unionNation Band: Striking a Chord with the Rank & File
February 14, 2018
By WNYLaborToday.com Editor-Publisher Tom Campbell
Buffalo, NY – While traditional Labor songs for working people were written by such legends as Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill — which have long served as the mainstay for the Labor Movement since they were first penned way back when — there’s now an updated choice when it comes to speaking to union members about the jobs they do and the issues they face.
And James Neureuther of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) here in Buffalo played a role in the IAM’s unionNation Band, which is comprised of more than 20 Musicians, singers and songwriters.The IAM Band recently released their second CD – Wake Up, Rise Up, Stand Strong – that features 21 songs, including Back to the Fight, Union Heart, Work’n Overtime, Union Thug, Blue Collar Blood, Ordinary People, Gotta Have a Union and Neureuther’s own – Walking the Line. The songs run from Rap to Rock and Country to Jazz.“I’m ‘very proud’ of it,” the 62-year-old Neureuther (pictured above, seated, holding a guitar), who works at Ingersoll-Rand in the Buffalo area as a Quality Inspector and who’s been an IAM Member for 22 years, tells WNYLaborToday.com. “It’s ‘near and dear’ to my heart. Now the ‘hard part is getting people to listen (to the Labor Songs on the CDs) to the message’ – but music is a ‘great’ communicator.”
I see a young man, running his machine… Just starting his life… He’s gonna take out a loan and build a home for his pretty young wife… He could be going downtown, just hanging around, but working’s what he wants to do.
Asked whether these new songs would be embraced by the Labor Movement and its Members, Neureuther – who plays the guitar and harmonica (on four other songs on the latest CD), sings and writes, answers: “Most definitely. Back then Joe Hill ‘wrote for people on the picket line.’ Now, ‘we’ve come a long way.’ ‘I think over time, the use of music fell to the side and you really didn’t hear a lot of (new) songs anywhere.’”
I’m walking the line, to make things better for you… There’s an old man, works in the foundry, 40 years stoking the fire. He moves a little slow, got two more to go before he can retire… He’s always been tough but he’s had enough of working ‘till he’s black and blue.
The unioNation Band was started back in 2012, according to unioNation Production Manager and IAM Education Representative Henry Bagwell, who recently spoke to WNYLaborToday.com via phone from the Union’s Offices in Hollywood, Maryland.
“No Union ‘in the world is doing what we are’ in the IAM,” Bagwell told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper. “
I’m walking the line, to make things better for you… Walking the line… Gonna stand straight and tall… Walking the line… All for one and one for all.
unioNation’s first CD was simply titled Machinists Music Project, while its second CD is named Wake Up, Rise Up, Stand Strong. It includes all original Labor music by those IAM Union Members from Canada and across the United States who took part in the project.
The 25 Unionists, most of whom had never met each other, worked to expand upon the mission of unioNation, Bagwell said: “To create and perform Workers’ music that ‘motivates activism and that will be enjoyed by the masses.’”
The group only had days to write, arrange, practice and perform original Labor songs and the IAM Members created 21 original songs that focused on Workers and the struggles they endure -every day.
“It’s been an ‘amazing trip.’ We ‘didn’t know what to expect and we had no expectations whatsoever.’ We originally put the call out and got around (23) Musicians. Second time out, it was about (45). Many Musicians told me that (pulling off what the IAM did) ‘can’t be done,’” said Bagwell, “but when you put Unionists and musicians together, ‘you can do anything.’”
We have a young sister, fitting up pipe, trying to make it on her own… She’s gonna raise her son, but it ain’t no fun when you’ve got to do it alone… Needs a new car but she won’t get far because her rent is overdue.
The IAM Musicians gathered in Maryland at a recording center to work together to write and perform their songs. “We blocked out the studio for two solid weeks. ‘We didn’t know what to expect’. ‘What we got were all kinds of songs’ – from Rap to Rock to Country and Jazz – ‘but we knew it had to be music that people would listen to today, not just the old stuff,’” Bagwell told WNYLaborToday.com.
I’m walking the line to make things better for you… I’m walking the line to make things better for you.
Neureuther told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper he originally found out about what the IAM was doing through its Union Newsletter.
Neureuther, who’s been playing music since he first learned at the age of seven and as an adult played in some local bands in the Buffalo area, said “it was a ‘great’ experience for me, ‘very cool.’”
“I played guitar, the drums and the harmonica on some of the blues songs,” he said. “I’m ‘very proud of it and I’m very thankful’ to Henry (Bagwell for allowing Neurether to be involved in the project).”
Walking the line… Got our own point of view…
Asked what this updated version of Labor Songs could do for the Labor Movement as it continues to not only get its word out, but reach a diverse range of Workers, both ethnically and by age, Neureuther said: “It’s a ‘great way to get people to listen to the message.’ Music is (a) ‘great (form of) communication.’ ‘We’ve come a long way since the days of Guthrie and Hill,’ ‘but he use of music (by the Labor Music to communicate its message) just seemed to fall by the wayside.’ ‘You just don’t hear a lot of those songs anymore.’”
Walkin’ the line… Fighting for me and you…
Bagwell said “it was time” to move forward on creating an alternative and up-to-date version of Union Songs, because “all the old stuff” wasn’t reaching the Labor audience of today.
Walkin’ the line… Never running out of steam…
And that was accomplished by these talented IAM Members, including many “weekend players,” as well as some who had also played professionally in their lives, Bagwell said.
“They ‘all left their egos at the door,’” he told WNYLaborToday.com, “and ‘helped each other out in order to make music for Working People who would listen to it.’ ‘Many of them said it was the most fun they have ever had.’ ‘They played a two-hour concert and it was a big hit.’”
Walking the line… Keeping the American Dream.
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: For more information and to listen to some of the IAM Members’ unioNation’s songs, visit www.unionation.com. In addition, Neureuther’s Walking the Line is featured on WNYLaborToday.com’s Front Page in our WNY Labor News… Now! Video Cube.