REVIEW: Bucky Halker & Andy Dee – The Ghost of Woody Guthrie (The Shepherd/July 10, 2012)

Political activist, musician and music scholar Bucky Halker is a Wisconsin native back now in Racine. Working with another Badger musician, Andy Dee (formerly of the country band Molly & the Heymakers), Halker recorded a two-disc set in a marathon session—a collection of original songs inspired by Woody Guthrie with a few of Guthrie’s sprinkled in.

To his credit, Halker isn’t trying to mimic the father of American political balladeering but writes and sings in his own voice, influenced as much by the currents taken by rock music as any ancient concept of folk music. Many of Halker’s lyrics express dismay over the bad ideologies rampant in contemporary society and of ideals betrayed; others draw from the imagery of gospel music to arouse a response against injustice.

Dave Luhrssen
The Shepherd (Milwaukee) July 10, 2012

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McHenry County Historical Society Protest Songs With Bucky Halker

Public protests about perceived loss of freedoms and equal rights is nothing new.

In the century that came after the Civil War, Illinois businesses made great gains, and the state emerged as a central player in the nation’s economy.

However, those gains were not spread equally across the population. Many workers believed that their wages, hours and working conditions were unfair and repeatedly protested to improve their situation.

Political action, unionization, public education, strikes and rallies were their tools, but nowhere was their voice more clear and artistic than in song and poetry. Illinois became the center of American working-class protest music, as coal miners, laborers, printers, iron workers, clothing workers and their allies penned songs and poems for various causes.

Join musician, author and cultural historian Bucky Halker at 3 p.m. March 6 at the McHenry County Historical Society for “Ain’t Got a Dollar: Illinois Workers and Protest Songs, 1865-1965.”

Bucky Halker, well-known for his music-history programs on Woody Guthrie and the Great Depression, will use a blend of performance, audience participation, commentary and discussion as he reviews a century of songs from Illinois workers.

Halker has a doctorate in U.S. labor history from the University of Minnesota, is a published author and has released several CDs.

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Bucky Halker and Don Stiernberg: Two Way Street Coffeehouse, Downers Grove, IL

Bucky Halker and Don Stiernberg at Two Way Street

Bucky and Don roll into Downers Grove, Illinois on December 16, 2016 for a couple of sets of music. Showtime is 8:15.

In years past, Don and Bucky toured and performed frequently, but more recently they’ve been busy with projects and other tours, so this is their 2016 reunion gig. They’ll be playing original songs that Bucky and Don have recorded over the last 25 years, as well as a selection of Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, and other labor protest songs they’ve also featured on Bucky’s labor CD projects.

For information on Two Way Street visit:
Two Way Street Coffee House
1047 Curtiss Street, Downers Grove, IL 60515

See you there!

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Folk Festival “Faves of 2015”

Folk Festival “Faves of 2015”
Lilli Kuzma WDCB Radio

Bucky Halker’s latest release Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill was included on the year end “Faves of 2015” on Lilli Kuzma’s ever-popular Folk Festival show on WDCB radio.

Bucky was included as one of the Fave Albums of 2015. What’s more two songs from the CD—Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay and Casey Jones—were also included on the list Fave Traditional or Public Domain material.

Copies of the CD are available at

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In These Times: An Interview with Bucky Halker on Joe Hill

November 19, 2015
Remembering the Life and Music of Labor Agitator Joe Hill, Who Was Executed 100 Years Ago Today

Dave Cochran interviews musician Bucky Halker on the music of labor songwriter and martyr Joe Hill and his new CD Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill

To read this interview visit In These Times

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Bucky Halker Interview with Dave Cochran for Salt Lake City Weekly

September 2, 1015
Bucky Halker resurrects Joe Hill’s songs and ideas, a century after Hill’s execution
By David Cochran

Read the interview at:
Salt Lake City Weekly

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Anywhere But Utah: Song of Joe Hill – Grand Prairie Union News

Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News (October 2015)
Bloomington IL

“Joe Hill has never died” — if you are of a certain generation, you remember Woodstock and Joan Baez singing an “organizing song” about some guy named Joe Hill.

Joe Hill was real — a Swedish immigrant who became a vocal union organizer, executed by Utah in 1915, charged with a murder which many claim was trumped up.

Joe Hill wrote songs and parodies, drew cartoons, and trumpeted the radical early 20th century labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  

On the centennial of his execution, Chicago’s Bucky Halker has released an enticing CD of Hill songs, Anywhere But Utah.   Joe Hill took popular music and religious hymns, twisting them into either satirical pieces or triumphal anthems, calling workers to join the “one big union.”

The IWW believed not in union contracts but in direct action by workers, on the job and in the community.  They did not trust leaders, hated capitalism and proclaimed a utopian vision of a worker-run nation, with decisions made through job site democracy.  Their message resonated with itinerant farm laborers, timber and construction workers and immigrants, whose mobility or language barriers restricted their access to traditional unions.

Hill’s songs reflect those workers’ world — proud of their work and skills, not afraid to sabotage an unfriendly employer and an uncompromising belief in a better world.

Halker’s interpretations here reflect various styles — Dixieland, blues, rock, klezmer and pop music.   Folk music is often played with guitar, but in Joe Hill’s day, a piano, violin, accordion or ukulele might have been more accessible, and this album reflects those various approaches.

Amazingly,  this Swedish immigrant very quickly learned American speech, idiom and phrases, turning them into playful lyrics.   Before radio, TV, IPods or records, people actually would gather and sing to entertain themselves.   Workers often formed choral societies or brass bands.  Hill knew that world well and wrote his music appropriately.   In that tradition, Halker has a Swedish chorus perform two of the pieces, reflecting diverse musical traditions.

There’s another side of Joe Hill that’s rarely explored.  “Tin Pan Alley” was a New York enclave that pumped out sheet music and created the day’s “hits.”   Halker includes two Hill romantic songs that any publisher would have scooped up — testament to his talent and many dimensions.

Some language and expressions in the songs might seem odd today, but were popular slang in the early 20th century.  Halker includes excellent liner notes to clarify this, tells Hill’s story, how Halker came to interpret the pieces and the labor and popular context.

This CD works on multiple levels — it’s an appreciation of a creative labor militant and an historic document of a volatile time, when workers were suffering low wages, sweatshops and exploitation, their union efforts crushed by state militias, police and hired thugs.   In a nation today increasingly separated between the ‘haves” and the ” have nots,” Joe Hill’s century-old messages still resonates with a shared vision of a worker-empowered, fairer society.

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Review: Bucky Halker, Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s Living Legacy (review)

Bucky Halker, Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill. Revolting Records, (2015)
Alexis Buss and Philip Foner, eds., The Letters of Joe Hill. Haymarket Books, (2015)
John McCutcheon, Joe Hill’s Last Will. Appalsongs, (2015)

November marked the 100th anniversary of the execution of IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, an occasion that has been marked by the release of a new edition of his writings, an international labor conference in Sweden, a trilingual compilation of art and music he inspired, museum exhibits, and countless performances. Most readers will know Joe Hill’s music through folk performances by Utah Phillips and Joe Glaser, or perhaps Hazel Dickens’ rendition of “Rebel Girl.” Everyone has heard “The Ballad of Joe Hill,” transforming Joe into a dreamy Popular Front icon. And a few years ago William Adler brought the historical Joe Hill back into focus with his superb biography (reviewed in ASR 57).

I have heard a great many performances of Joe Hill’s songs over the past year, and have come to believe that even his weakest songs can be powerful when performed with conviction. Magpie’s version of his “Don’t Take My Papa Away From Me,” written on the eve of Hill’s execution, as the U.S. was being drawn into World War I, brings new life to what is generally viewed as an overly sentimental song – not only proof that Hill remained engaged with the class struggle up to the very end, but also moving in its own right. J.P. Wright’s powerful rendition of “We Will Sing One Song” completely transformed my sense of the song. And of course the converse is also true – at one event I heard a rendition of “There Is Power In A Union” that evoked all the angst and weakness of contemporary business unionism.

John McCutcheon’s “Joe Hill’s Last Will” includes 13 songs, beginning with “Casey Jones” and ending with “There Is Power.” It includes two songs that, to the best of my knowledge, have never before been recorded: “What We Want” (to my mind one of the strongest tracks) and “Overalls and Snuff,” written on the 1,000-mile picket line. “Stung Right,” a lesser-known song about the miseries of life in the Navy that I first heard sung by Ewan MacColl, also gets a strong performance. Joe Hill fans will certainly want a copy, but many of the performances lack conviction, relying instead on lavish production to carry songs perfectly capable of standing on their own if given half a chance.

Bucky Halker’s “Anywhere But Utah” also includes several never-before-recorded Joe Hill songs (“Scissor Bill,” “Come and Take a Joy Ride in my Aeroplane,” “Der Chief of Fresno,” “My Dreamland Girl,” “Nearer My Job to Thee,” “Let Bill Do It, and “It’s A Long Way Down to the Soupline”), among 18 tracks (and three archival segments) that also include standards including “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay,” “The Preacher and the Slave,” “Mister Block,” “The Rebel Girl” and a rocking rendition of “There Is Power in the Union.” Hill’s rarely recorded anthem “Workers of the World Awaken” (which has some great poetry that powerfully captures the IWW message, but does not sing very well) is also present, but sung in Swedish translation. (Two other tracks interpolate Swedish and English.)

“Anywhere But Utah” comes with a 20-page booklet that includes extensive notes (and lyrics) for each song, offering a quick overview of Hill’s music and his contribution to labor songs. The complete text of Joe Hill’s surviving songs and writings is included in the re-issue of The Letters of Joe Hill, providing clear evidence not only of Joe Hill’s wit, but also of an optimism that is often overlooked. In Joe’s “Soup-line,” for example, the workers quickly tire of the watery soup and other indignities visited upon them, organize to take control of the industries, and implement the four-four day; by song’s end, the soupline is frequented by the former bosses, who subsist as always on the workers’ charity, but no longer so ostentatiously.

Halker brings a sense of commitment to the songs, even as he re-imagines several of them. This is a Joe Hill inflected with ragtime and vaudeville (the popular music of his day, and which he borrowed several tunes from), but also with blues, jazz and rock. A couple of songs seem self-consciously old-timey, and I would have welcomed an English-language version of “Workers of the World Awaken,” one of the songs Joe Hill wrote from death row. But overall, this is an album that takes Hill seriously as a musician, and which will reward repeated listening.

The Letters of Joe Hill adds several letters unavailable when the first edition was issued and greatly expands the explanatory notes. Several articles by Joe Hill are also included, showing his concern with police brutality and the need to organize women workers, but also an intensely practical turn of mind. Joe dismisses the idea that workers can secure their rights through armed struggle, for example, not on ideological grounds but through a discussion of the enormous sums of money that would be required for armaments. Direct action at the point of production, he notes, is more effective, cheaper, and results in no loss of human life. There is no attempt at a full biography here; but by collecting Joe Hill’s writings (articles, letters, poems and songs) and cartoons, Alexis Buss and Philip Foner do much to fill in the contours of Hill’s life and the commitments to which he dedicated his life.

Joe Hill embodies the self-taught working class activist-intellectuals who built the radical labor movement. His songs continue to speak to us a century later, about direct action, the need for solidarity, and the enormous power always in our hands, should we organize to use it.

Jon Bekken (January 2016)

Joe Hill’s Living Legacy (review)

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Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill CD Review (Germany)

Anywhere But Utah – Songs Of Joe Hill
(Revolting Records)

Review from Folker magazine, Germany 2016

This Americana musical revue features sixteen songs (many previously never recorded) and five spoken-word recordings, illuminating the life and music of union activist, singer, and songwriter Joe Hill. Undertaken with a team of first-class studio musicians, the album is musically somewhere between Vaudeville Music Hall, church hymns, folk and country, and equipped with insightful liner notes. Excellent! (Folker magazine, Germany 2016)

Americana-Revue mit fünf gesprochenen Zeitzeugenaufnahmen und sechzehn Liedern (viele bislang nie aufgenommen) beleuchten das Leben und die Musik des Gewerkschaftsaktivisten, Sängers und Liedermachers Joe Hill. Aufgenommen mit einer Riege erstklassiger Studiomusiker, ist das Album musikalisch zwischen Vaudeville Music Hall, Kirchenhymne, Folk und Country angesiedelt und mit erhellenden Linernotes ausgestattet. Exzellent!
(Folker magazine, Germany 2016)

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Bucky Halker – Lecture-Concert – Frankfurt, Germany

Dr. Clark “Bucky” Halker will be donning his Ph.D. hat and presenting a lecture-concert for the Goethe University of Frankfurt lecture series “Voices of Dissidence: The History and Transnational Diffusion of American Labor Protest Songs”. Bucky will be focusing on American protest labor music.

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