Joe Hill

Joel Haglund came from Sweden
Which was very far from Eden
By the time he left most of his family died
His sisters and his mother
His father and his brothers
So with one remaining sibling at his side
He got a notion
To sail across the ocean
Where he heard the streets were paved with gold
Not long after his arrival
As he toiled for survival
He realized the bill of goods that he’d been sold

He got a whole lot wiser
Became an organizer
And he organized with artistry and skill
He spoke up, raised his fist
Got right on the blacklist
That’s why he changed his name to Joe Hill
He heard that it was best
If he headed to the west
Where the Industrial Workers of the World
Were finding the solutions
For making revolution
With red songbook and red flag unfurled

A hundred years ago the bard
With the union card
Proved his music was too powerful, too strong
They couldn’t stand the sound
They had to take him down
Lest he organize the working class in song

Soon as he paid his dues
He tried hard to light the fuse
Speaking, singing, writing lyrics and cartoons
He sent off the whole mess
To the Wobbly press
And they sang his songs as they fought the goons
He joined a singing movement
That fought for improvement
By abolishing wage-slavery worldwide
He sang the Wobbly line
Beseeching workers to combine
Learn from Mr Block — the bosses lied


His life would be cut short
By a kangaroo court
Eager to determine one man’s fate
Evidence was circumstantial
But that’s inconsequential
When you’ve become an enemy of the state
They put him up against the wall
And that was all
They gunned him down in 1915
He took all the bullets he could take
There by the Salt Lake
For being the best bard they’d ever seen


Sheet music:
Joe Hill

“Joe Hill” appears on my 2015 CD, The Other Side, and on Live in Rostrevor from 2016.

Sometime around the 99th anniversary of Joe Hill’s execution by firing squad in Salt Lake City, Utah, people started talking about the 100th anniversary.  At the beginning of 2015 I wrote this song, and spent much of the rest of the year, up until November 19th, doing shows and participating in other events with a Joe Hill theme to them, from Sweden to California.

Joe Hill was an organizer with the IWW and a songwriter, poet, and cartoonist.  He was imprisoned, tried, found guilty and executed in Utah for a crime he didn’t commit.  Joe grew up in Gavle, Sweden, north of Stockholm.  His full name was Joel Emanuel Hagglund.