A versatile, deep-voiced performer, Tennessee Ernie Ford became the role model for future generations of multifaceted country artists. The Bristol, Tennessee native, who was once a golden-voiced radio, quickly embarked on a long and successful recording career.
And over his long career, Ford’s popularity and recognition have transcended country music. He sang everything from rock & roll to gospel anthems. He has recorded over a hundred albums and won numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest honor for civilians. He was also among the oldest and most successful “crossover” artists to release country music.
Most notably, he had huge success with these songs.
ten. The cry of the wild goose
Ford released his version of “The Cry of the Wild Goose” in 1950, although it was originally released as a 78 rpm vinyl record by Frankie Laine.
9. You don’t have to be a baby to cry
The song was first recorded in 1950 and was best known from its 1963 recording by British girl band The Caravelles. Ford recorded the song in 1956 and used it as the “B” side of his hit song “Sixteen Tons”.
8. I will never be free
Performed by Ford and American pop and jazz singer Kay Starr, the song reached number two on the US country chart and number three on the US pop chart in 1950.
seven. Hey, good lookin’
The song was written and recorded by Hank Williams in 1951, and his version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. Williams said he wrote “Hey Good Lookin'” in just 20 minutes when he was on a plane with musicians Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl and Pearl’s husband, Henry Cannon. The hit song was supposed to be recorded by Dickens, but Williams recorded it himself and jokingly told Dickens, “This song is too good for you!”
Ford covered the song with Helen O’Connell the same year.
6. how tall you are
The song began as a hymn written in 1885 by Reverend Carl Boberg, a Swedish evangelist, who set it to a Swedish folk melody and was eventually produced in an English version. The author, Carl Boberg himself, gave the following details about the inspiration behind his poem:
“It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest color; the birds were singing in the trees and everywhere. It was very hot; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon, and soon there was thunder and lightning,” he said. “We had to rush to get to safety. But the storm soon passed and clear skies appeared. When I returned, I opened my window to the sea. There had evidently been a funeral, and the bells were playing the tune of ‘When the clock of eternity calls my saved soul to its sabbatical rest.’ That night, I wrote the song “O Store Gud”.
“How Great Thou Art” gained worldwide popularity; in fact, there are over one thousand seven hundred documented recordings of the anthem. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version is one of the most notable.
5. The Ballad of Davy Crockett
The song gained popularity when it was introduced on the ABC television series Disneyland. The song would later be heard throughout the Disneyland Davy Crockett television miniseries, which first aired in 1954.
Ford’s version was released in 1955 and peaked at No. 4 on the Weekly Country Chart and No. 5 on the Weekly Pop Chart.
4. mule train
Originally released in 1947, “Mule Train” is a cowboy song. The singer plays the role of a Wild West wagon driver who boosts his team of mules pulling a delivery wagon. As his work progresses, the driver mentions the various goods sold by mail that he delivers to distant customers.
Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version was released in 1949, featuring whipping sound effects and shouts from the driver as he rammed the mules. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and became the first song to top the “Country & Western Records Most Played by Folk Disk Jockeys” component.
3. give me your word
The song was Ford’s first UK hit, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1955, and remained at the top of the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks.
2. The shotgun boogie
Tennessee Ernie Ford, who was a hunter himself, wrote “The Shotgun Boogie” – it turned out to be his most successful release on the Country & Western charts. The song stayed on the charts for a total of twenty-five weeks and at No. 1 for fourteen weeks.
1. Sixteen Tons
The megahit “Sixteen Tons” was the song that defined Ford’s career. With Ford snapping his fingers and intoning the mournful lyrics in his caramel-rich bass-baritone voice, the record sold like wildfire.
The song about the plight of coal miners earning low wages, working long hours and trying to get out of debt is absolutely timeless and has found resonance around the world. Yet the US government deemed it potentially seditious and placed its songwriter, Merle Travis, on a watch list. They claimed that the song supported organizing workers and communism.
Still, “Sixteen Tons” made Ford a crossover star and it became his signature song. It has also been covered by Elvis Presley, the Weavers, Stevie Wonder, Tom Morello and countless others.