Monday, April 2, 2012

"Gastonia Gallop" - Cotton Mill Songs (1927-1931)

This unique recording is the real deal; 24 songs recorded by local Cotton Mill bands during the years 1927-1931. The town of Gastonia is about 20 miles from my home and I have even driven past the old mill shown on the cover many times. At one time Gastonia was amongst the leading cotton mill towns in North Carolina. The Great Depression, as well as the increasing demands of the Unions, both combined to shut most of these mills down. When "Globalization" and "outsourcing" began in the 1980"s, it spelled the end of these mills. But what a rich history they leave behind in terms of music and storytelling!

Cotton mill workers were pretty much the victims of greedy bosses and a lack of labor laws during their time. They worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, with no protection from the fibers as they spun the threads to make the clothes that were sold worldwide. The irony of it all was that, even in the heady days before the Great Depression struck, these same workers were wandering about in near rags, never making enough to buy the clothes made from the threads they spun. But they survived, in their own fashion, through song, sex and liquor. Even with the country in the grips of that great experiment, Prohibition, the supply of local "hootch" made Saturday night dances, often called "socials", the most attractive, and affordable means of entertainment.

These men and women, pictured here marching on Main Street in Gastonia during a strike on Labor Day 1934, were the backbone of the industry. They were also the ones singing these songs, and living the life described in them. From the opening number by The Carolina Twins doing an instrumental number on harmonica and guitar, to the more risqué "Get Your Head in Here", which describes some of the Saturday night pleasures available in a mill town, this album teems with the real life experiences of these men, women and children who labored so hard and long for so little.

Some of the songs are Union oriented, as in Wilmer Watts and The Lonely Eagles number "Been On the Job Too Long", as well as the "Cotton Mill Colic" by David McCarn, which describes the hardships faced by the average Cotton Mill worker.

The mills may be long gone, but the music, and stories, left behind by these hardworking men and women will live forever thanks to these recordings, which were restored and re-released in 2009.

There is an empty feeling in the air when you walk down the Main Street of an old mill town. They used to connect one town to another, but now have all been supplanted by the Interstates, which took most of the businesses to the freeway exits, leaving the Main Streets to become ghost towns. But when walking past the mill, if you lean your head just right, you can hear the spindles and looms humming away. And if you're really lucky, you can still hear the strains of the songs sung on Saturday nights at the socials.

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