“Talking Union” was the title song of the Almanac Singers’ most popular album (back in the days when “album” meant literally that: a bound album of 78 records). As I mentioned in the last couple of posts, my first records included a bunch of left-wing 78 albums, including Talking Union, though that one was missing its cover and I only learned what it looked like about forty years later.
It was the first “talking blues” I ever heard, though thanks to Woody and then to Bob Dylan, there were a lot around in the 1960s. They were all distant descendants of a blackface minstrel comedy number recorded in the 1920s by a fellow named Chris Bouchillon. Woody did that version, then spun it off into songs about pretty much anything he wanted to talk about, and Pete picked up the pattern and wrote this one with Millard Lampell.
I was eight or nine years old when I first learned this, and a lot of it was obscure to me — What’s a “straw boss”? What’s a “steering committee?” I’m still not clear on straw bosses, but I helped form a steering committee when we put together the Boston Globe Freelancers Association under the auspices of the National Writers Union and led a walk-out of three hundred freelance writers, photographers, and designers who refused to sign a new and confiscatory contract. I was sorry to go, because I liked writing for the Globe, but I figured that after thirty years of singing union songs it was time to step up and be counted.