Open Thread - Thurs 22 Sep 2022: T-Bone Slim
T-Bone Slim: Wobbly Music, Poetry, Writing
Last month I wrote a post which contained a tiny bit of history about the Wobblies (the IWW - Industrial Workers of the World) and one or two of their actions in the PacNW and mentioned a couple of their members (Joe Hill and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn). Kelly wrote a comment on that post about the Free Speech movement and the Wobbly actions in Fresno, CA.
One of the links Kelly mentioned, this one, led me down a different kinda learning tunnel because it included a video of a German band singing a song written by T-Bone Slim. I'd heard others sing the song, so I decided to learn about it, and its creator.
Wow. The song, 'The Popular Wobbly', is a parody of a 1917 hit called 'They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me'. 'Popular Wobbly' first came out in 1920 in the IWW's Little Red Songbook. The song became one of those sung a lot in the 1960s Civil Right's Movement. Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips sang it, I'm sure that's where I heard it first as a youngster.
Here's the Video of the German Band singing the song:
A wee bit about T-Bone Slim: his real name was Matti Valentin (or Valentinpoika) Huhta, and he was born to Finnish immigrant parents in 1880 (or 1882) on Feb 14th, Happy Valentine's Day!, in Ashtabula, Ohio. So Joe Hill was Swedish, and T-Bone Slim came from Finnish parents; recently two of the best places for social democracy in the world. Makes ya kinda wonder about the influence of heritage, doesn't it?
T-Bone was well known in the IWW and contributed to the Little Red Songbook (new edition from 2010, internet archive edition from 1968), the IWW newspaper, different IWW books and more. He spent time traveling around as a hobo, working at various jobs all over the country. The IWW says:
T-bone Slim's columns tell us far more about the man than any biographical data we can find. Datelines and content tell us of his wanderings around the country, working the harvest on the plains, logging in the Pacific Northwest, visiting the IWW Working People's College in Duluth, or frequenting the hobo jungles near Chicago. The humor contained in them tells us something about the man.
T-Bone also worked on docks and barges on the rivers and coasts in the places he had wandered, and in the 1930's settled down in New York City.
The IWW continues:
He became the Captain of the Hudson River barge, "Casey", employed by the New York Trap Rock Corporation. He was a member of the Barge Captain's Local of the International Longshoremen's Association of the AFL, as well as the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union 510 of the IWW, and was well known and respected at the union halls on the waterfront, where he sometimes played pinochle with the boys and discussed union affairs.
On May 15, 1942, a body was found floating near Pier 9 on the East River at 5:45PM by a patrolman. The body had been in the water for about 4 days, and showed no obvious signs of external injury. The case was ruled a drowning, and police speculated that the person had been drunk, fallen in the water, and drowned.
The body was not claimed, and was buried in a pauper's grave on Hart Island... known as Potter's Field. The body was identified, but the records do not tell us who identified it. It was Matt Valentine Huhta... T-bone Slim.
Huhta's death is as much a mystery as his life. Despite the police speculation of a drunk falling into the river and drowning, friends and associates all agree that Slim was not a drinker and none had ever seen him drunk. A few speculated that he might have been murdered . . . but no one has a motive, and no sign of violence was found on the body. Suicide? We may never know.
And John Westmorland's website says:
Adding further intrigue to the mystery of T-Bone Slim's death is the plot of a novel published in 1956- 'The Savage Streets'. The author, Floyd Miller, had worked on the New York waterfront during the late 30’s and early 40’s, while at the same time serving as a covert Stalinist infiltrator of the Socialist Workers Party. The plot of Miller’s book centers around the death of an old barge captain on The Hudson River who is described as a “Philosophical Wobbly" (IWW member). The official story was that the barge captain had a drunken accident. However as the plot unfolds it’s revealed that the old wobbly’s death was actually a murder carried out by powerful interests involved in a massive smuggling operation. In 1954, Floyd Miller confessed his spying activities to the FBI, and became a states witness in an espionage trial against his former handler. Two years later in 1956 he published his first novel The Savage Streets…
There's an upcoming album of T-Bone's work, which I'm looking forward to, done by John Westmoreland, who discovered by accident that his great grandmother's older brother was T-Bone Slim. So he's T-Bone's great grandnephew. Westmoreland has access to an unpublished collection of T-Bone's work, found in his family archives.
This video is the unpublished poem 'Resurrection' written by T-Bone, sung to music created by Westmoreland, you can access the video off of Westmoreland's website as well.
And here's Utah Phillips singing the Lumberjack's Prayer, another popular song, at one time, written by T-Bone Slim.
So, thanks for reading, enjoy the music, and here's the open thread - and remember, everything is interesting if you dive deep enough, so tell us about where you're diving!