“Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” was written and composed by Will L. Thompson, the same Southern Baptist composer who wrote the famous hymn, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”. It was first included in the Latter-Day Saint hymnal, Songs of Zion, published by the Northern States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1908. Latter-Day Saints musicians may be interested to know that the first line was changed, from “The world has need of Christian men...” to “willing men...”. At that time, it was not considered unusual for local missions or other units of the Church to produce their own hymnals. I have been unable to learn the exact year of the song's composition or its publication history, though it appears to have been first published as a Southern Baptist hymn about the same time that it appeared in Songs of Zion.
The title comes (originally) from one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Tale of Hercules and the Wagoner”. The tale goes as follows (spelling modernized):
A wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong:
"O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress."
But Hercules appeared to him, and said, "Tut, man, don't sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."
The gods help them that help themselves.
This song is not difficult to play for anyone who doesn’t mind a few barre chords and ligados. Intermediate level guitarists should have no trouble with it. You will, however, need a guitar that allows you to perform a double hammer-on. There are a few places where you hammer-on a note, then hammer-on a higher note on the same string. If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry; it’s not nearly as hard as it looks, as long as your guitar can sustain that second note long enough for the second hammer-on to work. If your guitar won’t do this, try putting higher tension strings on it. You’ll be amazed at the difference that can make. Of course, there’s hardly a guitar in existence that cannot benefit from new strings!
You may find the FV chord difficult if you are not used to it. It’s just a C-shape chord, barred at the 5th fret, and is basic to many styles of music. If you don’t know it, this is an excellent opportunity to learn it. You can’t follow the melody of this song without it.
Another place you may want to practice is the slide on the first string, in the third measure of the next to last line, where you are holding a CIII chord, and have to slide from G to F on the first string. The trick is that you don’t actually have to hold the barre in the 3rd space; you have enough time to release the barre and fret the G note with the tip of your index finger, making the slide much easier.
The only relatively quick chord change needed is in the next measure, in the transition from C to G7addD. This is only a problem if you play this chord as a normal G7, then add the D a moment later. Trust me, you will not have time to do it this way. But if you learn the chord, as a chord, and play it all at once, you’ll have enough time. Once again, the “trick” is lots of practice.
The last line is a recap of the previous line. This is not according to the hymnal, nor does it match the original hymn in the Southern Baptist hymnal. It’s an addition I put in, just ‘cause it sounds better to my mind. Leave it out if you don’t like it. Or, you can leave it in, and leave out the previous line. They are not the same.
This song is in the public domain.
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