Bucky Halker and the Complete Unknowns doing their renditions of Illinois labor and working-class protest songs from 1865-1950.
When I recorded Don’t Want Your Millions, I included a couple of Illinois labor songs, but I’d also collected hundreds of other unknown labor songs and poems over the years. Even Woody Guthrie’s song about the Centralia mining disaster of 1947, “The Dying Miner,” wasn’t in wide circulation. A few brilliant blues songs with labor messages had also been recorded by Floyd Jones, Peetie Wheatstraw, and JB Lenoir. The vast majority hadn’t been recorded, however. Some had no music. Some of ‘em were really wonderful and deserved a larger audience.
I figured Illinois labor songsters and poets deserved more credit so I asked the state AFL-CIO if they’d lend a financial hand in recording a CD. Fortunately, Margaret Blackshere, the first woman to head the AFL-CIO in Illinois, consented, but she needed it done very quickly. So I picked out the songs, wrote music for some of ‘em, figured out arrangements, and rehearsed with the band. Within a month we finished recording, mixing, and mastering. Fast, furious, nerve-rackin’ fun. Copies were then given to delegates to the state labor convention and I came in and performed a few of the songs for them as well.
The band did a first-rate job given the time constraints. Marshall Dawson’s guitar work, Dan Polonsky’s bass performance, and Drew Enselman’s percussion make these songs stand for something. Don Stiernberg added superb mandolin and a beautiful fiddle part on one song. Steve Rashid, the engineer, put in extra time, offered helpful suggestions, and added well executed Hammond organ, harmonica, and piano to some tracks.
So wind up the Victrola kids! A nod to the folkies, with lots of twang, roots, rockabilly, blues, and rebel spirit. Tom Paxton would dislike this record, thank god! I know Woody Guthrie is diggin’ it somewhere. I’d bet that the workers who wrote the songs included on this CD are feelin’ real good about it too. Welcome to Labor Land!