Celebrate the Heart of Country, Americana, and Roots Music!

Drop Us A Line, Y'all

Y'all interested in advertising, partnering up, contributing stories, joining our team, or just got a question? Well, don't be shy, drop us a line!

Follow Us

Merle Travis Tells the Sad Truth about Coal Mining in “Dark as a Dungeon”


A Little Something about Merle Travis

Merle Travis was a guitar-playing country artist back in the mid-‘40s. He is from Kentucky where he worked in a studio recording, radio, and live stage shows. Travis was also an actor who played parts in some Hollywood films. In 1946, he signed a contract with Capitol Records and had early hits. Capitol made him record an album about folk songs and three were coal mining songs. Those songs were about life in the mines of Muhlenberg Country, Kentucky, where his father used to work. One of these songs was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s first No. 1 Hit, “16 Tons.” The other one is “Dark As A Dungeon.”

Merle Travis. Photo from YouTube via Screengrab
Merle Travis. Photo from YouTube via Screengrab

“Dark As A Dungeon”: One of the Saddest Songs Ever

Written and sung by Merle Travis, “Dark as A Dungeon” tells the sad truth about the real danger of working as a coal miner. It is quite unfortunate but the song became a rallying song among miners seeking to improve working conditions.


Did Johnny Cash Popularize the Song?

Apparently, the song’s fame came when Johnny Cash performed “Dark As A Dungeon” during his concert in Folsom Prison. In the live performance, one of the men was laughing but Johnny Cash gently admonished the man saying,

“No laughing during the song, please!”

Then, the man replied by yelling something about hell. Cash answered, “I know, hell!” After finishing the song, Cash said the following to the inmates:

“I just wanted to tell you that this show is being recorded for an album released on Columbia Records, so you can’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’ or anything like that.”

Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of the song:

Remember Tennessee Ernie Ford? You’d be surprised that his first No. 1 hit came from one of Merle Travis’ hit, “16 Tons.” However, it’s not the only song that Ford covered from the songs of Merle Travis.

Here’s Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “Dark As A Dungeon:”

Latest Stories

Post Malone Graduates From Country Covers To Country Single With The Help Of Morgan Wallen

Two genre-crossing artists and Republic labelmates—Grammy-nominated singer-rapper Post Malone and chart-dominating country singer Morgan Wallen—dropped their collaborative single “I Had Some Help” last May 10. This is Malone’s third joint ...

CMA Fest 2024

CMA Fest 2024: What You Need to Know

Festival Title:CMA Fest 2024Festival Duration:June 6-9, 2024Venue:Nashville, TennesseePerformers Include:Kelsea Ballerini, Brothers Osborne, Luke Bryan, Jordan Davis, HARDY, Jelly Roll, Cody Johnson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ashley McBryde, Parker McCollum, Jon Pardi, Carly ...

LeAnn Rimes + How Do I Live

How “How Do I Live” Skyrocketed the Career of 15-Year-Old LeAnn Rimes

“How Do I Live” was written by Diane Warren in 1997 and was first performed by LeAnn Rimes for her album “You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs.” Another version ...

Waylon Jennings + Luckenbach, Texas

Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, Texas” Highlights Honest Living

“Luckenbach, Texas” is a song co-written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons, both prominent producers and songwriters in the country music scene. To get Waylon Jennings interested in a song, ...

Martina McBride + I Saw the Light

Martina McBride and Dad Share “I Saw the Light” on Grand Ole Opry

In 1994, the iconic country legend Martina McBride surprised fans with her rendition of Hank Williams’s classic gospel song “I Saw the Light” during the 1994 Grand Ole Opry.  “I ...

Al Dexter + Pistol Packin' Mama

How AI Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama” Became an Anthem

In 1943, AI Dexter released the unexpected hit “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” which would later conquer the whole of America. As part of his album Tumbling Tumbleweeds, this AI Dexter hit ...

Conway Twitty + Linda on My Mind

Conway Twitty And His Career-Building 1975 Record “Linda on My Mind”

Country legend Conway Twitty was known for his signature song formula: infidelity and guilt. It had been a winning combination that earned him success, especially in the early years of ...

In The Pines 2024

In The Pines 2024: What You Need to Know

Festival Title:In The Pines 2024Festival Duration:June 1, 2024Venue:Downtown Bristol corner of M.L.K. Jr. Blvd and Cumberland St., Tennessee/VirginiaPerformers Include:Dwight Yoakam and moreTicket Information:Get Your Tickets Here The Birthplace of Country ...

Railbird Festival 2024

Railbird Festival 2024

Festival Title:Railbird Fest 2024Festival Duration:June 1-2, 2024Venue:The Infield at Red Mile, Lexington, KentuckyPerformers Include:Noah Kahan, Turnpike Troubadours, Chris Stapleton, Hozier, and moreTicket Information:Get Your Tickets Here The annual Railbird Festival ...

Carolina Country Music Fest 2024

Carolina Country Music Fest 2024

Festival Title:Carolina Country Music Fest 2024Festival Duration:June 6-9, 2024Venue:812 N Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach, South CarolinaPerformers Include:Parker McCollum, Old Dominion, Morgan Wallen, Carrie Underwood, and moreTicket Information:SOLD OUT – For ...

Leave a Comment

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.