The Tale Behind The Tune

Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall by Tom Russell

Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall by Tom Russell

HERE IN ENGLAND you have to be careful what you say and what you play on the radio as there is no watershed.

Whereas the rules for television broadcasting relax after 9pm, here in the UK swearing and offensive content on the radio, whatever its context, remains out of bounds. In this day and age of course, people can take offence at anything, even if it is delivered in a humorous, tongue in cheek way. It is for this reason I have yet to play this particular tale behind the tune, Tom Russell’s Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall, on my Country & Folk Show. Personally, I think the song is a work of genius but when I interviewed Tom and he told me David Letterman had received complaints after he’d allowed him to play it on his TV show, I decided to play it safe.

Written in 2007, Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall deals with the hypocrisy of some people’s views on immigration. As you can imagine from its title, it is a song that took on a whole new life when Donald Trump became US president on a manifesto that included building a wall across the US-Mexican border. I started my interview with Tom by referencing another song that took on a new dimension as a result of political change.

Andy: Back in 1965 Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Maggie’s Farm”. Then in 1980 in the UK it took on a whole new meaning because Maggie Thatcher became Prime Minister and the words “I don’t wanna work on Maggie’s farm no more”, took on a new life. Tom, you wrote a song called Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall back in 2007, and then – with everything that’s gone on with President Trump – that, again, took on a new life, didn’t it?

Tom: Yeah and you know I did it on The David Letterman Show, a TV show in the States and people can go on YouTube and see that, with a huge orchestra. It was about 10 years ago and they didn’t really want me to do it but David had become a good friend and I said well, we’ll ask David, you know, it’s just a funny song and he let me do it. They got pro and con letters about it. 

I’ve got 800 miles of open border
Right outside my door
There’s minute men in little pick up trucks
Who’ve declared their own damn war
Now the government wants to build a barrier
Like old Berlin eight feet tall
But if Uncle Sam sends the illegals home
Who’s gonna build your wall?

Lyrics from Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall by Tom Russell
© BMG Rights Management

I had the pleasure of seeing Tom perform Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall live at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton near Liverpool back in 2017 and I recall him telling us that he once got heckled and had his tyres punctured after performing it at a venue in a certain US State (I forget which one). Politics can be quite divisive and passions can run high in America. But as Tom was at pains to point out, the song wasn’t written as any kind of political statement.

Tom: I’m not really a political theorist, I don’t believe in rhetoric. Your man George Orwell said rhetoric died in 1946 but we still use it, but I wrote this song about this builder down in San Diego, California, this developer, about 15-20 years ago who used illegal Mexican labour to build a wall to keep the illegal Mexican labourers out. So it was a tongue in cheek, funny song and, of course, people loved it. I used to close my show with it, I still do sometimes but then with the new administration it came into its own meaning and that’s OK. Songs have their own journey.  Myself, I never, ever allow politics, health issues, anything on my social media except songs, stories and positive stuff. I don’t care who does it or how they use it as long as they don’t change the words to suit their bit, you know, you can’t control that but I’m glad people like it and it’s funny in its own way.

Watch Tom performing Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall live on the David Letterman show below (the bald guy you can see isn’t Tom. Tom is the guitarist):-

SONG DETAILS:

Title: Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall?
Performed by: Tom Russell
Composed by: Tom Russell
Taken from the album: Wounded Heart of America (2007/Hightone Records/HCD8196)

For more information on Tom Russell, his music & his paintings please visit tomrussell.com

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