September 1, 2016
By Casandra Armour
Mike Stout debuted on stage in New York City in 1968, in the midst of a cultural revolution. But in the late seventies, the musician made Pittsburgh his home and quickly became the union’s top grievance man at the Homestead steel mill where he toiled. Now retired, this dedicated community leader has enjoyed a music career spanning over two decades and performed all across the United States and Europe with “the message of human solidarity and peace.”
On his upcoming release, Blue and Green in Black & White, Mike’s true blue-collar rock anthems tell the many trials and triumphs of the working class, while his greener tunes highlight the turbulent turn our environment has taken at the hands of capitalism and corporate greed.
A rallying cry for organized labor and a staple slogan on picket lines, Mike salutes the struggles of organized labor with “One Day Longer.” “It’s my basic strategy for life,” he said of the title, “no matter what you are up against, no matter how bad the odds, outlast them! Pick yourself up and fight the good fight.”
The solidarity sing-along “One Big Union” borrows from the philosophy and slogan of the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World. Mike explained, “The fingers of our many movements and struggles – from the fight for a living wage and real economic justice and equality, to ‘Black Lives Matter,’ to the fight for a clean and safe environment – these struggles must be joined together into one mighty fist, from the bottom up.”
His plea “Keep ‘Em Safe and Alive” is a labor theme he’s touched on more than a dozen times in his songwriting, the importance of on-the-job safety. Here, in the stadium rock style of influences like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, Mike hashes out the harsh and dangerous elements many laborers face working outside. Similarly, “First Responders” salutes EMTs, firefighters, and “all those whose job is saving lives and keeping the rest of us safe.”
With the somber “Under the Table,” he sheds light on those desperate, underserved workers scraping by in the underground economy, in the apt style of melancholy acoustic blues. “Health Care Is a Human Right” laments that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee universal, affordable health care.
Mike penned a powerful profile of his friend and former SEIU Local Union President, Rosemary Trump, in “Rosie the New Riveter.” He tells how Rosemary brought more than 10,000 workers into her union, and gave a home and support to numerous social causes. “With this song, I make sure she doesn’t get lost in the cracks of history,” he proudly proclaimed.
But his tribute to Rosemary isn’t the only story he wanted preserved in song. The haunting “For Terry Greenwood” shares the struggle of a Western Pennsylvania truck driver turned farmer, whose land and livestock were sacrificed to the ills of fracking. After the loss of his livelihood, the poisoned water on his property eventually took his life. Mike explained, “Till he could talk and walk no more, he told his story across the country, and fought the good fight. Another ‘hero of history.’”
He continues to crusade against climate change in “Stand Up – the Water’s Running Out.” “The future is inescapable: mounting water shortages, and resource wars for our most precious of all commodities: water,” he grieved.
Mike also delves into the light and dark of his personal life, including the tough topic of aging. In the bittersweet, “I’m So Happy Just to See You Alive,” he delights in not finding any acquaintances or loved ones in the obituary pages. In that same spirit of celebration, “There Will Always Be (You and Me)” honors the heroes he’s fought alongside and those he’s never met. He called it, “My personal prayer and anthem to all those who stand up and fight for what’s right: peace, justice, social and economic equality, and the health of our planet.”
His Delta blues-style burner “Kidney Stone Blues” is precisely what it sounds like, a painful peek into the searing pain of the condition. “You’re Never Gonna Fall, As Long as You’re Holding On to Me” is a dedication of devotion to his wife. “For me, love and solidarity are interchangeable and the sustenance for our personal and social survival,” he said.
The album is an unforgettable memoir, delivered with clarity and conscience, in Mike’s gripping, signature storytelling style.
Blue and Green in Black & White will be released this fall, with another special performance by Mike Stout, including opening act Abafasi, an African-American women’s percussion ensemble will take place on Saturday, October 8 at 8pm, at the Letter Carrier’s Union, presented by The Union Edge. Tickets are on sale now at www.theunionedge.com/events.
Casandra Armour Capri is a long time activist, focusing on LGBTQIA+ equality and women’s rights, and a member of Pittsburgh Socialist Alternative.