Today’s song is ‘Hit the Road, Jack’. This is a song written by the rhythm and blues artist Percy Mayfield. It was first recorded in 1960 as an ‘a cappella’ demo that was sent to Art Rupe. It became famous after it was recorded by the singer-songwriter-pianist Ray Charles with The Raelettes vocalist, Margie Hendrix.
Charles's recording hit Number 1 for two weeks on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ in October 1961. ‘Hit the Road Jack’ won a Grammy award for ‘Best Rhythm and Blues Recording’. The song was Number 1 on the R&B Sides chart for five weeks, thereby becoming Charles's sixth number-1 on that chart. The song is ranked number 387 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
I was 19 years old when this song was first released. It was a very exciting time in my life. One year earlier, I had been elected the Shop Steward at the Dying Mill I worked at in Hightown, Liversedge, ‘Harrison Gardeners and Sons’. This was a family textile firm which had been in existence since the 19th century. It had 300 workers of both sexes, but mostly men.
For a young man aged 18 to be elected Shop Steward was unheard of. It eas a first and I was officially the youngest textile shop steward in Great Britain and made the national press.
The firm had never been on strike since it had first opened during the previous century.
Within six months of my stewardship, I was to call the firm out on its first strike that lasted two weeks and gained national press coverage again. There were two aspects to the strike; the first being for an increase in rates on the least profitable yarn for the workers to dye and the refusal of the boss to fill an advertised vacancy with a West Indian applicant. Despite being eminently suitable for the post, the applicant had been refused employment by the owners because of his skin colour.
1960's Great Britain was rife with racism and all blacks were discriminated against in the workplace, clubs, and all manner of institutions. Landlords often put up notices in their windows advertising vacancies but specifying ‘No blacks, Irish or Dogs’. I had long been an advocate against skin colour discrimination ever since my life had been saved on the operation table by a West Indian surgeon when I was 11 years old. The employees at Harrison Gardeners may have come out on strike for the ‘colour issue’ alone, but that was why I deliberately enjoined the two issues into one cause. Nevertheless, I was proud of my work mate’s response at a time when racial discrimination in the country was rife.
After the strike had been settled, coverage of the strike and the cause in the national and regional press brought me to the attention of the trade union bigwigs. They wanted to ‘fast-track’ me in the Trade Union organization, and I was offered a degree place at Ruskin College. I declined.
At the age of 19 years, I was also officially made the youngest paid part-time Youth Leader in the country, when the then Youth Leader of St. Barnabas Youth Club, Liversedge, Harry Field was ill for six months. Harry got the employment body and council to allow me to act as stand-in Youth Leader in his absence.
From 19 years of age onwards, I wanted to emigrate. I had reached that stage in life when a young man needed to do something different to push the boat out; either join the army, emigrate or get married and start a family. I had always been a good singer since my childhood and envisaged making a career out of singing when I went abroad. Everything within me wanted to travel; ‘to hit the road’ and knowing that I would come into a pretty penny in compensation when I reached the age of 21 years from a childhood accident, I determined to emigrate to Canada.
Four weeks after my 21st birthday, ‘I hit the road’ and made my way to Liverpool where I boarded the S.S.Sylvania. My plan was to make my living as a professional singer and I’d not the slightest of doubt that my talent would be quickly spotted after my arrival there. That was not to be, but ‘hitting the road’ at that time in my life turned out to be beneficial to my maturity as an individual in so many ways.
I dedicate today’s song to my Facebook friend from Leeds, Terry Baldwinson. Terry is a retired chap, whose daily quips I read without fail. I like his sardonic wit and even though we have never met in person, I envisage him being as fit as a butcher’s dog. He amazes me with all the weekly runs he does, and he thinks nothing about running five miles before he brews his first cup of the morning. As a man who is forever ‘hitting the road’, I hope you feel this dedication to be suitable for your lifestyle, Terry. Thank you for being my Facebook friend and for the many laughs you give me with your daily jokes on Facebook.
Love and peace Bill xxx