Commemorations Joe Hill songs

Joe Hill Events at LaborFest, San Francisco

July 2015

7/5/2015 Concert: David Rovics, Joe Hill Commemoration Concert, opening LaborFest 2015 at ILWU Local 34 Hall in San Francisco.  On July 5, 1934,  two longshore strike supporters  were gunned down by police, igniting the 1934 San Francisco general strike.  LaborFest is an annual working class cultural, music and film festival.

7/14/2015: Poetry & Music:  Bastille Day, Words on the Anniversary of Joe Hill’s Death. LaborFest, San Francisco. Tuesday, July 147:00 p.m. Free. First Unitarian Universalist Church – 1187 Franklin Street. Poets Judith Ayne Bernard, Dorothy Payne, John Curl, Mahmaz Badihian, Jack Hirschman, Agneta Falk, Karen Melander Magoon and others. Music with Troubadour Vic Sadot.

7/15/2015: Film:  The Ballad of Joe Hill”(1971, Sweden) by Bo Widerberg. San Francisco. FilmWorks United International Working Class Film & Video Festival. Wednesday, July 15, 7:00 p.m. Free. ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 2nd St. next to AT&T Ball Park. Parking available at the union hall parking lot. The entrance is at the corner of King St. and 2nd, right next to the ball park.

This dramatic film tells Joe Hill’s story as an immigrant coming to the United States. This rarely seen Academy Award-nominated film is about an ingenious immigrant labor organizer who is framed on a murder charge in a highly sensationalized trial with little evidence.  Despite worldwide appeals, Hill is martyred by a Utah firing squad after one of the most controversial capital punishment trials of the 20th Century. Today, on the hundredth anniversary of his death, the state of Utah has reinstituted the firing squad. Despite the bullets that ended his life, his legacy, humor, principles and solidarity with workers of the world live on.

Joe Hill songs

Der Chief, of Fresno (1911)

A poem first published in the Industrial Worker’s February 2, 1911 edition during the IWW’s Fresno Free Speech Fight.

Who is the freak that had the cheek,
The crawling, slimy, cringing sneak,
That prohibits us the right to speak?
—— Der Chief.

Who gave the workers the loud Ha! Ha!
Who tried to trample down the law?
Who handed us the deal so raw?
—— Der Chief.

Who is the most notorious liar?
Who had stool pigeons in his hire?
Who mobbed our speakers, camp did fire?
—— Der Chief.

Who is this grey-haired guy so wise?
Who winks and blinks his bleary eyes?
Thinks he has the workers hypnotized?
—— Der Chief.

Who was the czar with haughty frown?
Who gave us floaters out of town?
And was surprised when we turned him down?
—— Der Chief.

Who recommended the cat-o’-nine
And wished to have it soaked in brine,
To make the workers fall in line?
—— Der Chief.

Who said the working men were scum?
That we were tramps and on the bum?
And that he had us on the run?
—— Der Chief.

Who was the despot who used his might?
Who broke the backbone of our fight?
Vagged all our leaders in one night?
—— Der Chief.

Who wears that worried look of pain,
When he finds the fight is on again?
Leaders coming on every train.
—— Der Chief.

Who is the mutt with shiny pate,
Who tried to chase us from this state,
And is surely going to meet his fate?
—— Der Chief.

Joe Hill songs

Don’t Take My Papa Away From Me (1915)

Words and music written by Joe Hill in the Salt Lake City jail.
First published in the 1916 Joe Hill Memorial Edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

A little girl with her father stayed, in a cabin across the sea,
Her mother dear in the cold grave lay; with her father she’d always be —
But then one day the great war broke out and the father was told to go;
The little girl pleaded — her father she needed.
She begged, cried and pleaded so:

Don’t take my papa away from me, don’t leave me there all alone.
He has cared for me so tenderly, ever since mother was gone.
Nobody ever like him can be, no one can so with me play.
Don’t take my papa away from me; please don’t take papa away.

Her tender pleadings were all in vain, and her father went to the war.
He’ll never kiss her good night again, for he fell ‘mid the cannon’s roar.
Greater a soldier was never born, but his brave heart was pierced one day;
And as he was dying, he heard some one crying,
A girl’s voice from far away:

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Coffee an’ (1912)

Tune: “Count Your Blessings” (Johnson Ottman/E. O. Excell)
First published in the 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

An employment shark the other day I went to see,
And he said come in and buy a job from me,
Just a couple of dollars, for the office fee,
The job is steady and the fare is free.

Count your pennies, count them, count them one by one,
Then you plainly see how you are done,
Count your pennies, take them in your hand,
Sneak into a Jap’s and get your coffee an’.

I shipped out and worked and slept in lousy bunks,
And the grub it stunk as bad as forty-‘leven skunks,
When I slaved a week the boss he said one day,
You’re too tired, you are fired, go and get your pay.

When the clerk commenced to count, Oh holy gee!
Road, school and poll tax and hospital fee.
Then I fainted, and I nearly lost my sense
When the clerk he said: “You owe me fifty cents.”

When I got back to town with blisters on my feet,
There I heard a fellow speaking on the street.
And he said: “It is the workers’ own mistake.
If they stick together they get all they make.”

And he said: “Come in and join our union grand.
Who will be a member of this fighting band?”
“Write me out a card,” says I, “By Gee!
The Industrial worker is the dope for me.”

Count your workers, count them, count them one by one,
Join our union and we’ll show you how it’s done.
Stand together, workers, hand in hand,
Then you will never have to live on coffee an’.

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Nearer My Job to Thee (1913)

Tune: “Nearer My God To Thee” (Lowell Mason)
First Published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

Nearer my job to thee,
Nearer with glee,
Three plunks for the office fee,
But my fare is free.
My train is running fast,
I’ve got a job at last,
Nearer my job to thee
Nearer to thee.

Arrived where my job should be,
Nothing in sight I see,
Nothing but sand, by gee,
Job went up a tree.
No place to eat or sleep,
Snakes in the sage brush creep.
Nero a saint would be,
Shark, compared to thee.

Nearer to town! each day
(Hiked all the way),
Nearer that agency,
Where I paid my fee,
And when that shark I see
You’ll bet your boots that he
Nearer his god shall be.
Leave that to me.

Performed by: Mathias ÅbergSheet music and Karaoke file.

Joe Hill songs

Bronco Buster Flynn (1915)

To the tune of “Yankee Doodle”

I got your picture Buster dear,
A-riding on a pony.
Your pony is a real one too,
You wouldn’t have a “honey.”

Buster Flynn he sure is game,
His eyes are full of luster.
I think we’d better change his name,
And call him “Bronco Buster.”

When you grow up to be a man,
Be always “rough and ready.”
But never brag about it though,
Like windy “Bull Moose Teddy.”

And by and by, you’ll ride out West
Like cowboys that you’re read of,
But don’t fall off your pony dear,
And break your little head off.

See lyrics in Joe Hill’s handwriting.

Joe Hill songs

The Preacher and the Slave (1911)

Tune: “Sweet Bye and Bye” (S. Fillmore Bennett/J. P. Webster)
First published in the 1911 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will 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.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.

If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this 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:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

Sung by: Bucky Halker, Mischief Brew, Utah Phillips, Norcsalordie, Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips, Chris Buhalis. in Spanish: Malhaya Damian. For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Rebel’s Toast

first published in 1914 edition of IWW Little Red Songbook

If Freedom’s road seems rough and hard,
And strewn with rocks and thorns,
Then put your wooden shoes on, pard,
And you won’t hurt your corns.
To organize and teach, no doubt,
Is very good — that’s true,
But still we can’t succeed without
The Good Old Wooden Shoe.

Joe Hill songs

Scissor Bill (1913)

Tune: “Steamboat Bill” (Leighton Brothers) (1910)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW Little Red Songbook.

You may ramble ’round the country anywhere you will,
You’ll always run across that same old Scissor Bill.
He’s found upon the desert, he is on the hill,
He’s found in every mining camp and lumber mill.
He looks just like a human, he can eat and walk,
But you will find he isn’t, when he starts to talk.
He’ll say, “This is my country,” with an honest face,
While all the cops they chase him out of every place.

Scissor Bill, he’s a little dippy,
Scissor Bill, he has a funny face.
Scissor Bill, should drown in Mississippi,
He is the missing link that Darwin tried to trace.

And Scissor Bill he couldn’t live without the booze,
He sits around all day and spits tobacco juice.
He takes a deck of cards and tries to beat the Chink!
Yes, Bill would be a smart guy if he only could think.
And Scissor Bill he says: “This country must be freed
From Niggers, Japs and Dutchmen and the gol durn Swede.”
He says that every cop would be a native son
If it wasn’t for the Irishman, the sonna fur gun.

Scissor Bill, the “foreigners” is cussin’,
Scissor Bill, he says: “I hate a Coon”;
Scissor Bill, is down on everybody,
The Hottentots, the bushmen and the man in the moon.

Don’t try to talk your union dope to Scissor Bill,
He says he never organized and never will.
He always will be satisfied until he’s dead,
With coffee and a doughnut and a lousy old bed.
And Bill, he says he gets rewarded thousand fold,
When he gets up to Heaven on the streets of gold.
But I don’t care who knows it, and right here I’ll tell,
If Scissor Bill is goin’ to Heaven, I’ll go to Hell.

Scissor Bill, he wouldn’t join the union,
Scissor Bill, he says, “Not me, by Heck!”
Scissor Bill, gets his reward in Heaven,
Oh! sure. He’ll get it, but he’ll get it in the neck.

Sung by Bucky Halker and Mats Paulson. For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Ta-Ra-Ra Boom De-Ay (1914)

Tune: “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom De-Ay” (attributed to Henry Sayers) (1891)
First published in the March 1916 Joe Hill Memorial Edition of the IWW Little Red Songbook.

I had a job once threshing wheat, worked sixteen hours with hands and feet.
And when the moon was shining bright, they kept me working all the night.
One moonlight night, I hate to tell, I “accidentally” slipped and fell.
My pitchfork went right in between some cog wheels of that thresh-machine.

It made a noise that way.
And wheels and bolts and hay,
Went flying every way.
That stingy rube said, “Well!
A thousand gone to hell.”
But I did sleep that night,
I needed it all right.

Next day that stingy rube did say, “I’ll bring my eggs to town today;
You grease my wagon up, you mutt, and don’t forget to screw the nut.”
I greased his wagon all right, but I plumb forgot to screw the nut,
And when he started on that trip, the wheel slipped off and broke his hip.

It made a noise that way,
That rube was sure a sight,
And mad enough to fight;
His whiskers and his legs
Were full of scrambled eggs;
I told him, “That’s too bad —
I’m feeling very sad.”

And then that farmer said, “You turk! I bet you are an I-Won’t Work.”
He paid me off right there, By Gum! So I went home and told my chum.
Next day when threshing did commence, my chum was Johnny on the fence;
And ‘pon my word, that awkward kid, he dropped his pitchfork, like I did.

It made a noise that way,
And part of that machine
Hit Reuben on the bean.
He cried, “Oh me, oh my;
I nearly lost my eye.”
My partner said, “You’re right —
It’s bedtime now, good night.”

But still that rube was pretty wise, these things did open up his eyes.
He said, “There must be something wrong; I think I work my men too long.”
He cut the hours and raised the pay, gave ham and eggs for every day,
Now gets his men from union hall, and has no “accidents” at all.

That rube is feeling gay;
He learned his lesson quick,
Just through a simple trick.
For fixing rotten jobs
And fixing greedy slobs,
This is the only way,

Performed by John McCutcheon. For sheet music and karaoke file click here.