Coal mining came to Kentucky in 1820, near the future town of Paradise, about 40 miles — much less as the crow flies — southwest of the farm where Bill Monroe would be born 91 years later.
Since 1890, Kentucky mines alone have claimed the lives of more than 7,000 miners.
America has long had a romance with the danger of the mines and they’ve been part of the country, folk and bluegrass music scene for generations.
As a kid, Monroe helped his uncle, Pendelton Vandiver, haul cross ties to the mines near his Jerusalem Ridge, Ky., home.
Now, Rebel Records has collected 14 songs about mining recorded between 1971 and 2007. It’s a collection of good music by top performers.
Three of the songs are from Monroe Country — in Muhlenberg County, across the Green River from his Ohio County farm.
There’s John Prine’s “Paradise,” a Seldom Scene version cut within months of Prine’s version; Randall Hylton’s “Coal Town Saturday Night,” about Central City, Ky., in the 1920s, a time when Monroe was playing nearby with his Uncle Pen; and James Alan Shelton’s version of Merle Travis’ “Dark As A Dungeon,” written about the Muhlenberg mines near Travis’ home.
Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley recorded “Dream Of A Miner’s Child” in 1971, when they were 17.
There are songs about the glory days of mining (David Davis & The Warrior River Boys’ “The River Ran Black”), songs about black lung (The Country Gentlemen’s “A Miner’s Life” and Wildwood Valley Boys’ “Black Dust Fever”), songs about mine disasters (Ralph Stanley II’s “Daddy’s Dinner Bucket”) and songs about quitting (Bill Harrell & The Virginians’ “Green Rolling Hills” and Steep Canyon Raiders’ (”Call The Captain”).
It’s a good compilation of songs about mining and the men and women who dig the black gold out of the ground.
Mining is still a dangerous occupation, but it pays a lot better these days. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay is around $60,000 a year now.
Can’t find it in stores? Try www.rebelrecords.com.