Sing a Little Bit of These Workin' Man Blues

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

They're out there.  They've always been out there. Just like background actors in a film.  Not the stars, but very much essential.  Because if they weren't around, you would notice.  They pump your fuel, grow your food, mow your grass, deliver your packages, stock your grocery store shelves, care for your kids, build your cars…and a million and one other things they do.  They were there pre-pandemic and as we gradually emerge from Covid, they will still be there.  Without them, America wouldn't be America.

Merle Haggard, who was instrumental in popularizing the Bakersfield Sound which rivaled the country music emanating from Nashville, wrote the quintessential tribute to all those blue-collar workers called Workin' Man Blues in 1969.  And like many Haggard tunes, it has stood the test of time.  And while Haggard may have been gender specific, the great songbird Emmylou Harris in a 1998 tribute appropriated the song for working women as well.

In 2006, Bob Dylan wrote his own ode to the working man included in his album Modern Times called Workingman's Blues #2. The song is perhaps a nod to Haggard who toured with him as part of his Never-Ending Tour in 2005.  Writer Patrick Doyle refers to it as a "sequel" to Haggard's original.  But Dylan being Dylan ruminates, contemplates, deconstructs, reconstructs as he works his way through the troubles and travails of a man caught up in forces beyond his control.  There's the proletariat, global trade, people that burn down his barn and steal his horse.  It's almost the same sentiments expressed in All Along The Watchtower where "businessmen drink his wine". Dylan takes six minutes and seven seconds to commiserate his plight.  Haggard on the other hand in his recorded version needs only two minutes and thirty-two seconds to allow the working man to blow off steam, have a drink, have a dream…and to keep on working "as long as his two hands are fit to use".  And Monday morning, "he'll be right back with the crew". 

The odds are stacked against the working men and women of this country.  Haggard knows it but won't spend a lot of time worrying about things beyond his control.  That's the difference between the two men's perspectives.  Not that Haggard doesn't entertain the thought of just leaving everything behind, jumping on a train or driving away and "throwing his bills out the window".  But the thought is short lived because he must "keep his nose to the grindstone" and buy his kids some shoes. While Dylan may throw a six-minute pity party, Haggard will have none of it.  He also rejects any outside government help.  "I've never been on welfare, and that's one place I won't be", he assures us.  That attitude hearkens back to an era when it was a stigma to ask for government relief. 

The difference in moods has Haggard playing a raucous Telecaster with a driving beat meant to mimic the hustle and bustle of the workaday world.  It is the blues, but he's going to have some fun anyway.  Call it a tribute, call it a celebration, call it joy in working for working's sake.  Dylan's version starts out with a sedate piano steel guitar intro which sets the stage for the song's somber mood.

Play Dylan, play Haggard but whatever you do, sing a little bit of these working man blues. 




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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2021 Les Marcott
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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