Born of Fire
The NewLanders Born of Fire: Songs of Steel and Industry The NewLanders are a group of Pittsburgh area musicians and songwriters who have researched and rediscovered songs written by, and about, the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. By forging these old tunes in their own style, the Newlanders have created a new sound -- while honoring and preserving the spirit of this region's rich past. The CD contains eleven songs born of the steel and coal industry in southwestern Pennsylvania between 1845 and 1945. They are the songs the men and women of the steel era sang and which tell, in their own words, the story of their lives. Their story is one of struggle, hard work, defiance, pride, and survival. Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Doug Wilkin at Wilkin Audio About the Songs Twenty-Inch Mill The lyrics of this song were passed between rolling-mill men for decades before they were published in the April 26, 1894 issue of the National Labor Tribune. Pittsburgh steelworkers created the ballad. It's a proud anthem to Carnegie's twenty-inch mill on Thirty-Third Street, which produced the first Pittsburgh-rolled beams around 1870. Celebrated Working Man Miner minstrel Ed Foley composed this song in 1892 after listening to an off-hours miner brag about how he could 'cut more coal than any man from Pittsburgh to New York.' RJ Heid: Drums, Les Getchel: Bodhran Where the Old Allegheny and Monongahela Flow There is some question as to where this song originated, but it was a very popular tune in Pittsburgh around 1910. The Smoky City Quartet sang it in four-part harmony, and impromptu versions could be heard in the pubs around Sarah Street on the South Side. It is reminiscent of Pittsburgh in a bygone era, but this ode to Pittsburgh still touches those of us who love 'the city that is built among the hills.' RJ Heid: Drums The Altoona Freight Wreck (Fred Tait-Douglas, Carson Robison) This song was found in a collection titled, Scalded to Death by the Steam, Authentic Stories of Railroad Disasters and the Ballads that Were Written About Them by Katie Letcher Lyle. The wreck occurred on November 29, 1925. Freight No. 1262 was hauling fifty-eight freight cars, running east from Kittanning Point, at the topmost spot on the Horseshoe Curve. The engineer lost brake power as the tracks followed a sharp descent for five miles down the mountainside. Picking up speed all along the way, the train finally smashed into the Altoona train yard, sending bystanders leaping for safety. Two men were killed in the accident and five thousand spectators came to view the wreckage. Vernon Dalhart originally recorded the song in January 1926. RJ Heid: Drums, Dan Kaplan: Harmonica Draglines (Deborah Silverstein) Johnstown native Deborah Silverstein wrote Draglines in the late 70's, when she was living in Boston and performing with five other women in a leftist/feminist string band called 'New Harmony Sisterhood.' On a visit home she was on a drive with her younger sister in the area near Coalport when she saw strip mining for the first time. She writes: As I was already immersed in a world of leftist politics, it wasn't hard for me to create the storyline for the song. People responded with great intensity to Draglines from the very beginning and the song has gone on to have a life of it's own, traveling around the world and still, occasionally, returning back to me in interesting ways. It's been recorded, among others, by Peggy Seeger, Guy and Candy Carawan and Delores Keene, and The Reel World String Band. Nathan Santos: Acoustic Bass Spike Crain (Gerard Rohlf) When the band first saw the paintings in the Born of Fire collection, they immediately thought of a song written by NewLander Gerard Rohlf. Several paintings depicted the tough little tug boats that push the coal barges up and down Pittsburgh's waterways.Gerard Rohlf remembers: I wrote the song in 1972 while I was working with Henry Koerner, a renowned artist and instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He encouraged his students to find their models in life. He also admired the variety of architectural settings around the city, so he asked me to bring my guitar and meet a group of his students on the Smithfield Street Bridge. Seated there on a girder, singing a song, I noticed a plucky little tugboat, called Spike Crain. It was pushing some barges down the Monongahela River. I waved to the captain, who treated me to a blast of the ship's horn, and this song was born. Twenty years later I met the captain's grandson, Mason, when I sang Spike Crain at a coffee house in Squirrel Hill. RJ Heid: Drums Hard Traveling (Woody Guthrie) Woody Guthrie, the People's Poet, had deep respect and admiration for America's hardworking people. He often passed through our region, and he wrote these lyrics celebrating railroad workers, hard-rock miners, and Pittsburgh steel workers. RJ Heid: Drums Coal Diggin' Blues This song was preserved by George Korson in 1940 in a collection of field recordings titled, 'Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners.' According to Korson, the bituminous coal industry was officially established in Appalachia in 1840 when it's first million tons were produced, chiefly by 'native white workers and Negro slaves.' After the Civil War, African-Americans continued to play an outstanding role in the development of folk music of the bituminous coal fields. He notes, 'The blues were more suited than spirituals to the miners' purpose. After the song had been created it was taken over by the folk, Negro and white, as an unquestioned possession.' Amy Buchan Baldonieri: Hammer Bread and Roses (Lyrics by James Oppenheim) The lyrics of this song were written by James Oppenheim and were inspired by banners held by women during the textile industry strike of 1912. Their banners read, 'Give us bread, but give us roses!' There is also an Italian song with the same title, 'Pan e Rose,' written by the Italian-American poet Arturo Giovannitti. Never underestimate the role of women in the fight for fair wages and decent working conditions. Mother Jones, dubbed 'the grandmother of all agitators' by the U.S. Senate, came through Pittsburgh many times. Speaking in Homestead on the eve of the great steel strike of 1919 she said, 'What we want is a little leisure, time for music, playgrounds, a decent home, books and the things that make life worth while.' She was quickly arrested. RJ Heid: Drums I Lie in the American Land (by Andrew Kovaly) Andrew Kovaly moved to Pittsburgh from Slovakia in 1899. He worked in the steel mills in McKeesport until his death. He wrote many songs, including this one, which he describes in his own words: I was a young foreman at a Bessemer mill here in McKeesport. A very good friend of mine, a member of my crew, had saved enough money to send for his family in Slovakia. While they were on their way to America he was killed, before my eyes, under an ingot buggy. I tried to grab him but it was too late. It was terrible. I felt so bad that when I went to meet his wife and little children at the railroad station I hardly knew how to break the sad news to them. Then I made this song. My friend was very proud of America and it was with pride and happiness that he looked forward to raising his children as Americans. The song made me feel better, and also my friend's wife. But she cried very hard. I have never forgotten it. (Interviewed by Jacob A. Evanson, 1947) Jim DiSpirito: Percussion Two Cent Coal Two Cent Coal commemorates a disaster on the Monongahela River in the winter of 1876.It had been a long, cold winter and the ice on the river was frozen to the depth of fourteen inches. Due to bad weather the mines were mostly still, and it was during this time that the operators reduced what they were paying the miners from 3 cents a bushel to 2 cents a bushel - or about fifty cents a ton. With the dearth of work and pay the miners were forced to pull their meager resources in order to survive. An early thaw caused the ice to melt up river, and suddenly massive ice flows came crashing past the shores of Elizabeth Town. The ice swept away the mine's tipples along with the operators' property. The suffering Irish miners saw in this the hand of God and wrote this triumphant song. The introduction is from a collection of field recordings by George Korson. The singer is Mr. David Morrison from Finlayville, PA. He was eighty-one years old when this song was recorded in 1940. Les Getchell: Bodhran In Soho on Saturday Night This little ditty was written as a satirical response to Pittsburgh's first liquor-license law of 1855. The city was trying to mandate that all saloons close at midnight on Saturday. After all, technically it was Sunday morning and Pittsburgh took it's blue laws very seriously. In fact, in a lecture on the folk songs of western Pennsylvania, given by Dr. George Swetnam in 1972, he recalls a time when the entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was arrested for playing a concert on Sunday. And forget about Sunday major-league baseball games - not in Pittsburgh! At the time, Soho, the area where Duquesne University now stands, was considered the rowdiest section of Pittsburgh. It was, according to Dr. Swetnam, 'rougher than the pig iron that they used to make there.' The city would attempt to close a saloon, and the thirsty steel workers would open it right back up again -raising their glasses and singing this song of defiance. Recorded live at the Map Room in Regent Square; featuring members of St. Bede's Choir; Catey Heaney, tambourine; and friends and family.