Mister Come Take This Guitar

 

Lyrics:

Mister come take this guitar ‘cause it’s hung silent far too long
While the evils done working people demand witness with a song—
We need rhythm, rhyme and verse, anchored by a major chord
Where the idled man goes voiceless and the homeless man’s ignored
With each strum and melody, every hammer-on and bend
Its six strings will help folks sing these hard times to their end
It’s six strings are gonna help folks sing these hard times to their end

What the powerful and the privileged would rather not have said
Ten million voices ought to amplify in unison instead
Where night wraps a homeless family in the silence of despair
The steady beat of four-four time ought to reach them there
A strident tune, insistent on declaring wrong from right
Ought to sound out loud through this hard land, morning noon and night
By voices raised in tenements, on farms, in shotgun shacks
Near and far, wherever you are, a poet with his axe
Near and far, wherever you are, a poet with his axe

Mister come take this guitar ‘cause it’s needed urgently
To rally all the working people from sea to shining sea
From purple mountains’ majesty across every fruited plain
To raise their voices all together in an implacable refrain
With every note in harmony and every throat as one:
“These hard times are due for ending it’s time for justice to be done
These hard times are due for ending it’s time for justice to be done”

 

Ghosts of ’29

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Unemployment benefits aid begins. Line of men inside a division office of the State Employment Service office at San Francisco, California, waiting to register for benefits on one of the first days the office was open. They will receive from six to fifteen dollars per week for up to sixteen weeks. Coincidental with the announcement that the federal unemployment census showed close to ten million persons out of work, twenty-two states begin paying unemployment compensation  Farm Security Administration LC-USF34- 018312-D

Lyrics:

Daddy said “Make sure you shine your shoes, son
That’s the first thing that they look at—
The hiring man is quick to pass you over
If you give him some excuse”

The Ghosts of ’29 are restless in their graves
Stirred by the tread of desperate workers
Getting marched in line like slaves
‘Cause the Ghosts of ’29 lived through times like these before:
When hunger’s knocking steps behind a banker at the door

Momma said “Make sure you say your prayers, child
Though it seems like no one’s listening—
We’ll wait patiently for justice
By and by, Lord, by and by”

The Ghosts of ’29 are having trouble lying still
‘Cause hard times hit the worker hardest then
And it seems they always will
The Ghosts of ’29 teach lessons we should learn:
When the fat cats start a fire, the little guy gets burned

I hear the Ghosts of ’29 in the factories and the fields
On the shop floors, in the shotgun shacks, and in the union halls
I hear the Ghosts of ’29 in the corridors of power
In the mansions on the hilltops behind their high stone walls

As the Ghosts of ’29 awake and raise their voices
From the first whistle in the morning
‘Till the last shift ends a t night:
Inspiration to the worker, and a warning for the bosses:
“You can’t undo the past’s injustice
But tomorrow you can start to set it right”

 

 

Just a Nickel for You My Friend

Still working on recording this one

Image: Workers at apple packinghouse. Camden County, New Jersey  U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs LC-USF34- 026633-D

Lyrics:

I raise the basket to my shoulder so I can make my way
Downtown from the Bowery where I spend each day
Pocketknife to cut a sample—handbill on the wall
Selling apples on the corner, just five cents each that’s all

See in 1929 sir when they shut the factory’s door
They said “you didn’t do a bad job, son—
Just ain’t no jobs here anymore.”
Now I don’t mean to complain, sir, see I’m grateful for a way
For a man to do a hard day’s work to earn a fair day’s pay
That’s why I get here early to pick the freshest of the lot
Grab a coffee from the breadline and stake out my favorite spot

Still some days you bring home pennies
Just once—imagine that—a buck
You never know what you’re in for
When you help unload that truck
When it’s an hour south of sunrise
And you’re shivering in the dark
But it’s the best a man can do sir
When there ain’t no other work

Still I hold to hope and faith sir
Someday these hard times will end
Till then come find me selling apples here
Just a nickel for you my friend

Summer ’29

Still working on recording this one

Image: White sharecropper couple near Hartwell, Georgia Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black and White Negatives, U.S. Library of Congress LC-USF34- 018096-C

Lyrics:

I pulled my ring from a calloused hand sir
Went and pawned it for our daily bread
We took our vows with dreams of for richer
But we must make do with for poorer instead

That July sun on my naked finger
Burnt near bad enough to kill a man
Walking up them steps where my wife is waiting
When I’ve paid the rent with our wedding band

Summertime when we were younger
Was a time for laughter, the sweet joys of life
Summer ’29 is one long disaster—time for hungry kids and a sobbing wife

August came and we prayed for rain sir, prayed for rain that didn’t fall
It’s a goddamned shame there’s no escaping: wind and sun’s damned us one and all

Fire tore across the grasslands, but if you ask me it’s just as well
Note’s coming due soon on our homestead—
Bank wants my land, sir, I’d rather give ‘em hell

Summer ’29 took all our chances, dried them up, blew them away
If I live to see one hundred I’m never gonna feel the same again about a summer’s day

When the Bill Comes Due

Still working on recording this one

Image: President William H. Taft  George Grantham Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress LC-B2- 2016-6

Lyrics:

I saw the sin Pride out promenading
Down avenues all paved with gold
From the spoils of speculating—
Proud fortunes made at the price
Of a nation’s soul bought and sold

It’s a crying shame, sir, the state we’re in—
Where the poor man pays, lord, lord
For the rich man’s sin

I heard the sin of Greed expostulating
That the rich man’s trove
Is his needful share—
And how that squares with the cries of a hungry child
Greed don’t care

It’s the rich man’s sin, but the poor man pays—
The poor man foots the bill

When the bill comes due, lord, when the bill comes due
No more crying child, lord, when the bill comes due
When the bill comes due, sir, when the bill comes due—
No more hat in hand, sir, when the bill comes due

A Worker’s Lullaby

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Children of unemployed trapper, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana  U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-USF33- 006174-M5

Lyrics:

Baby don’t you worry now, no darling don’t cry—
Your daddy loves you, I’ll find work by and by

See if the bankers and bosses with the wealth they command
Would look down from their towers upon this hard land
With all of their power what them big boys could do
Could leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

And if them politicians with their big speeches and words
Would talk to the people and act on what they heard
With all of their power what them fat cats could do
Could leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

And if the prayers of all fathers were heard up above
We’d have bought us the right to some justice with our love
And with all of his power what a good Lord would do
Would leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

So baby don’t worry now ‘cause though times are tough
Daddy loves you, I’ll find work soon enough

The Time for Waiting’s Well Past

Still working on recording this one

Image: Howard Street, called “Skid Row,” the street of the unemployed in San Francisco, California U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-DIG-fsa-8b31684

Lyrics:

“Liquidate, liquidate,” you money men say
And trust us that things’ll get better some day”
Sir when my dreams have all dried up and been blowed away
How long do you want me to wait?

“Trust Mr. Market,” you wise men opine
“Just stay the course and things’ll be fine”
When there’s a hundred men with me in this Bowery bread line
How long do you want us to wait?

First the factory cut hours, and then it went bust
Now the gates are encrusted with two years’ worth of rust
And we’re all out of money, hope, patience and trust—
We can hardly afford to wait

When you’ve been homeless and hungry and hopeless and cold
On account of the fat bill of goods you’ve been sold
And there’s 10 million workers for whom there’s no use
“Have faith in your betters” is a sorry excuse
No sir, the time for waitin’s well past

‘Cause when the poor and the idled demand what they’re owed
And all of you fat cats must reap what you’ve sowed
From the yachts off Nantucket to the end of Skid Road—
On that day we’ll see justice at last

Wishes

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Drought-stricken farmer and family near Muskogee, Oklahoma. Agricultural day laborer. Muskogee County U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-USF34-016107-C

Lyrics:

I wish there was a star baby
That we could hitch our wagon to
Or that we could find the well out there
Just waiting for the penny
That’s gonna make all our dreams come true

‘Cause it’s felt a long time coming lately
A little luck for me and you
Long enough to make me worry
Maybe we can’t muddle through

Fact is I can’t win for losing
And though you never lay down blame
We can’t eat if I ain’t working
That’s all on me, all the same

If wishes were horses I’d be leading
Six white chargers ‘round the bend
But no matter how much we believe in ‘em
Hopes and dreams are still pretend

If wishes were horses I’d be riding
A fine black charger up the hill
But wishes ain’t been feedin’ us—
And I don’t think they ever will

Seeing as there’s no jobs for taking
And I ain’t a beggar nor a thief
With our babies’ bellies aching–
There’s no choice but to seek Relief

How I wish there was a job baby
For every pair of idled hands
That before these hard times built these factories
Laid these roads and farmed these lands

‘Cause if working was a right darling
I’d throw my all at any task
While we’re hoping and we’re dreaming
That don’t seem so much to ask

The Wages of Sin

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Tubercular wife and daughter of agricultural day laborer. She had lost six of her eight children and the remaining two were pitifully thin. The mother said that she had tuberculosis because she had always gone back to the fields to work within two or three days after her children were born. Shack home is on Poteau Creek near Spiro, Oklahoma  U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-USF34- 033601-D

Lyrics:

The wages of sin
Are gilding the lily
In backrooms that poor folk aren’t privy to see

The wages of sin
Are feathering nests sir
Behind guards and gates shut against you and me

The wages of sin
In the Devil’s own ledger
Sum up what bosses suck out of what workers put in

Gleeful bankers and bosses
Pile their loot to inspect
Without a care for the blood and tears spilt to collect
The wages of sin

Through force fraud and failure
To do justice to all
By the crony, the grifter, and the back-pocket pol
By a sweetheart deal
Or the company store
Anything to squeeze working folks a bit more

The wages of sin
Are death on the prairies
And in boweries and small towns across this hard land
Turning factories and farms
Into cemeteries
In the name of almighty “Supply and Demand”
For a hungry hollow eyed kid
Or a desperate young mother
Or a homeless heartbroken shell of a man

The wages of sin
Ought to be a down payment
On the day debits and credits are squared up and true
And the rich and their lackeys
Are called to account
And the poor man lays claim to what the poor man is due

Hard Times Hundred and One

Still working on recording this one

Image: Street musicians, Maynardville, Tennessee U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-USF33- 006139-B-M1

Lyrics:

The rich man has got his story down pat:
“Those with the most deserve all they gat”
‘Cause the field is level and the rules are all fair
And those at the top deserve being born there
While the fella unemployed for so much as one day
Must’ve done something to make it that way

The rich and the poor deserve what they’ve got–
That’s the tale the bosses have spun
We’ll sing the real what’s-what about the haves-and-have-nots
In these hard times hundred and one

They say the market’s our friend, the market’s our king
And we can trust Mr. Market with most anything
Yet the poor man must fear that the wages he’s due
Will be stolen by those with the means
‘Cause those with the power rent pols by the hour
To stack the deck behind the scenes

They’ll seize what they please and cap the workingman’s knees
With the law or a Pinkerton’s gun
We’ll call out their  wheeling and dealing to legalize stealing
In these hard times hundred and on

The rich man profits from the poor man’s sweat
That’s nothing new under the sun
We’ll remind anyone inclined to forget
With these hard times hundred and one

These hard times hundred and one my friend
Hard times hundred and one
We’ll bear witness in rhyme and four-four time
With these hard times hundred and one