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James Taylor Millworker Lyrics

Last updated: 02/28/2013 11:01:20 AM

Now my grandfather was a sailor
He blew in off the water
My father was a farmer
And I, his only daughter
Took up with a no good millworking man
From Massachusetts
Who dies from too much whiskey
And leaves me these three faces to feed

Millwork ain't easy
Millwork ain't hard
Millwork it ain't nothing
But an awful boring job
I'm waiting (on) a daydream
To take me through the morning
And put me in my coffee break
Where I can have a sandwich
And remember

Then it's me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
(and) the rest of the afternoon
And the rest of my life

Now my mind begins to wander
To the days back on the farm
I can see my father smiling at me
Swinging on his arm
I can hear my granddad's stories
Of the storms out on Lake Erie
Where vessels and cargos and fortunes
And sailors' lives were lost

(Yeah), but it's my life has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool
(I'll) ride home every evening
Staring at my hands
Swearing to my sorrow that a young girl
Ought to stand a better chance

So may I work your mills just as long as I am able
And never meet the man whose name is on the label

(it's still)me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
And the rest of the afternoon (and on and on and on...)
for the rest of my life

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A broken chain | Reviewer: James Miller | 2/28/13

My great great great grandfather moved from Wales to England to work as a millwright in a Scottish cotton mill called Clark Thread Company His son also a millwright brought his family to several Clark mills in New England. My great grandfather came South to Cleveland, Georgia and my grandfather moved to a Clark mill in Anderson, South Carolina where my father was born. The family moved to Clarkdale Ga. where my Father helped them build the mill there in 1930 when he was 13 years old. He went to work in the mill there. I started work in the mill in 1966 with my sister and brother. My first job was unloading cotton bales from railroad cars with hand trucks in the July heat. The bales weighed anywhere from 550 to 760 pounds. I was paid $1.05 per hour. Men who had been doing that job for 30 years made $1.10 per hour. That was the maximum rate. There was no union.
I later moved inside the mill where most of the jobs (men and women) were "piecework". The faster you did your job the more you could make-but it wasn't much. I never thought I would break out of there but a former teacher found out I wasn't in college and basically paid me to go to college. I graduated and went to medical school and my three children have never seen the inside of a cotton mill. The long chain is finally broken. The American Dream-it just took several generations to unfold. The song Millworker by J.T. and the song Cotton Jenny by Gordon Lightfoot bring back a lot of memories. Memories this generation of Americans will never know because all of the Clark mills moved to Honduras in the 1970s.

Grace, the millworker | Reviewer: Anonymous | 12/17/11

Studs Terkel's book was made into a musical. 1000 years ago I was cast in this musical (my last performance) as Grace, the millworker--quite an honor to sing the song, written by JT. I believe that all songwriters for the musical were to use the words of each character (verbatim) from Terkel's interviews. Grace's monologue is quite sad and it wasn't an easy role--i saw eddie vedder live in boston and he did a cover--great job. Ironically, I own my own business and moved it into a refurbished all comes full circle.

Late for work | Reviewer: Richard Addison | 12/2/09

I've come to this song very late, via a wonderful British TV show called Transatlantic Sessions (with Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski, Martha Wainwright and a whole bunch of wonderful Celtic musicians - well worth checking out) I know it came from the Studs Terkel-based musical, but I'm not clear as to whether Terkel wrote the lyric. It's a beautiful, haunting but unsentimental song and it wasn't until I checked it out on You-tube that I discovered just how many people had covered it. Unlike the earlier reviewer, I don't prefer the Emmylou Harris version, fine though it is - a touch too pretty perhaps. What interests me about the song is it's structure, with a "middle eight" coming so near the end - gives a fantastic emotional pull to take it home.

"Millworker" lyrics | Reviewer: Brian Oliver | 4/13/07

Of course JT composed it, so his lyrics are the definitive ones. Both Bette Midler and Emmylou Harris exercised artists' rights to modify them (slightly)in their renditions.

As a P.S., I favor Emmylou's version, but it sure sounds as if James is doing haronmies on her track. Perhaps guitar as well.