#PowderJams: “Working in the Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey

Powder & Bulk Solids highlights the songs that strike a chord in the hearts of professionals who work with dry particulate and bulk solid materials.

John S. Forrester, former Managing Editor

August 13, 2021

While R&B singer Lee Dorsey’s version of “Working in the Coal Mine” made this tune internationally famous in the mid-1960s, this artistic rendering of a coal miner’s daily struggles was actually penned by New Orleans journeyman songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint. Listeners are taken underground into the mines with the song’s rhythmic cadence, “Workin’ in a coal mine, goin’ down, down down / Workin’ in a coal mine, Oops about to slip down.”

Told from the miner’s perspective, fatigue is a constant theme in Toussaint's lyrics. The worker describes leaving for the mine before 5 a.m. and the tiresome nature of the job.

“’Course I make a little money, haulin’ coal by the ton / But when Saturday rolls around, I’m too tired for havin’ fun.”

The songwriter's words offer insight into the life of a coal miner and the taxing nature of their work. We selected Dorsey’s version as a matter of preference. Over the years, the composition has been covered by Devo, The Judds, Huey Lewis & The News, Harry Connick Jr., Pure Prairie League, and many others.

Coal mining has traditionally been labor intensive and has required a lot of manpower. The sedimentary rocks powered the Industrial Revolution and contributed to the rise of modern manufacturing. Today the coal industry is in decline as the world transitions to cleaner and more sustainable sources of electricity, but it remains an important part of the energy mix.

About half of the electricity generated in the US comes from coal, according to National Geographic. Coal mining operations are present in 25 states, with the Appalachian region supplying about one third of the country’s supply.

However, the number of coal mining jobs in the US has decreased from about 90,000 in January 2012 to around 40,000 in January 2021, data gathered by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. This shrinkage is likely to continue as the country pivots to green energy.

Nonetheless, coal has an important place in American and global history and the culture of coal mining communities is preserved through songs like this.

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About the Author(s)

John S. Forrester

former Managing Editor, Powder & Bulk Solids

John S. Forrester is the former managing editor of Powder & Bulk Solids.

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