Sixteen Tons

"Sixteen Tons" is a song about a coal miner, based on life in coal mines in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The song is usually attributed to Merle Travis, who is credited on his 1946 recording.


Sixteen Tons (WORD)
Sixteen Tons (PDF)

Sixteen Tons (UBass)

Advance players can try [F7] instead of [F].  I've used the Tennessee Ernie Ford lyrics for the group.

George S. Davis, a folk singer and songwriter who had been a Kentucky coal miner, claimed on a 1966 recording for Folkways Records to have written the song as "Nine-to-ten tons" in the 1930s. Davis' recording of his version of the song appears on the albums George Davis: When Kentucky Had No Union Men and Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian. Merle Travis recorded the song on August 8, 1946, and it became a Gold record. According to Travis, the line from the chorus, "another day older and deeper in debt", was a phrase often used by his father, a coal miner himself. This and the line, "I owe my soul to the company store", is a reference to the truck system and to debt bondage. Under this scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings. Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. In the United States the truck system and associated debt bondage persisted until the strikes of the newly formed United Mine Workers and affiliated unions forced an end to such practices.

A 1955 version recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford reached number one in the Billboard charts. On March 25, 2015 it was announced that Ford's version of the song will be inducted into the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.

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