Sixteen Tons from Clay Hess

Bluegrass super picker and bandleader Clay Hess has a new single to share this week, his cut of the Merle Travis classic, Sixteen Tons.

This hard core coal mining song was first recored by Travis in 1946, though it was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s record with it in 1955 that made it familiar to country radio listeners all over the world. Meant initially as a B-side, it became Ford’s signature song for years.

It’s among the most recorded songs in music history, with other covers from Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Reed, Tom Jones, and even former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich getting a piece of the action over the years. But Clay hears it as a slow moving bluegrass number.

He says that his love for Sixteen Tons comes from his grandfather.

“A new twist on an old song. The first song I remember hearing as a kid in southeastern Ohio. My grandpa was a Merle Travis man through and through, that is the version I heard. Here, with some of my all time favorite players, is my take on it.”

Hess starts out with just his guitar, and delivers a fine vocal performance, with help from former boss man Ricky Skaggs on mandolin, Zak McLamb on bass, and Randy Kohrs on reso-guitar.

Silky and relaxed, this one is a fine addition to the strong recordings of Sixteen Tons. Check it out…

Sixteen Tons is available as a download now from the Clay Hess web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.