November 2018 /// Vol 239 No. 11)


What’s new in production

Counting down the hits

Don Francis

Last month, we suggested that the industry deserves a party to celebrate its success. But, what’s a party without music? And, what would be more appropriate than oilfield music?

The thing is, a lot of people write about the oil and gas industry—we should know—but nobody sings about it.

Or, so we thought. Everyone of a certain age knows the famous exception: “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Ole Jed’s oilfield technology—a shotgun—was certainly unconventional, but it worked well enough to propel the family to Beverly Hills prosperity. Of course, Flatt and Scruggs were two of the greatest Bluegrass musicians of all time, and along with the song’s unforgettably funny lyrics, their masterful picking helped make this tune an ear worm for millions.

While it may seem that way to the casual auditor, this is not the only song about the oil field ever written. Believe it or not, there are actually enough songs with an oilfield theme, some even performed by musicians known to people other than cultural anthropologists, to make a top-ten list. So, starting with “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” in the Number Ten spot, let’s do a countdown of The Oil Field’s Greatest Hits. This list is in no particular order, except for Number One. That one is special…

“Roughneck” by Johnny Cash. Released in 1963, on the album, Blood, Sweat and Tears, the song’s lyrics are as cheerful as the album’s title. A sample:

Born to be a roughneck I’ll never amount to nothin’ / Pullin’ case and layin’ pipe is hard labor / Well I was born in a boomer shack ‘bout a half mile from town / Papa was a driller on a wildcat crew and my mama never was around…

“I’m a Tool Pusher from Snyder” by Winston Lee Moore. “Slim Willet” recorded a number of oilfield songs, starting with “I’m a Tool Pusher from Snyder” in 1950 and an album, “Texas Oil Patch Songs,” in 1959. His real name was Winston Lee Moore, and he was born in Victor, Erath County, Texas, in 1919. Willet most notably composed the 1952 million-selling, “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” which has been covered by numerous, well-known performers.

“Ashland Oil” (Folk Song). This is a song about Ashland Oil’s problems in the Martha Oil Field in Martha, Kentucky. The composer is apparently unknown. According to some accounts, the company brought naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface while producing oil.

“This Old Rig” by Freddie Frank. Issued by Permian Records, of Odessa, Texas, this 45-rpm single included “(I Want To Be) On The Bayou Tonight” on the B side. Born Frederick William Frank in Baton Rouge, La., in 1931, Freddie was one year old when his father, an oil field machinist, moved the family to Kilgore, Texas, in Gregg County. Freddie grew up to become a familiar presence at such Odessa night spots as the Silver Saddle, Melody Club, The Stardust, and Ace of Clubs.

“The Oilfield Cowboy” by Wes St. Jon. Known as “The Oilfield Cowboy,” St. Jon is a singer/songwriter from Nashville, who was inspired by colorful oilfield people that he met while living in Oklahoma and Louisiana. St. Jon’s oilfield oeuvre also includes “Redneck Roughneck;” “An Oilfield Man’s Wife;” “Fracin’ The Hole;” and “The Story of the Derrick Man, Toolpusher, Roustabout, Roughneck, Driller and The Company Man.” (Editor’s note: Most of these songs were recorded with crack Nashville session musicians.)

“The Crude Oil Blues” by Jerry Reed. This song was released in February 1974 as the lead single from the album, “A Good Woman’s Love.” Somehow, the song reached peaks of number 13 on the U.S. country chart and number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe it was because the producer was none other than Chet Atkins.

“Oilfield Dad” by Bryan Martin. “I was working derricks on H&P Rig 252 and was on day 11 of a 14-day hitch,” Martin says. “We were running cement, and I was down on the pits watching for returns when I started thinking of how much I missed my kids and wife.”

“My first day home, I walked in and grabbed my guitar, and sang it to my wife and kids. My wife cried and suggested I share it on Facebook. I uploaded it to YouTube around 2:30 a.m. and by 8:30 the next morning, it had over 1,500 shares on Facebook.” Social media success may not have the same romance as riding the rails or hitting it big at the Grand Ole Opry, but this is the 21st century, even in the country.

“Oilmen” by Waylon Jennings with Earl Scruggs Band. Produced for Mobil, this song was the soundtrack for a “short subject” film about industry operations in remote locations. It allegedly ran ahead of a few feature films in movie houses. Waylon didn’t write the song, but it’s unmistakably Waylon singing it, and the Earl Scruggs Band’s impeccable playing fits perfectly.

“The Big Red” by Halliburton. This one is unique, and it defines a genre once thought extinct. It’s time for the Company Song to make a comeback; it might be the last frontier of competition among the major service companies. Maybe a new tradition could start at the next OTC—a Battle of the Bands.

Attention all you musicians daylighting as oilfield hands—pitch your company song idea to your marketing department, ASAP. They’ll love you for it. After running through this playlist, you may be out of your seat, yelling for an encore. No worries; there’s plenty of material out there. When the band comes back on stage, maybe they’ll play “Texas Oil” by Freddie King. That’s one you can dance to… wo-box_blue.gif

The Authors ///

Don Francis DON@TECHNICOMM.COM / For more than 30 years, Don Francis has observed the global oil and gas industry as a writer, editor and consultant to companies marketing upstream technologies.