill.

We had agreed to marry
When she’d be sweet sixteen.
But then — one day I crushed it —
My arm in the machine.
I lost my job forever —
I am a tramp disgraced.
My sweetheart still is slaving
In the same old place.

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Tramp (1913)

Tune: “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” (by George F. Root, 1860s)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

If you all will shut your trap,
I will tell you ’bout a chap,
That was broke and up against it, too, for fair
He was not the kind that shirk,
He was looking hard for work,
But he heard the same old story everywhere:

Tramp, tramp, tramp, keep on a-tramping,
Nothing doing here for you;
If I catch you ’round again,
You will wear the ball and chain,
Keep on tramping, that’s the best thing you can do.

He walked up and down the street,
‘Till the shoes fell off his feet,
In a house he spied a lady cooking stew,
And he said, “How do you do,
May I chop some wood for you?”
What the lady told him made him feel so blue:

‘Cross the street a sign he read,
“Work for Jesus,” so it said,
And he said, “Here is my chance, I’ll surely try,”
And he kneeled upon the floor,
‘Till his knees got rather sore,
But at eating-time he heard the preacher cry:

Down the street he met a cop,
And the Copper made him stop,
And he asked him, “When did you blow into town?
Come with me up to the judge.”
But the judge he said, “Oh, fudge,
Bums that have no money needn’t come around.”

Finally came that happy day
When his life did pass away,
He was sure he’d go to heaven when he died,
When he reached the pearly gate,
Santa Peter, mean old skate,
Slammed the gate right in his face and loudly cried:

In despair he went to Hell,
With the Devil for to dwell,
For the reason he’d no other place to go.
And he said, “I’m full of sin,
So for Christ’s sake, let me in!”
But the Devil said, “Oh, beat it! You’re a ‘bo!”

Hear performances by Joe Glaser, Cisco Houston; in Swedish to a new tune in a live performance by De Offentliga ChaufförernaFor sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Where the Fraser River Flows (1912)

Tune: “Where The River Shannon Flows” (James I. Russell) (1905)
First published in the 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

Fellow workers pay attention to what I’m going to mention,
For it is the fixed intention of the Workers of the World.
And I hope you’ll all be ready, true-hearted, brave and steady,
To gather ’round our standard when the red flag is unfurled.

Where the Fraser river flows, each fellow worker knows,
They have bullied and oppressed us, but still our union grows.
And we’re going to find a way, boys, for shorter hours and better pay, boys
And we’re going to win the day, boys, where the river Fraser flows.

For these gunny-sack contractors have all been dirty actors,
And they’re not our benefactors, each fellow worker knows.
So we’ve got to stick together in fine or dirty weather,
And we will show no white feather, where the Fraser river flows.

Now the boss the law is stretching, bulls and pimps he’s fetching,
And they are a fine collection, as Jesus only knows.
But why their mothers reared them, and why the devil spared them,
Are questions we can’t answer, where the Fraser River flows.

Sung by: U. Utah Phillips, Arion Male Voice Choir.  For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

John Golden and the Lawrence Strike (1912)

Tune: “A Little Talk With Jesus”
First published in the 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

In Lawrence, when the starving masses struck for more to eat
And wooden-headed Wood tried the strikers to defeat,
To Sammy Gompers wrote and asked him what he thought,
And this is just the answer that the mailman brought:

A little talk —
A little talk with Golden
Makes it all right, all right;
He’ll settle any strike,
If there’s coin enough in sight;
Just take him up to dine
And everything is fine —
A little talk with Golden
Makes it right, all right.

The preachers, cops and money-kings were working hand in hand,
The boys in blue, with stars and stripes were sent by Uncle Sam;
Still things were looking blue ’cause every striker knew
That weaving cloth with bayonets is hard to do.

John Golden had with Mr. Wood a private interview,
He told him how to bust up the “I double double U.”
He came out in a while and wore the Golden smile.
He said: “I’ve got all labor leaders skinned a mile.”

John Golden pulled a bogus strike with all his “pinks and stools.”
He thought the rest would follow like a bunch of crazy fools.
But to his great surprise the “foreigners” were wise,
In one big solid union they were organized.

That’s one time Golden did not
Make it right, all right;
In spite of all his schemes
The strikers won the fight.
When all the workers stand
United hand in hand,
The world with all its wealth
Shall be at their command.

For sheet music and karaoke file (under the name “A Little Talk With Golden”) click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Girl Question (1913)

Tune: “Tell Mother I’ll Be There” (Charles M. Fillmore) (1898)
First published in the  1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

A little girl was working in a big department store,
Her little wage for food was spent; her dress was old and tore.
She asked the foreman for a raise, so humbly and so shy,
And this is what the foreman did reply:

Why don’t you get a beau?
Some nice old man, you know!
He’ll give you money if you treat him right.
If he has lots of gold,
Don’t mind if he is old.
Go! Get some nice old gentleman tonight.

The little girl then went to see the owner of the store,
She told the story that he’d heard so many times before.
The owner cried: “You are discharged! Oh, my, that big disgrace,
A ragged thing like you around my placel”

The little girl she said: “I know a man that can’t be wrong,
I’ll go and see the preacher in the church where I belong.”
She told him she was down and out and had no place to stay.
And this is what the holy man did say:

Next day while walking round she saw a sign inside a hall,
It read: The One Big Union Will Give Liberty to All.
She said: I’ll join that union, and I’ll surely do my best,
And now she’s gaily singing with the rest:

Oh, Workers do unite!
To crush the tyrant’s might,
The One Big Union Banner is Unfurled —
Come slaves from every land,
Come join this fighting band,
It’s named Industrial Workers of the World.



A new play about Joe Hill by Giles Hayworth

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a great International Exposition of Arts and Industry is held in Gävle, Sweden, to celebrate the prosperity which progress will bring in the years ahead. The play provides scope to facsimilate this as a pre-show, drawing on the talents of local schools or arts groups, Joe Hill taking the opportunity to involve himself in a variety of the musical contributions.
Gävle is, however, an impoverished area of Sweden, so, like hundreds of thousands from all over Europe, Joe and his brother leave, believing that they will find a more prosperous life in America. They find terrible pay and working conditions, even while a few employers are making themselves multi-millionaires.
Joe comes to believe in the power of unions to transform this situation but, after supporting a long-drawn-out and inconclusive strike by machinists in Chicago, he is converted to the ideals of One Big Union, being initiated by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which seeks to use the power of solidarity not only to improve workers’ conditions but to completely overthrow the capitalist order which oppresses them.
As he travels round the country seeking work, Joe finds that the great contribution he can make is to compose songs that will unite the workers. However, after the IWW has had various major successes, it comes to be seen as such a danger by employers that they seek to use any means to crush it. When Joe’s membership is discovered, after he has been arrested in a round-up following a shooting in Salt Lake City, the police cease any search for more likely suspects, a case is constructed against him, and he is executed, despite nation-wide protest. The outrage this causes leads a massive crowd, singing his songs, to accompany his body to the crematorium, whence his ashes will be distributed throughout the world, making him a symbol to inspire workers’ solidarity ever since.
Although most sequences are scripted, there is also scope in the play for a company to devise full scenes.
This play is conceived as for performance by a Youth/Community Theatre, with professional support. Therefore, although there is scope for multiple doubling and more, no attempt has been made to limit the number of characters; – if anything, the reverse. For info:]

Joe Hill songs

Should I Ever Be A Soldier (1913)

Tune: “Colleen Bawn” (by J. Fred Helf)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

We’re spending billions every year
For guns and ammunition.
“Our Army” and “our Navy” dear,
To keep in good condition;
While millions live in misery
And millions died before us,
Don’t sing “My Country ’tis of thee,”
But sing this little chorus.

Should I ever be a soldier,
‘Neath the Red Flag I would fight;
Should the gun I ever shoulder,
It’s to crush the tyrant’s might.
Join the army of the toilers,
Men and women fall in line,
Wage slave of the world! Arouse!
Do your duty for the cause,
For Land and Liberty.

And many a maiden, pure and fair,
Her love and pride must offer
On Mammon’s altar in despair,
To fill the master’s coffer.
The gold that pays the mighty fleet,
From tender youth he squeezes,
While brawny men must walk the street
And face the wintry breezes.

Why do they mount their gatling gun
A thousand miles from ocean,
Where hostile fleet could never run —
Ain’t that a funny notion?
If you don’t know the reason why,
Just strike for better wages,
And then, my friends — if you don’t die —
You’ll sing this song for ages.

Sung by: Mats Paulson; for sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Picket line Songs from the Fraser River Strike

Martin Welch and Stuart (1912)

Tune: “Wearing of the Green” (trad.)
Written for the picket lines on the Fraser River strike

Martin Welch is mad as hell and don’t know what to do.
And all his gunnysack contractors are feeling mighty blue.
For we have tied their railroad line and scabs refuse to come,
And we will keep on striking till we put them on the bum.
Till we put them on the bum, till we put them on the bum,
And we will keep on striking till we put them on the bum.

(Excerpt, as recalled by camp delegate Louis Moreau)

We Won’t Build No More Railroads for Overalls and Snuff

Tune: “Wearing of the Green” (trad.)

We have got to stick together, boys,
And fight with all our might.
It’s a case of no surrender
We have got to win this fight.
From these gunnysack contractors,
We will take no more bluff;
And we won’t build no more railroads
For our overalls and snuff.
For our overalls and snuff, for our overalls and snuff,
We won’t build no more railroads
For our overalls and snuff.

Skookum Ryan the Walking Boss

Skookum Ryan the Walking Boss
Came tearing down the line,
Says he, “You dirty loafers take your coats off
Or go and get your time.”

Louis Moreau recalls that this “very popular” song had five or six stanzas; this is the only one to survive.

To purchase John McCutcheon’s recording of Overalls and Snuff click here.

Joe Hill songs

Mr. Block (1913)

Tune: “It Looks Like A Big Night Tonight” (Egbert Van Alstyne)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

Please give me your attention, I’ll introduce to you
A man that is a credit to “Our Red White and Blue,”
His head is made of lumber, and solid as a rock;
He is a common worker and his name is Mr. Block.
And Block he thinks he may
Be president some day.

Oh Mr. Block, you were born by mistake,
You take the cake, you make me ache.
Tie a rock on your block and then jump in the lake,
Kindly do that for Liberty’s sake.

Yes, Mr. Block is lucky; he found a job, by gee!
The sharks got seven dollars, for job and fare and fee.
They shipped him to a desert and dumped him with his truck,
But when he tried to find his job, he sure was out of luck,
He shouted, “That’s too raw,
I’ll fix them with the law.”

Block hiked back to the city, but wasn’t doing well.
He said “I’ll join the union — the great A. F. of L.”
He got a job next morning, got fired in the night,
He said, “I’ll see Sam Gompers and he’ll fix that foreman right.”
Sam Gompers said, “You see,
You’ve got our sympathy.”

Election day he shouted, “A Socialist for Mayor!”
The “comrade” got elected, he happy was for fair,
But after the election he got an awful shock,
A great big socialistic Bull did rap him on the block.
And Comrade Block did sob,
“I helped him to his job.”

The money kings in Cuba blew up the gunboat Maine,
But Block got awful angry and blamed it all on Spain.
He went right in the battle and there he lost his leg.
And now he’s peddling shoestrings and is walking on a peg.
He shouts, “Remember Maine,
Hurrah! To hell with Spain!”

Poor Block he died one evening, I’m very glad to state,
He climbed the golden ladder up to the pearly gate.
He said, “Oh Mister Peter, one word I’d like to tell,
I’d like to meet the Astorbilts and John D Rockefell.”
Old Pete said, “Is that so?
You’ll meet them down below.”

Listen to performances by: U. Utah Phillips, Mats PaulsonFor sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Everybody’s Joining It (1912)

Tune: “Everybody’s Doin’ It” (Irving Berlin)
First published in the July 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook. 

Fellow workers, can’t you hear,
There is something in the air.
Everywhere you walk everybody talks
‘Bout the I. W. W.
They have got a way to strike
That the master doesn’t like —
Everybody sticks,
That’s the only trick,
All are joining now.

Everybody’s joining it, joining what? Joining it!
Everybody’s joining it, joining what? Joining it!
One Big Union, that’s the workers’ choice,
One Big Union, that’s the only choice,
One Big Union, that’s the only noise,
One Big Union, shout with all your voice;
Make a noise, make a noise, make a noise, boys,
Everybody’s joining it, joining what? Joining it!
Everybody’s joining it, joining what? Joining it!
Joining in this union grand,
Boys and girls in every land;
All the workers hand in hand —
Everybody’s joining it now.

The Boss is feeling mighty blue,
He don’t know just what to do.
We have got his goat, got him by the throat,
Soon he’ll work or go starving.
Join I. W. W.
Don’t let bosses trouble you,
Come and join with us —
Everybody does —
You’ve got nothing to lose.

Will the One Big Union Grow?
Mister Bonehead wants to know.
Well! What do you think, of that funny gink,
Asking such foolish questions?
Will it grow? Well! Look a here,
Brand new locals everywhere,
Better take a hunch,
Join the fighting bunch,
Fight for Freedom and Right.

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.