Blind Lemon JeffersonSunshine SpecialThe Complete Classic Sides
Black Ivory KingThe Flying CrowBlack Boy Shine & Black Ivory King 1936-1937
Jack RangerT.P. Window BluesDallas Alley Drag
Kelly PaceRock Island LineField Recordings Vol. 2
LeadbellyMidnight SpecialAlabama Bound
Bukka WhiteStreamline SpecialThe Vintage Recordings 1930-1940
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline TrainCripple Clarence Lofton Vol. 1 1935-1939
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeGood For What Ails You
Leroy CarrMemphis TownSloppy Drunk
Charlie McCoyThat Lonesome Train Took...Charlie McCoy 1928-1932
Furry LewisKassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jesse JamesSouthern Casey JonesPiano Blues Vol. 1 1927-1936
Two Poor BoysJohn HenryAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lucille BoganT& NO BluesLucille Bogan Vol. 2 1930-1933
Sparks BrothersI.C. Train BluesThe Sparks Brothers 1932-1935
Little Brother MontgomeryA. & V. Railroad BluesLittle Brother Montgomery 1930-1936
Eddie MillerFreight Train BluesDown On The Levee
Hound Head HenryFreight Train SpecialCow Cow Davenport - The Accompanist 1924-1929
Trixie SmithFreight Train BluesTrixie Smith Vol. 2 1925-1939
Martha CopelandHobo BillMartha Copeland Vol. 1 1923-1927
Will BennettRailroad BillSinners & Saints 1926-1931
Sam CollinsYellow Dog BluesWhen The Levee Breaks
Robert JohnsonLove In VainThe Road to Robert Johnson
Willie BrownM&O BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Roosevelt SykesThe Train Is ComingRoosevelt Sykes Vol. 5 1937-1939
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesCow Cow Davenport Vol. 2 1929-1945
Sylvester WeaverRailroad Porter BluesSylvester Weaver Vol. 2
Sleepy John EstesSpecial Agent (Railroad Police Blues)I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More
Billiken JohnsonSun Beam BluesDallas Alley Drag
Andrew and Jim BaxterKC Railroad BluesViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
George NobleThe Seminole BluesChicago Piano 1929-1936
Pink Anderson & Simmnie DooleyC.C. and O. BluesA Richer Tradition
Blind Willie McTellTravelin' BluesThe Classic Years 1927-1940

Show Notes:

When a woman get the blues, she goes to her room and hides (2x)
When a man gets the blues, he catches a freight train and rides
(Trixie Smith, Freight Train Blues)

For southern Blacks the appeal of the railroads has always been both a real and a symbolic one. For them the train was a symbol of power, of freedom and escape.  As blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: “In the slavery periods when they were unable to travel between districts without written ‘bonds’ from their owners, the snorting engines, with brilliant furnaces traces their progress and clouds of black smoke that hung in the still air above the tracks long after the screaming whistles had died away, inspired them in awe which their descendants still retain.” This image carried on, in the hard times of the 1920's and 1930s', when the southern Blacks struggled to make a living and saw the northern cities as their saviors, where work was plentiful and a better life was to be had. As the blues developed, the railroad featured prominently in the songs. Numerous songs were sung about individual trains such as the Flying Crow, the Sunshine Special and the Panama Limited, many simply abbreviated like the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio), T&P (Texas Pacific) or the L&N (Louisville and Nashville), many songs dealt with the hobos who rode the rails, others dealt with working for the railroad while other songs retold the famous railroad ballads of John Henry, Railroad Bill and Casey Jones. Today’s show will spotlight all of these types of railroad blues.

The title of today's program comes from the song by Henry Thomas. Thomas, nicknamed “Ragtime Texas”, was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.” Speaking of his famous “Railroadin’ Some”, William Barlow calls it the most “vivid and intense recollection of railroading” in all the early blues recorded in the 1920’s.

Among the famous railroad songs featured today are two associated with Leadbelly, "Rock Island Line" and 'Midnight Special", and the folk ballads Casey Jones, John Henry and Railroad Bill. John Lomax recorded "Rock Island Line" at the Cummins State Prison farm, Gould, Arkansas, in 1934 from its convict composer, Kelly Pace. Leadbelly, who was with Lomax at the time, rearranged it in his own style, and made commercial recordings of it in the forties. The song refers to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Lyrics appearing in the "Midnight Special" were first recorded in print by Howard Odum in 1905. The song was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special" by Dave "Pistol Pete" Cutrell and the following year by bluesman Sam Collins. In 1934 Lead Belly recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Leadbelly recorded at least three versions of the song, including the one we feature with the Golden Gate Quartet.

John Luther "Casey" Jones was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular song. We spin two versions on today's program: "Kassie Jones Pt. 1" by Furry Lewis and "Southern Casey Jones" by Jesse James.

John Henry is an American folk hero, notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his hammer in his hand. He has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels. The truth about John Henry is obscured by time and myth, but one legend has it that he was a slave born in Missouri in the 1840s and fought his notable battle with the steam hammer along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Talcott, West Virginia. On today's show we play a version by the duo The Two Poor Boys.

The legend of Railroad Bill arose in the winter of 1895, along the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad line in southern Alabama. Based loosely on the exploits of an African American outlaw known as "Railroad Bill," tales of his brief but action-filled career on the wrong side of the law have been preserved in song, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a "Robin Hood" character, a murderous criminal and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South. He was never conclusively identified, but L&N detectives claimed he was a man named Morris Slater. Today we spin  "Railroad Bill" by Will Bennett.

Featured today are several songs about specific trains or railroad lines. Our opening track "Sunshine Special" by Blind Lemon Jefferson refers the train of the same name which was inaugurated by the Missouri Pacific Railroad on December 5, 1915, providing service between St. Louis, Little Rock, and destinations in Texas. The Sunshine Special served as the flagship of Missouri Pacific Railroad's passenger train service. Several songs make reference to the Flying Crow, a train line connecting Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City with major stops in Shreveport and Texarkana. Black Ivory King, Carl Davis & the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, Dusky Dailey, Washboard Sam and Oscar Woods all recorded songs about the train. Other songs dealing with specific trains featured today include Jack Ranger's "T.P. Window Blues" ( Texas Pacific Railroad), Lucille Bogan's "T& NO Blues" (Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Sparks Brothers' "I.C. Train Blues" (Illinois Central Railroad), Little Brother Montgomery's "A. & V. Railroad Blues" (Alabama & Vicksburg Railroad), Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" (Mobile and Ohio Railroad), Billiken Johnson's "Sun Beam Blues" (Sunbeam was a named passenger train operated from 1925 to 1955 between Houston and Dallas by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad), Andrew and Jim Baxter's "K C Railroad Blues" (Kansas City Southern Railway), George Noble's "The Seminole Blues" (Seminole Gulf Railway), and Pink Anderson & Simmnie Dooley's "C.C. and O. Blues" (Chesapeake and Ohio). Sam Collins' "Yellow Dog Blues" seems to refer to two trains. In 1903 W.C. Handy related how he heard a lean, raggedy, black guitarist in Tutwiler’s railroad depot, singing of going to where the "Southern cross the Yellow Dog." The “Southern” was the Southern Railway which began operations in 1894.“The Dog” was the Yellow Dog, a name for the Yazoo Delta Railroad which opened in 1897.

Several songs like Bukka White's " Special Streamline" and Cripple Clarence Lofton's "Streamline Train" refer to streamliners. A streamliner is any vehicle that incorporates streamlining to produce a shape that provides less resistance to air. The term is most often applied to certain high-speed railway trainsets of the 1930's to 1950's. For a short time in the late 1930s, the ten fastest trains in the world were all American streamliners.

Other trains immortalized in blues songs will be featured in the sequel to today's show; trains such as the Cannon Ball (an Illinois Central passenger train routing between Chicago and New Orleans, now known as the City of New Orleans), the Santa Fe (Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), the Seaboard (The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad), the Katy (the Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Texas line), the Big four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad ) and the New York Central among others.