Although "Working in the Coal Mine" sounds just like a jazz standard that could have been handed down from generation to generation of the American Old South, it was actually written by Allen Toussaint
in the early 1960s. Toussaint, as a pianist, writer, and producer, was part of the second wave of New Orleans' Jazz and Blues culture. He worked with many big names from the era including Fats Domino, Chris Kenner, Benny Spellman, and Diamond Joe.
In the '60s, Toussaint wrote and produced several hits for Lee Dorsey, including "Ride Your Pony," "Get Out of My Life Woman," "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," and "Holy Cow."
In 1965, Toussaint wrote a song for Dorsey called "Work, Work, Work," which was appropriate since Dorsey loved working on cars as much as he loved making music - he worked at a body shop and was often seen covered in grease. When he wrote for a specific artist, Toussaint would craft the song to that artist's personality, which he did on "Working in the Coal Mine."
Mining is very unpleasant work, but the incessant background vocals ("Workin' in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down") and Dorsey's enthusiastic delivery turned the song - about a guy who is so tired from work that he can't even have fun on Saturday - into a campy romp. An artist who didn't appreciate and enjoy real work couldn't have pulled it off, but Dorsey was the right man for the job. When he left the music business, he went back to bending fenders full-time.