Black Gold

This is a song about two Welsh miners who set sail for the mines of West Kentucky and a better life. Sadly, they don’t find it. I chose the location of West Kentucky as a tribute to the late, great John Prine, and his marvellous song ‘Paradise’ If you know Prine’s song you’ll get some of my references!
My brother and me set sail for New York in the spring of ‘83,
Welsh miners in search of Paradise in the pits of West Kentucky
At Liverpool Docks with tear-stained eyes we said Hwyl Fawr to Mam and Tad
But we had to be in the land of the free like so many compatriots had
We’d heard good men were needed in that land of milk and honey
And all you had to do was shake the tree that rained down easy money
Though the journey was long, and the waves were strong we hit landfall in the end
And took the train to Kentucky, our new home on the Green River bend
We were digging for coal in the land of the free
Miners from Wales, my brother and me
We’d soon make our fortune, or so we’ve been told
Now we’re Kentucky miners in search of black gold
Truth be told the mines’ safety record left much to be desired
It was never mentioned in the adverts the day that we were hired
Digging deep and hard for black gold in the bowels of Kentucky’s earth
Accidents were common but truth be told a miner’s life doesn’t have much worth
As we soon found out there could be no doubt when the dreaded firedamp struck
If that happens it’s an act of God and survival depends on luck
My brother and me were on different shifts, I was asleep, he was at the seam
The methane explosion killed twenty men, plus my brother, along with our dream.
Middle 8
But I recalled how we swam in the Rochester Dam in our new home of Muhlenberg County
With it’s hills and vales reminiscent of Wales we gave thanks for the good Lord’s bounty
We set sail from New York to Liverpool dock with no one to wave us goodbye
I was in steerage, but in the hold, my brother’s body did lie
He was buried in the Welsh hills of his birth, in the stinging rain and cold
I swore I’d never roam from home again to dig for the Devil’s black gold



  1. As per Facebook
    Great storytelling Phil. Full of expectation, tinged with sadness (as are all the great country songs in my opinion). I saw Tracy’s comment and then also listened to John Prine’s Paradise to pick uo on the references. Great job buddy 😎👏👏

  2. Thanks, Phil. My uncle was a Llanelli steelworker, he too wanted something better for his family like your grandfather did. When I was about twelve, he gave my cousin and me a tour of the steelworks, which was like a vision of Hell. His message was received loud and clear – work hard at school boys or this could be you in a few years’ time! We are so lucky compared to previous generations. Cheers.

  3. Many thanks, Tracy. So glad you listenened to John’s song, too, as it is one of my faves – he sure knows how to tell a story. For me, one of the benefits of being a member of TisT is that I am writing story songs, which I never used to do, being mainly a fan of country music drinking songs. It’s good to branch out a bit. Cheers.

  4. The bowels under Kentucky is a fitting description of how dark and filthy it would have been. My dad was a miner briefly in his late teens / early twenties and for many relatives and friends parents it was their lifelong work. Awful way to make a living, Dad (60 years on) still has nightmares of his time down the pit.Great story, nicely done.

  5. Thanks, Rebecca. So sorry to hear about your dad. I have always had max respect for miners, as there is no way I could do that job. Similarly, my uncle was a Llanelli steelworker who died of emphysema (my entry to the main competition this year is about him). We are so lucky to have opportunities they never had. Lastly, thanks for not querying my dreadful pronunciation of ‘Hwyl Fawr’! Many thanks.

  6. I read somewhere recently that John Prine didn’t rate “Paradise” very highly & had to be persuaded to record it. I’m glad he did. I’be yet to write a narrative song but it’s a fine tradition & you do it very well, Phil. I really enjoyed this.

  7. Wow, I didn’t know that about ‘Paradise’; I love the song. Dwight Yoakam has recorded an interesting version too. Funnily enough, I was watching the news on TV last night and they were focusing on miners in West Kentucky. Spooky! Thanks for listening, as ever. Cheers.

  8. Hi Julie, Thanks for this. I have never consciously thought of chords supporting the mood, so I suppose it must be sub-conscious. I will certainly give this subject some thought. That’s one of the great thing about TisT – I seem to learn something new with every challenge! Many thanks.

  9. Really, what a coincidence! Yes, a very hard way to make a living. It was horrible to see my uncle wedded to an oxygen cylindar, fighting for breath when the emphysema got him.It was sad that the works closed, as Llanelli is a ghost town now, but what a way to make living. Funnily enough, my entry to the main competition is about my uncle and his life. Thanks for the nice comment about the song, congratulations and well done for your recent gig. Cheers.