The words and music to “Working in the Coal Mine” were written by singer, songwriter and record producer Allen Toussaint. The lyrics very simply and eloquently describe just that — the experience of a man working in a coal mine. The song was released in 1966 on Amy Records and rose to #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the U.S. R&B Chart. There was a cover of the song by Devo that also charted.
Lee Dorsey was an R&B singer best known for this song and his earlier hit “Ya Ya” (1961). Other charting singles include “Do-Re-Mie,” “Ride Your Pony,” and “Holy Cow.” He was born Irving Lee Dorsey in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1924. He had been a childhood friend of Fats Domino. His family moved to Portland, Oregon, when he was 10. Dorsey served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. On his return he had a boxing career as a lightweight (under the name Kid Chocolate). He then went to back to New Orleans and sang at clubs and had an auto repair business. Lee met up with Toussaint in New Orleans in 1965. In 1970, Dorsey and Toussaint collaborated on and had success with the album Yes We Can. Dorsey died in 1986 at the age of 61.
Allen Toussaint was born in New Orleans in 1938 and was very influential, particularly in New Orleans R&B, soul, funk, blues, and jazz. He had been in the U.S. Army from 1963 to 1965, and when he returned he and Marhsall Sehom formed a record production company called Sansu. Toussaint had produced a number of singles with Lee Dorsey, including “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” “Holy Cow,” and “Working in the Coal Mine.” Toussaint also had hits with “Fortune Teller,” “Lady Marmalade,” Mother-in-Law,” “Ruler of My Heart,” “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and “Southern Nights” just to name a few . Toussaint died on November 10, 2015, while on a concert tour in Spain.