Friday Five: Occupation Blues

Juli Thanki | August 20th, 2010

Whatever job you have, chances are you suffer from the occasional bad day. Seamen, working girls, bartenders…it seems just about every occupation has a song about the blues that come along with the job (you can find those blues, by the way, recorded by Ernest Tubb, Hazel Dickens, and George Jones. But you probably already knew that). Anyway, here are five other songs about various jobs and the specific blues associated with them.

  • Iron & Diamonds5. “Picker’s Blues” – The Gibson Brothers

    Being a professional bluegrass picker sounds like nonstop fun, especially if you’re as good at it as Eric, Leigh, and their band. Turns out that a life of roaming the country playing music is hard on the emotions; as Eric sings, “It can drag you down/Or make you dance on air/There’s not enough of the in-between/But who says music’s fair?

  • Family Circle4. “Revenuer’s Blues” – The Del McCoury Band

    The guy just wants to drink and sell his bootleg booze in peace without some government agent enforcing the 18th Amendment. If you don’t already own last year’s Family Circle, check out the sharp picking, sharp singing, and sharp looking quintet below.

  • Country Music3. “Farmer’s Blues” – Marty Stuart and Merle Haggard

    Marty and Merle sing about the plight of the farmer, whose livelihood depends on the fickle mistress Mother Nature. This here’s a damn fine country song—borrowing both the tune and the evening train from Hank Williams’ “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle”—from two of the best singers out there.

  • Truck Driver's Boogie: Big Rig Hits2. “Truck Driver’s Blues” – Cliff Bruner

    Feeling weary and low down is a rough way to live, but somehow this trucker makes do. Can’t get enough of sad truckin’ songs? There’s always Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues.” The “Lonesome” makes the blues even bluer.

  • Essential Jimmie Rodgers1. “The Brakeman’s Blues” – Jimmie Rodgers

    Being a brakeman in the days before the automatic airbrake was pretty dangerous work, but this guy’s blues don’t seem too bad: after all, he’ll be in New Orleans eating dinner and picking up strange women by nightfall. That sounds like a cure for just about anything.

  1. Bob
    August 20, 2010 at 7:05 am

    “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues” by Jim Croce was the first song to come to mind.

  2. Ollie
    August 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

    For a humorous break from the drudgery of the workday, you might want to check out Todd Snider’s “Statistician’s Blues” at

  3. Mike Parker
    August 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Good calls on Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues and Statistician’s Blues… both great tunes. I’m guessing there are a whole lot of songs in this category…

  4. Ollie
    August 20, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Not one of my favorites but there’s also Elvis Presley’s “GI Blues”

  5. Howard
    August 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

    ‘Coal Miners Blues’ comes to mind first.
    Well actually a couple songs about jobs but not really about having the blues come to mind first…
    ‘Jukebox Man’ by Dick Curless is great, how could you not like that job?
    Then just about any version of ‘Truck Drivin’ Man’

  6. Dave D.
    August 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

    This is a popular theme for Merle Haggard. In addition to the aformentioned Farmer’s Blues, he wrote his own Truck Driver’s Blues and also did Working Man’s Blues and 5:01 Blues – although the latter two are both pretty generic in terms of what the job actually is.

  7. Rick
    August 20, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I really like two newer songs titled “Workin’ Girl Blues” from both Cherryholmes (off their debut album) and by the brother and sister team The Roys (off their “Good Days” album). Fun stuff!

  8. Juli
    August 20, 2010 at 11:31 am

    The Cherryholmes track is a cover of Hazel Dickens’ original.

  9. Brody Vercher
    August 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    About a month ago my dad enlisted me to find out what I could about a song he heard on the radio. It turned out to be a bluegrass version of “Farmer’s Blues” by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers that’s pretty good in its own right.

  10. Leon
    August 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Ever heard a tune called “Re-enlistment Blues?”
    It’s quoted in the World War II novel, “From Here To Eternity” by James Jones. I think it’s in the film of the same name, sung by Frank Sinatra who played the main character in the film.

    Tom T. Hall’s “Ode To A Switchblade” comes to mind too.

  11. Jon
    August 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Joe’n’em’s “Farmer’s Blues” (that’s Joe singing) is really good, and the whole album is really good, too. Originally self-released, then picked up by Rebel; they’re wrapping up work on a gospel album now that I’ve got a cut on…

    That must be a different Rick liking Hazel’s song…

  12. Ollie
    August 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Cheating by looking at my iPod but I forgot about Mule Skinner Blues– I have it by Dolly Parton but I think that Bill Monroe wrote it…. or maybe it’s a Jimmie Rodgers song

  13. Juli
    August 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I do believe it’s a Jimmie Rodgers song: “Blue Yodel #8.” Can’t believe I forgot about that one, too, Ollie–thanks for the reminder!

  14. Barry Mazor
    August 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Rodgers’ it is. Trust me on this one . I happen to be in Meridian, MS at the moment, for a talk tomorrow on Jimmie R, and the Mississippi Country Music Trail (I’m researching and writing the cast iron markers for that)–and will be showing a crowd here tomorrow, among other things, everyone from Dolly and Big Mon to Odetta and The Cramps performing Muleskinner/Blue Yodel #8..

  15. Ken Morton, Jr.
    August 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Jason Eady had a couple of great “Blues” titled tracks on his album last year, but “Cane River Blues” probably applies best to a list like this. Great list as usual, Juli.

  16. Jon
    August 20, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    That’s all right, Juli, “Brakeman’s Blues” is a better song than “Mule Skinner’s.”

  17. Rick
    August 20, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Leon, “Re-Enlistment Blues” was sung primarily by both Frank Sinatra and Merle Travis with Merle playing guitar on the song as well. Its a great song by any standard.

    Juli, I know in concert Sandy Cherryholmes mentioned the song was written by a friend of hers but I never checked the album credits to see who. Guess now I know…

    Jon, I appreciate a good bluegrass song now and then, its just that I encounter them so rarely, and especially on “Music City Roots”! (lol)

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