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.

Commemorations Joe Hill songs

Joe Hill’s Last Will (1915)

First published in the March 1916 edition (9th edition; “Joe Hill Memorial Edition”) of the IWW Little Red Songbook.

(Written in his cell, November 18, 1915, on the eve of his execution)

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kind don’t need to fuss and moan —
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”

My body? Ah, If I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will.
Good luck to all of you.

— Joe Hill

Introduced and read by Utah PhillipsSteve Earle,  discussed by Tom Paxton; introduced and sung (to new tunes) by Fred Alpi and Chico Schwall.


Joe Hill Chronology

October 7, 1879: Birth of Joe Hill (as Joel Hägglund) in Gävle, Sweden.

December 7, 1887: Joe Hill’s father, Olof, dies during operation to treat injury from job accident.

October 3, 1900: Joe Hill released from hospital after surgery and long convalescence from tuberculosis contracted as a rope maker (a trade he began work at at the age of 12). Returns to Gävle – working in shipyard, plays piano in local cafés, and joins the Gävle Workers’ Federation.

January 17, 1902: Joe Hill’s mother, Catharina, dies.

October 28, 1902: Joe Hill (and his brother) arrives in New York City from Sweden.

April 18, 1906: Joe Hill in San Francisco Earthquake; writes about it for Swedish newspaper Gefle Dägblad.

August 27, 1910: Joe Hill publishes his first article in the Industrial Worker.

March 2, 1911: IWW wins Fresno, California, Free Speech Fight.

April 30, 1911: Joe Hill leaves San Pedro, California, to join Mexican Revolution.

June 22, 1911: Joe Hill flees to California after Mexican troops crush Magonista rebellion.

July 6, 1911: Joe Hill’s song “The Preacher and the Slave” (Long-Haired Preachers) published in IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

September 30, 1911: Nationwide strike of more than 40,000 railway shopmen inspires Joe Hill’s song “Casey Jones – the Union Scab.”

March 20, 1912: Joe Hill joins San Diego Free Speech Fight.

March 27, 1912: Start of 8-month Fraser River Strike by IWW railroad construction workers, British Columbia. Joe Hill joins 1,000-mile picket line, writing several songs to bolster spirits on the picket line.

March 31, 1912: Joe Hill is IWW speaker at Free Speech League rally in San Francisco Building Trades hall, speaking on San Diego Free Speech Fight, in which he participated.

April 8, 1912: Joe Hill arrives in Fraser River Valley, Canada, to support striking IWW railroad construction workers.

May 9, 1912: Joe Hill’s song “Where the Fraser River Flows” published in Industrial Worker.

July 18, 1912: Joe Hill elected secretary of San Pedro IWW longshore strike committee.

August 1, 1912: San Pedro longshore strike defeated, Wobblies blacklisted.

January 1913: Joe Hill’s song “Mr. Block” published in Industrial Worker.

February 16, 1913: Joe Hill song “Scissor Bill” published in Industrial Worker.

March 6, 1913: Joe Hill’s “There Is Power in a Union” first appears in IWW Little Red Songbook.

April 3, 1913: Joe Hill’s anti-war song “Should I Ever Be A Soldier” first published in Industrial Worker.

April 10, 1913: Joe Hill’s song “The White Slave” first published  in Industrial Worker.

May 29, 1913: Joe Hill’s song “Stung Right” published in Industrial Worker.

July 9, 1913: Joe Hill leaves San Pedro, California, jail after 30 days on vagrancy rap stemming from his role in longshore strike. Blacklisted, he soon heads to Salt Lake City.

July 10, 1913: Industrial Worker reports IWW win in strike against Utah construction contractors.

August 12, 1913: Gun thugs break up IWW street meeting, Salt Lake City.

January 10, 1914: Murder of Salt Lake City grocer provides pretext for frame-up of Joe Hill.

January 12, 1914: Salt Lake City police arrest man who likely committed the murder Joe Hill was executed for.

January 14, 1914: Salt Lake City police shoot, nearly kill, Joe Hill in his bed.

January 22, 1914: Joe Hill pleads not guilty; police condemn him as writer of IWW songs.

January 28, 1914: Joe Hill’s preliminary hearing; police soon “lose” transcript.

June 10, 1914: Jury selection begins in Joe Hill trial; judge packs jury pool to defeat defense challenges.

June 19, 1914: Judge in Joe Hill trial “corrects” witness testimony to preserve prosecution case.

June 24, 1914: Defense testimony shows Joe Hill could not have been shot during Morrisey robbery.

July 8, 1914: Joe Hill sentenced to death.

September 19, 1914: IWW newspaper Solidarity publishes Joe Hill’s song, “Workers of the World, Awaken.”

May 28, 1915: Utah Supreme Court hears Joe Hill appeal; rules state has no obligation to prove charges.

October 16, 1915: Utah Pardons Board “considers” Joe Hill’s fate as Salt Lake newspaper falsely ties him to 1911 robbery. (Hill was in Mexican Revolution at the time.)

October 31, 1915: Salt Lake City IWW Secretary R.J. Horton shot in back, killed; the killer is feted the next day at the Elks Club.

November 9, 1915: Huge New York City rally demands Joe Hill be freed. Speakers include Joe Ettor, John Reed and Jim Larkin.

November 16, 1915:  American Federation of Labor convention delegates demand new trial for Joe Hill.

November 19, 1915: IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill murdered by Utah authorities.

November 25, 1915: Tens of thousands pack Joe Hill funeral, Chicago.

February 14, 1929: Real killer freed by Salt Lake cops in Joe Hill case involved in St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Chicago.

November 18, 1988: Last of Joe Hill’s ashes released from federal government custody. They had been seized from the mails by the government in 1917 under the Espionage Act and secretly held for decades.

Joe Hill songs

Oh, Please Let Me Dance This Waltz With You (1914)

When I hear that melody, with its rhythmic harmony,
Then I feel just like I’d be in a dream entrancing,
And I’d like to float through space, softly glide from place to place,
With the fascinating grace of a fairy dancing.

Oh, please let me dance this waltz with you,
And look in your dreamy eyes of blue.
Sweet imagination, smooth, gliding sensation,
Oh, love, I would die just for dancing this waltz with you.

Listen to that mellow strain, come and let us waltz again.
Please don’t let me ask in vain; I just feel like flying,
Put your head close to my heart, And we’ll never, never part.
Come my darling, let us start, from joy I’m nearly dying.

Joe Hill songs

Come and Take a Joy-Ride in My Aeroplane (1914)

If you will be my sweetheart, I’ll take you for a ride
Among the silv’ry clouds up in the sky.
Then, far away from sorrows like eagles we will glide,
And no one will be there but you and I.
Say, darling, if you’ll be my little honey dove,
We’ll fly above and coo and love.
I’ll take you from this dusty earth to where the air
Is pure and crystal clear — and there
I’ll give my promise to be true,
While gliding ‘mong the silv’ry clouds with you.

Come and take a joy-ride in my aeroplane tonight,
Way beyond the clouds, where all the stars are shining bright.
There l’d like to look into your loving eyes of blue,
And if I should fall, then I know I’d fall in love with you.

If you will be my sweetheart, I’ll take you to the stars,
The man in the moon will meet you face to face.
We’ll take a trip to Venus, to Jupiter and to Mars,
And with the comets we will run a race.
We’ll go to the milky way, where all the milk is sold
In cups of gold, so I was told.
Our little honeymooning trip shall be a scream,
A sweet and lovely dream.
Come, put your little head close to my heart,
And promise that we’ll never, never part.

Joe Hill songs

My Dreamland Girl (1914)

Would you like to get acquainted with my Dreamland Girl divine?
Never was a picture painted fairer than this girl of mine.
Sweet and graceful like a pansy, bright and charming like a pearl,
She’s the idol of my fancy, she’s my own — my Dreamland Girl.

Charming Fairy Queen of my dreams,
Ever before me your face brightly beams:
Night and day l’m dreaming of you,
Some day my sweet dreams perhaps will come true.

She is coy and captivating, Venus-like in grace and pose,
With an air more fascinating than the fragrance of the Rose.
Like the stars her eyes are shining ‘neath a wealth of golden hair,
And my heart is ever pining for my Dreamland Girl so fair.

Watch it sung by Bucky Halker.

Joe Hill songs

What We Want (1913)

Tune: “Rainbow” (Percy Wenrich)
First published in the March 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

We want all the workers in the world to organize
Into a great big union grand
And when we all united stand
The world for workers we demand
If the working class could only see and realize
What mighty power labor has
Then the exploiting master class
It would soon fade away.

Come all ye toilers that work for wages,
Come from every land,
Join the fighting band,
In one union grand,
Then for the workers we’ll make upon this earth a paradise
When the slaves get wise and organize.

We want the sailor and the tailor and the lumberjacks,
And all the cooks and laundry girls,
We want the guy that dives for pearls,
The pretty maid that’s making curls,
And the baker and staker and the chimneysweep,
We want the man that’s slinging hash,
The child that works for little cash
In one union grand.

We want the tinner and the skinner and the chamber-maid,
We want the man that spikes on soles,
We want the man that’s digging holes,
We want the man that’s climbing poles,
And the trucker and the mucker and the hired man,
And all the factory girls and clerks,
Yes, we want every one that works,
In one union grand.

For sheet music and karaoke file click here. To purchase John McCutcheon’s recording of this song click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Old Toiler’s Message (1912)

Tune: “Silver Threads Among the Gold” (Hart Pease Danks)

First published in the August 1913 edition of the IWW Little Red Songbook.

“Darling I am growing old” —
So the toiler told his wife —
“Father Time the days have tolled
Of my usefulness in life.
Just tonight my master told me
He can’t use me any more.
Oh, my darling, do not scold me,
When the wolf comes to our door.”

To the scrap heap we are going
When we’re overworked and old —
When our weary heads are showing
Silver threads among the gold.

“Darling, I am growing old –”
He once more his wife did tell —
“All my labor pow’r I’ve sold
I have nothing more to sell.
Though I’m dying from starvation
I shall shout with all my might
To the coming generation.
I shall shout with all my might –”

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.