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Down, Down, Down, song lyrics

Song: Down, Down, Down
Lyrics: William Keating(1)(2)

Year: 1916(2)
Country: USA

With your kind attention, a song I will trill,
All ye who must toil with the pick and the drill,
And sweat for your bread in that hole in Oak Hill(3),
That goes down, down, down.

When I was a boy said my daddy to me:
"Stay out of the mines, take my warning," says he,
"Or with dust you'll be choked and a pauper you'll be,
Broken down, down, down."

But I went to Oak Hill and I asked for a job,
A mule for to drive or a gangway(4) to rob(5).
The boss said, "Come out, Bill, and follow the mob
That goes down, down, down."
This song was originally posted on
On the strength of the job and the tune of this rhyme,
I strolled into Tim's an' drank twenty-five shines(6);
Reported next morning, half dead but on time
To go down, down, down.

Says Pete McAvoy, "Here's Bill Keatin' the scamp,"
Just back, Pete supposed, from a million-mile tramp,
Pete showed me the "windie"(7) where I'd get a lamp
To go down, down, down.

The lamp man he squints through the window at me,
"What's your name? What's your age? What's your number?" says he.
"Bill Keatin', I'm thirty, number twenty-three,
Mark that down, down, down.
This song was originally posted on
With a frown of disfavor, my joke it was met,
For an argument plainly, the lamp man was set.
For he told me that divil a lamp would I get
To go down, down, down.

Says I, "Mr. Lamp Man, now don't l'ave us fight;
Can't ye see be me eyes I was boozin' all night?
Sure the mines will be dark and I'll have to have light
While I'm down, down, down.

With an old greasy apron, Jim polished his specks,
Declarin' the lamp house rules would be wrecked,
If he'd give out his lanterns 'thout gettin' brass checks
From us Clowns! Clowns! Clowns!

I found the supply clerk, of him I inquired,
If he had any checks of the sort Jim desired.
He said: "Here's a check, if you lose it, you're fired,
Mark that down, down, down.

I had the precious lamp check that would pacify Jim,
Flip, into his window, I flung it to him.
Sayin'"Now, quit your grumbling and give me a glim
To go down, down, down.

A contraption Jim gave me, a hose in a box,
'Twas so heavy I thought it was loaded with rocks,
If a car jumped the track, you could use it for blocks
While you're down, down, down.
This song was originally posted on
The box breaks into bones, in the small of your back,
Wears the hide off your hips where it hangs be a strap;
Oh! the gawk that transported such lamps to the Gap
May go down, down, down.

When you ask for a lamp you commit an offense,
You'd imagine the lamp man stood all the expense;
While for lamps that won't light we pay sixty-five cents
While we're down, down, down.

We wait at Jim's window while winter winds stab,
While the lamp man unravels a lot of crank gab,
Did ye e'er meet a lamp man that wasn't a crab
In your rounds? Aren't they hounds?

Crabbed lamp lords, ye'll cringe for your cranks whin ye die,
For the way that ye bulldozed me butties(8) and I;
Me and Tracy'll be twanging this ballad on high,
While you're down, down, down.

Then into the office I sauntered to Boss Sam.
With a cheery "Good mornin'," says I, "Here I am,
With booze in me bottle and beer in me can
To go down, down, down.

"Well, Billy, me bucko, how are you today?"
"Outside of a headache," says I, "I'm O.K.
I've been samplin' the soda in every cafe
In the town, town, town."
This song was originally posted on
"Sam, where is my job at?" I wanted to know.
"Was it up in the new drift(9)?" Sam shook his head, no.
"When you hit the fifth lift you'll have one more to go,
So get down, down, down.

I asked Sam what tools would I need in the place.
"Very few," said the boss with the grin on his face.
"One seven-size scoop in a coop-stoopy space
Away down, down, down."

With a note from the boss to the shaft I made haste,
Saluted the top-man in the line took me place
Say' "Gi' me a cage(10), for I've no time to waste,
Let me down, down, down.

"All aboard for the bottom!" the top-man did yell,
We stepped on the cage, he ding-donged a bell;
Through that hole in Oak Hill, like a bat out o' Hell,
We went down, down, down.

In wet or dry weather that shaft always rains,
There's a trembling of timbers and clanking of chains,
Jost off of a spree, it flip-flopped me few brains
Going down, down, down.

It happened that something was wrong with the pump;
The water was up - we struck a wet bump,
But the cage kept descending and into the sump(11)
We went down, down, down.

I've been on the outside and inside before,
I fell into oceans and rivers galore,
But that dip in that deep dirty sump made me sore
Away down, down, down.

The fireboss he flagged me, fool questions to ask,
Was I married, or single and where I worked last.
Says I, "Lind me your pincil, me present and past
I'll write down, down, down.

Between the sump bath and headache I felt like a dope,
Going down in the gloom of the underground slope,
On a tricky man-truck and rotten old rope,
Going down, down, down.

She was blocked from the dish to the knuckle with smoke,
The dust was so thick that I thought I would choke.
Says I to meself I guess here's where I croak
Away down, down, down.

Groped into the gangway they gave me a scoop,
The cut was just fired(12), much heaped to the roof.
I stooped an' I scooped till me back looped-the-loop
Stoopin' down, down, down.

That first car we loaded held five tons I swore
And that Buck Mountain coal has the weight of iron ore.
We scooped seven cars but when they brought us one more
I laid down, down, down.

She was heaved on the bottom and cracked on the top
Ne'er a pole, ne'er a slab, ne'er a laggin', nor prop
Pretty soon I expect that Gap Mountain will drop
And come down, down, down.

That journey each morning it near breaks me heart;
The steps in the mule-way is ten feet apart;
You must watch your brogans(13), for if you get a start
You'll roll down, down, down.

The Oak Hill officials are foxy galoots,
With company-store(14) tyrants they're all in cahoots;
Withe the gangways a river, you're bound to buy boots,
While you're down, down, down.
This song was originally posted on
On pay days I rave; Rube Tracy oft sore,
In fact 'twas enough to make both of us sore,
When our wives drag our wages all out in the store
While we're down, down, down.

But yet I'm in right, for I'm on the ground floor,
In deep in the wet and in deep in the store;
If they sink Oak Hill shaft six or seven lifts more
I'll go down, down, down.

It's a most cruel fate, but continue we must,
Delvin' deep for black diamonds, bneath the earth's crust,
Moil for mush and molasses and eating coal dust
Away down, down, down.

All I drew for a year was a dollar or three,
Those company-store(14) thieves made a pauper of me,
But for ballads like this, I'd have starved for a spree
In the town, town, town.

Toil, you put early-gray on my poor daddy's head,
While he slaved in Oak Hill to provide us with bread;
How I wish I had heeded the warning he plead:
"Don't go down, down, down."

Now my back is toil-bent, my feet work-worn, slow.
Soon the hair on my head will be white as the snow.
Then I fear I'll be shipped to the Pogie below -
Broken-down, a pauperized clown.


1 - From Minstrels of the Mine Patch by George Gershon Korson, published by University of Pennsylvania Press, 1938, p.38-41 and 48-53.

2 - William Keating a coal miner and Irish singer, was born March 31, 1886, Mount Laffee Patch, near, Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Miner, minstrel, memory: or, why the Smithsonian has Bill Keating's pants, by Eric C. Nystrom, 2007, Rochester Institute of Technology.

3 - This song is about working at the Oak Hill mine, Buckley's Gap, Duncott, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, United States.

4 - A "gangway" a narrow passage in the coal mine at a slight slope.

5 - To "rob" was to cut into.

6 - "Shines" or moonshine liquor.

7 - "Windie" or window.

8 - "Butty" or "butties" were fellow miners, a term used dating back to the 18th or 17th centuries in English mines. The term eventually morphed into "buddy" that we know today.

9 - A "drift" is a water-levl entrance into a coal mine.

10 - A cage is a mining shaft elevator.

11 - A "sump" is a large hollow at the bottom of a shaft or sloping passageway tht collects water that is to be pumped out.

12 - Fired probably means blasted with explosives.

13 - A "brogan" is a type of shoe.

14 - Please check out these references for a bit more on the script system and company stores from Tennessee 4 Me, Truck System wages. and The British Truck System in the Nineteenth Century, (20 pages), George W. Hilton, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jun., 1957). Of course this system of extreme worker exploitation and debt bondage existed well into the early 20th century in some industries.