COAL MINING IS DEADLY!
“Working in the Coal Mine” is a song with music and lyrics by the American musician and record producer Allen Toussaint. It was an international hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966, and has been recorded by other musicians including Devo in 1981.
After Toussaint returned to New Orleans from the US Army, in which he served from 1963 to 1965, he formed a production company, Sansu (also known as “Tou-Sea Productions”), with partner Marshall Sehorn. He produced a number of singles performed by Lee Dorsey in 1965 and 1966, including “Ride Your Pony” and “Working in the Coal Mine”.
Written and arranged by Toussaint, the song concerns the suffering of a man who rises before 5 o’clock each morning in order to work in a coal mine, five days a week, where the conditions are very harsh and dangerous, but which offers the only prospect of paid employment. The singer repeatedly asks the Lord, “How long can this go on?” and complains that when the weekend arrives, he’s too exhausted to have any fun. In the instrumental section, as in the song’s fade, he says: “Lord, I’m so tired / How long can this go on?” The song features the sound of a pickaxe clinking, as if the musicians were working in a mine. The musicians were the Sansu studio band, including guitarist Roy Montrell, drummer Albert “June” Gardner, and bassist Chuck Badie.
It was a hit for Lee Dorsey, released on Amy Records (catalogue number 958), and entered the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 on July 23, 1966, eventually peaking at #8, while reaching #5 on the Billboard R&B chart. It also reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart.
Toussaint said that neither he nor Dorsey had ever been down a coal mine: “We didn’t know anything about a coal mine”. He said of Dorsey: “He was very good to work with. Very inspiring because he had such a happiness about him. He loved what he was doing when he was singing. He was a body and fender man when he wasn’t singing and even at his peak, when he would come off the road at the end of a successful tour, he would go and get into his grease clothes, his dirty work gear and go and work on cars. Straightening out fenders and painting bodywork. But really it was his finest hour when he was singing. He was a very good person for me to work with and he totally trusted me every step of the way.”