Appalachia Music

Rock Salt And Nails

rock salt nails

The first person I remember hearing sing Rock Salt And Nails was Tony Rice and I immediately fell in love with the song. The mournful tune and lonesome lyrics speak to some place deep inside me. Paul told me Pap used to sit around and play the song, but never did sing it. I wonder if Pap’s playing seeped into my mind without me realizing it and that’s another reason I love the song.

The sad melancholy lyrics matched my feelings of teenage angst perfectly and I used to play the song over and over. I never gave any thought to who wrote the song or even why they might have wrote it. I just liked it.

A few weeks ago Paul did a cover of the song and uploaded it to our youtube channel. The video got me to wondering who wrote the song. A quick search on the Mud Cat Cafe turned up this fascinating information.

“Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Rock Salt and Nails (Utah Phillips)
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 26 Aug 09 – 07:15 PM

Bruce (who went by “U. Utah Phillips” as a parody of T. Texas Tyler) wrote the song in Korea after receiving a dear John letter from his wife. He didn’t like to sing it, partially because the person it was written about was still alive (and remains so). It was one thing for other folks to sing it (he knew a good song when he wrote one) but it felt too personal to sing it himself. He also felt it was an angry, bitter song, and he didn’t feel that way any more.

He told me that after he received that Dear John letter, he wrote two songs – one was Rock Salt and Nails, and the other “I Think of You” – one of the sweetest love songs I know. I had never thought of that song as being about a breakup before, and it added new depths to hear him say that.


After I read the entry I thought a Dear John letter in Korea-no wonder the song is full of emotion!!

Tony Rice’s version has always been my favorite, but Paul pushed Mr. Rice to the side and stepped ahead to number one in my book.

I really like how the Gibson Dove sounds on this one and as usual Paul’s singing is top notch.


I hope you enjoyed hearing one of my favorite songs!


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  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    April 5, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    U. (Ewe) Utah Phillips was a very important person in my life. Rosalee Sorrels discovered him in the 1950’s, I believe. A few years before she died she introduced the song, “Rock Salt & Nails” with a story at a show in Los Angeles. She said that the first time she heard him sing it she was so moved that she was able to remember every word instantly. I first heard Joan Baez do the song but Rosalee sang it with more feeling, at least as far as I was concerned. Bruce, his real name wrote many great songs. “Starlight on the Rails,” “I remember Loving You,” “Queen of theRails.” a dog song and my personal favorite, “The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia.” A modern day Hobo, A Wobbly, a self labeled “Anarchist.” His “If I Could be the Rain was the first of his songs that I heard. I was hooked; saw him perform so many times that once as he greeted fans in line for his show, he smiled and said “I know you!” (to me) Needless to say I Beamed. I will remember him forever. Paul’s song is right on. Love it.

  • Reply
    John Rancourt
    September 2, 2017 at 7:08 am

    What a great rendition of this sad song, absolutely loved it

  • Reply
    barbara lunsford davis
    August 29, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Tipper,will the girls be performing the wk.end of sept.16th around Cleveland or Helen area?I will be up for my family reunion would love to see their show.Thank you,Barbaral Lunsford Davis

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    August 27, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Paul is such a master of the six strings, but it’s the heart he puts into his every song that endears him to me. His songs are more than songs–they are deep-rooted and honest expressions of our lives.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    After the news went off at 3:00, I called our Christian Radio Station and requested a couple of songs. Donna Lynn is there until 5:00 on Sundays, so after she played Chitter and Chatter singing “Angles Rock Me to Sleep”, and “Cabin by the Side of the Road” by the Wilson Brothers. And she announced that her daddy was Baptised today at 80 years old and on his Birthday. Ain’t that Wonderful? …Ken

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I am not familiar with the song but I have taken red high- brass shot shells apart and replaced the shot with rock salt and shot hawgs in the rear because they got out and were loose. Didn’t work.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    August 27, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Great guitar pickin’ and singing, Paul. I always loved that song, and you certainly do it well.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Paul is my Favorite Guitar player. And he does a great job singing and playing the Gibson Dove. When Paul and Pap did “Until Then” at the Blairsville Courthouse, I thought that was one of the Best Gospel Songs they sung. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 27, 2017 at 11:05 am

    I listened to the song when it first appeared on Youtube. I had never heard it before.
    Paul’s picking and singing are superb. The music itself is fine. You can read my opinion of the lyrics in my comment on Youtube.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 27, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Wow!! I’ve never heard that song but I love it. Paul did an amazing job singing and the guitar picking was wonderful to watch. I’ll be watching this one again and again.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 8:44 am

    That was some fine singing. I had never heard the song but can see why it was one of your favorites.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 27, 2017 at 6:52 am

    That’s a beautiful, sad, mournful song and Paul did a fantastic job on it!!

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