As both the lead single and the opening track to Canadian songwriter Colter Wall’s 2017 self-titled debut album, “Thirteen Silver Dollars” is an excellent country song that sounds like it could have been released several decades prior.
The track chronicles an encounter with the law in a place called Speedy Creek, which is a nickname for Colter Wall’s hometown of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. This he told Rolling Stone when the song was released:
It was inspired by a run-in I had with a local officer of the law in my hometown of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, sometimes called ‘Speedy Creek. We got to know each other a little more than either of us would have liked, I think.Colter Wall on the origins of “Thirteen Silver Dollars.”
“Thirteen Silver Dollars” Lyrics Meaning
It was a cold and cruel eveningFirst verse to “Thirteen Silver Dollars” by Colter Wall.
Sneaking up on Speedy Creek
Found myself asleep and in the snow
One or two odd reasons
I ain’t too proud to repeat
For now we’ll say I had no place to go
There was a rustle and a humming
Just hauling down the street
I drew myself up from my icy bed
Painted on that shiny car the letters ‘RCM and P’
I can feel a little aching in my head
Colter recalls sneaking around his hometown one evening, in the cold, and he passed out in the snow. He doesn’t like to say why he was passed out in the snow, so he simply chalks it up to being his only option.
The assumption is obviously that he was up to no good, likely partaking in alcoholic beverages and possibly some other substances.
He comes to his senses as he hears a car coming down the street, and notices that this car is painted with the insignia of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His head hurts, probably from being hungover and asleep in the cold.
And then out jumps this old boySecond verse to “Thirteen Silver Dollars” by Colter Wall.
About twice the size of me
He asked me for my name and where I dwell
I just looked him in the eye
And sang ‘Blue Yodel Number 9’
He didn’t catch the reference, I could tell
Then the old, familiar click
In the handcuffs bind and grip
Should have left me in the snow where I laid
He just laughed and touched his gun
And turned to me and he said
Son, I bet you don’t own a damn thing to your name
The cop that jumps out is quite large, and he asks Colter for his name and where he lives. Rather than giving him the information as requested, he belts out the lyrics to Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9,” which also tells a story of an encounter with a policeman who demands his name. Rodgers which he responds with words about being a Tennessee hustler who doesn’t have to work, and some famous yodeling.
Jimmie Rodgers – “Blue Yodel #9” (1930)
The officer didn’t get the reference, nor did he find it amusing, and so he arrests Colter and tosses him in handcuffs. Calling it the “old familiar click” suggests that he’s been in handcuffs before.
Colter tells the cop he should have just left him in the snow, and the cop laughs, touches his gun, and tells him that he doesn’t have anything to his name, so it doesn’t matter whether he’s locked up or in the snow.
His response brings the crux of the song, breaking the tension and showing us that our narrator is still in mighty fine spirits even while riding in the back of a police car.
Well, I got my healthChorus to “Thirteen Silver Dollars” by Colter Wall.
My John B. Stetson
Got a bottle full of baby’s bluebird wine
And I left my stash
Somewhere down in Preston
Along with thirteen silver dollars and my mind
Colter shows appreciation for the meager things that he does have in life, including first and foremost, his health. He’s also got his “John B. Stetson,” or his cowboy hat, named after the famous hatter John Batterson Stetson who invented it.
Then, he makes a reference to a classic country song, “Bluebird Wine,” written by Rodney Crowell and famously performed with Emmylou Harris.
Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris – “Bluebird Wine” (1975)
Colter’s also got a stash of some kind down in Preston, which is a community in Ontario (a mere 1500 miles away). Also located in that same place is thirteen silver dollars, and his mind.
Given the distance, that last bit is likely to be a fabrication. He’s probably consumed the whole stash, spent all his money, and his mind is gone for good.
Listen to “Thirteen Silver Dollars” by Colter Wall below.