Cotton Mill Colic

DESCRIPTION: "I'm a-gonna starve, ev'rybody will, You can't make a livin' in a cotton mill." The singer talks of the poor wages and hard conditions. He tells how people offer merchandise on easy terms, then repossess it when he can't pay. He works without ever resting
AUTHOR: David McCann
EARLIEST DATE: 1926 (recorded by David McCann)
KEYWORDS: work hardtimes poverty warning humorous
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Lomax-Singing, pp. 292-292, "Cotton Mill Colic" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 148, "Cotton Mill Colic" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 731, "Cotton Mill Colic" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #6688
Lester (The Highway Man) [pseud. for Lester "Pete" Bivins], "Cotton Mill Blues" (Decca 5559, 1938)
David McCarn, "Cotton Mill Colic" (Victor V-40274, 1930)
Mike Seeger, "Cotton Mill Colic" (on MSeeger02)
Pete Seeger, "Cotton Mill Colic" (on PeteSeeger13, AmHist1)
Joe Sharp, "Cotton Mill Colic" (AFS 1629, 1939)

cf. "Dollar Down and a Dollar a Week" (theme)
NOTES [226 words]: A reading of the bitter lyrics of this song may make you wonder why I have tagged it "humorous." But Doug deNatale and Glenn Hinson, in their article, "The Southern Textile Song Tradition Reconsidered," published in Archie Green, editor, Songs about Work: Essays in Occupational Culture for Richard A. Reuss, Folklore Institute, Indiana University, 1993, p. 83, assure us that the song was satiric, and was funny to the cotton workers who were author David McCann's co-workers. The title came about because, in the worker's jargon, "to colic" was to complain about something.
Interestingly, there was apparently an attempt to suppress this song during the 1930-1931 Danville strike, according to deNatale and Hinson, p. 89. The recording had just come out. A store owner in the area stocked it, and apparently it sold briskly. Then the mill owners started talking to store owners and media, and it apparently became much harder to find and hear. DeNatale and Hinson, p. 90, also note that McCann, although not fired from his mill job, would later be barred from the building after he gave up the job.
Years later, a social history project tried to test the extent to which mill workers actually knew these mill songs. They found that only two were really part of the tradition: "Cotton Mill Colic" and "Weave Room Blues" (deNatale and Hinson, p. 95). - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
File: LoF148

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