Starvation Army – Band Music No. 1

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Songs of the IWW and the Salvation Army

Chris Westover-Muñoz, Harris Ipock, with Sing In Solidarity and The Brass Band of Columbus & Friends
PM Press/Free Dirt Records (2024)

Joe Hill is probably the most well-known Wobbly composer, but the story of the Little Red Songbook begins even before Joe Hill joined the IWW. As early as April 1908, fellow worker J.H. Walsh wrote about the Spokane Wobblies’ use of “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.” Walsh seems to have been interested in music as a tool of class warfare before he arrived in Spokane. Though it is unclear how much the Spokane Wobblies were singing before his arrival, when Walsh came to town he brought his own group of Wobbly troubadours known as the “Overall Brigade.” At times during the Wobblies’ street meetings they would “sing note by note with the Salvation Army” [brass band], only while the Salvation Army’s words were “describing Heaven above,” the IWWs were talking about “Hell right here – all to the same tune!”

In their musical battles with the “Starvation Army” the Wobblies saw how the bosses were using the music’s power in an attempt to manipulate and control workers. The power of this religious and patriotic music was found not only in the text of the songs but also in the sheer sonic force of the brass bands that performed the as instruments of power in public space. From the July 1909 edition of the Industrial Worker, “With the number of military bands, among which is that at the army post at Fort Wright, and with the religious music of the masters from the pipe-organs of the churches up to the grand strains of the Salvation Army, the masters are availing themselves of the influence of music to stir up hatred for our Japanese and “foreign” brothers, and to lull to sleep the cradle cries of the infant revolution.”

Perhaps no one captured this better in song than Joe Hill in “The Preacher and the Slave” and “There Is Power in a Union.” Though Hill was not present in Spokane during the Free Speech Fight, he read about the fight in union press and contributed his first song to the fourth edition of the songbook. And while his song about “pie in the sky” became emblematic of the early songbook, modern listeners and fellow workers have never heard the songs that inspired Joe Hill–until now!

Fellow Worker, conductor, and creator of this recording project Chris David Westover-Muñoz states, “I made this album not because I felt we should sing these songs but because I became convinced that we need a renewed singing tradition. In this story and these songs, I find hope and inspiration–hope that we might learn to sing together again, and through singing together that we might remember that there is indeed power in our union.”

Tracklist

1.   Hellelujah (Hallelujah, I’m a Bum)
2.   Are You Washed
3.   The Roll Call
4.   Out in the Bread-line
5.   Sunshine in My Soul (and Hunger in My Stomach)
6.   Old Hundredth
7.   The Preacher and the Slave
8.   Salvation, or General William Booth Enters into Heaven
9.   Nearer My Job to Thee
10.  Covenant
11.   A Dream
12.  Are you Washed
13.  Dump the Bosses Off Your Back
14.  Christians at War
15.  There Is Power in a Union

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CD

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