According to folklorist Neil V. Rosenberg, Roy Rudolph was inspired to write this song when he heard radio reports of the disaster. He recalled writing the song in about an hour and a half and he quickly recorded and released it as a Rodeo single. It sold a few thousand copies almost entirely in the Maritimes. According to Rudolph, a prominent Halifax DJ refused to give the single airtime because he felt that the song was designed to profit from the misery of the disaster victims.
However, Rudolph claimed that other factors must have been involved for the DJ had played other disaster songs and did so again in later years. However, Rudolph’s song did get played on other radio stations and he performed it at a sold-out benefit concert at the Halifax YMCA.
However, Rudolph believed that part of his limited success was the result of Jack Kingston’s “Springhill Mine Explosion” that when Rodeo owner George Taylor sent his song to Toronto to be pressed, another company found out about it and commissioned Kingston to record his own Springhill disaster song, one that had far more commercial success than Rudolph’s.
Rosenberg, Neil V. 2000. The Springhill Mine Disaster Songs: Class, Memory, and Persistence in Canadian Folksong. In Northeast Folklore: Essays in Honor of D. Ives, ed. Pauleena MacDougall and David Taylor, 153-87. Orono, ME: University of Maine Press & Maine Folklife Center.
Tags: 1956 Springhill Mine Disaster
The first day of November, on Thursday afternoon
Way down in Nova Scotia, in Springhill there hung doom
One hundred and thirteen miners in Cumberland number four
Five thousand feet below the earth were startled by a roar.
The surface whistle howling to their loved ones told the tale
The Maritimes had to get moving for good will to prevail
The town became deserted while down at number four
There women waiting and praying while men toiled by the score.
The second day, on Friday, death took its first great toll
Two draegermen died heroes as the poison gas did roll
A tense and breath-held nation, knew that the help, though brave,
May not in time reach the miners; the ending, it looked grave.
Below the surface, miners had made their bid for life
They breathed life-giving oxygen through a hose dug with a knife
Some miners bravely started to crawl in painful flight
But breathed their last along the way while seeking for daylight.
The Lord was helping both sides to meet and so he led
The rescue crew at three thousand feet to men they thought were dead
When they came to the surface, their loved ones wept and prayed
Five thousand feet below the earth, the miners would be saved.
Three days and nights of waiting were ended for the town
Brave deeds were praised as weakened men were taken from the ground
A miracle had been witnessed as eighty-eight were saved
The country mourns the dead today, the mine became their grave.
The miracle at Springhill will be remembered long
It will go down in history in story and in song
Though wives will mourn their husbands and mothers miss their sons,
The nation loudly acclaims the brave, saying, “Draegermen, well done!”
The DJ who refused to play Roy’s song was Jerry Parsons who did not like local artists and made negative remarks on any he played. When American Bill Clifton recorded the song about the next Springhill mine disaster in 1958 he played it continually.
Thanks, Fred, for your information. May I ask how you know that Jerry Parsons was the DJ? Was it common knowledge that he didn’t like local artists?
Heather I’m not sure why Jerry Parsons didn’t like local artists. I remember one day he played mostly locals and at the end of the show he said ” you heard a lot of records you don’t hear very often and now you know why you don’t hear them very often”. Another day he played “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” by Billy Whelan and stated “there it is with due apologies to Hank Locklin.”
Thought I answered this before but apparently I didn’t. We used to listen to Jerry Parsons every day on CHNS and he wouldn’t play the song. People used to ask him to play local artists so one day he played several but at the end of the program he stated “today you heard records we don’t play very often and now you know why we don’t play them”. I never knew why he was against the locals and never got a chance to ask him.
Thanks, Fred. You did, in fact, reply earlier but I don’t always get notification of comments (which I have to approve to avoid junk replies). I’ve approved your earlier comment now. Thanks for letting me know more about Jerry Parsons.