How well I remember “Tennessee” Ernie Ford. He was an actor that could sing and a singer that could act. He had his own television show and he had one of the biggest hits of 1955. His famous line was “bless your little pea-pickin’ heart.” I can remember his saying this to this day. Sounds corny today, but in 1955 it was very funny. “Sixteen Tons” was written as a country song in 1947 by Merle Travis, who was a country singer at the time. He never had a hit with the song, however. It was up to “Tennessee” Ernie Ford to do that.
Merle Travis’s father was a coal miner and so Travis wrote several songs about mining. His father was fond of saying when he returned home from a hard day at the mines; “another day older and deeper in debt.” Those words found themselves into the song “Sixteen Tons.”
Ernie Ford was born in 1919 in Bristol, Tennessee. He started singing at a young age and soon was singing in his church. After serving in World War II, he got a job as a disc jockey at a California radio station. He would clown around with other D-J’s and soon was singing on the air. He caught the attention of Capitol Records and soon had a contract. He recorded “Mule Train,” and “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” both made famous by Frankie Laine. Then he recorded “Sixteen Tons” and he was on his way. He got his own television show called The Ford Show which premiered in 1956. I remember seeing him regularly on television well into the Sixties. “Tennessee” Ernie Ford was one of favorite people, growing up.
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