A Season of Songs, Day 82: They Can’t Put It Back

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song is “They Can’t Put It Back” by Rich Kirby and Michael Kline off their 1977 album of the same name.  (Can’t find a version of the song online)

I never was one to carry signs
Picket with placards, walk in lines
Maybe I’m behind the times
You can bet your sweet life
They’re gonna hear from me
I ain’t gonna take it laying down
‘Cause I’m getting tired seeing rocks that bleed
On the bare guts of the ground
I ain’t gonna sell my soul
So they can strip out another little tiny vein of coal
I ain’t a-moving out of my tracks
‘Cause they can’t put it back
They can’t put it back

My friend Theo Witsell (one of the aforementioned Little Rockians from yesterday) introduced me to this Kirby & Kline album probably in 1997.  It was on a tape with some other folk music – Pete Seeger, Casey Neill, etc.  That tape would get a lot of play over the coming years.

This album is fourteen tracks of pretty heavy, gut-wrenching Appalachian folk music.  Music about losing your home, losing your family, losing it all, but also a lot about the beauty of Appalachia and the power of the people.  It’s a heavy record no doubt.  I’m pretty sure Theo had just stumbled upon the record at a used record store and just picked it up on whim because it looked like a good record and then was floored by the quality of what he got.  It being the late 90’s, the internet was still not yet full of everything and things were still a bit hard to find, so more information on who the musicians were and if they put out anything else wasn’t easily forthcoming.  However, a few years later (behold, the 2000s!), we would do a little research and find the website for Appalshop, the Appalachian arts organization responsible for putting out this LP.  Turns out they still had stock of this LP (and looking at their website, it looks like they still do), so we ordered like a dozen of them and made sure to get them to the folks that we knew would love it.  The rest we sold at shows.

About five years ago now I made a screenprint using some of the lyrics from this song.  The print is like 10″ high by 30″ long and I had a hell of a time trying to burn the screen at home.  It took me a number of attempts but I finally got it right.  I really like how this print turned out by never really sold any.  I’ve got a bunch hiding away upstairs, so if you’d like one, let me know.


Around the same time that I did this print, Emma and I got invited to sing some songs at an art opening at Artist Image Resource revolving around fracking and other forms of resource extraction.  The above print was included in the show.  We sang five songs, all from this album – “Almost Done”, “Black Lung Blues”, “Ain’t Going Home Soon”, “Strip Away” and “They Can’t Put It Back”.  “They Can’t Put It Back” I did solo and unaccompanied by any instruments (the same way it appears on the record).  Memorized the lyrics too.  That is something that doesn’t happen too often.  It felt good.

“They Can’t Put It Back” is overall a must-have record if you are into Appalachian folk music at all.  Seriously – go order it from Appalshop or get in touch and i’ll burn you a copy.


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