Banks of Marble (Les Rice)

This song was written in 1949 by Les Rice, a farmer from New York State, USA. It deals with the perverse injustice, exploitation and inequality Rice saw all around him. Pete Seeger wrote about Les Rice and this song: “Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertilizer, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.” I heard this first being sung by the incomparable Utah Phillips when I was a boy. I took it up recently on realising how starkly relevant it is to our times. Hope hides out in the final lines...

 

Guitar tuning: Gsus4/4 (CGDGCD)

Lyrics

I've travelled round this country
From shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
At the things I heard and saw.

 

I saw the weary farmer
Ploughing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
Just a’ knocking down his door

 

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the farmer sweated for

 

I saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore
And I heard the bosses saying
Got no work for you no more

 

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the seaman sweated for

 

I saw the weary miner
Scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children crying
Got no coal to heat the shack

 

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for

 

I’ve seen the weary old folks

Without a nickel left to give

And the hovels they exist in

Ain’t fit for rats to live

 

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the old folks sweated for

 

I've seen my people working
Throughout this mighty land
And I’ve prayed we get together
And together make a stand

Then we'd own those banks of marble
With a guard at every door
And we'd share those vaults of silver
That we’ve all sweated for

 

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  • 17/08/14 Major Arms Folk Festival, Snails Bank, Halmonds Frome, Worcester
  • 11/09/14 Loughton Folk Club, Essex
  • 03/10/14 The Foundling Museum, London