The 2004 book, set in 1950s Kentucky, is about two girls whose father is killed in a mining accident. Silas House mentions the song and its author, Billy Ed Wheeler, in the book’s acknowledgments.
Longtime mine safety advocate — and expert on coal-mining songs — Tony Oppegard also mentioned to me that he has about three dozen different versions of the song, and that his favorite is Billy Ed Wheeler’s.
I was very pleased to post an MP3 file of Kathy Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo” with this blog. I got to know Kathy a little bit while discussing various coal industry issues — from the Sago Disaster to mountaintop removal — with her. And she was kind enough to come and sing a couple of songs last year at the opening reception of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 2008 Annual Conference, which I co-chaired.
In any event, here’s some video I found on YouTube of Kathy signing the song. Have a good weekend everybody.