The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #19614 Message #2283563
Posted By: Bob Coltman
09-Mar-08 - 09:08 AM
Thread Name: Lyr/Chords Req: Reuben's Train
Subject: RE: Lyr/Chords Req: Reuben's Train
"Reuben," or "Reuben's Train," has a history dating back at least to 1928, when Robert Gorden collected a version.
It's one of three songs that are cousins of each other: "Reuben," "Train 45," and later on "900 Miles." (Not to be confused with the later folk-pop "500 Miles").
First to record "Reuben" was Emry Arthur, ~January 1930, Paramount 3237, vocal with guitar. I've always felt Arthur had a lot to do with putting the song together. His version was long, the greatest number of verses I've ever heard on a record, and gives sign of his having collected it himself -- don't know the source, but Arthur was an enthusiastic song-gatherer who sang many interesting traditional songs from the Kentucky region and nearby as well as the popular songs he also featured.
"Reuben" was not widespread before WWII. It was covered only by fiddler Jess Johnson the following year, and by Wade Mainer & the Sons of the Mountaineers in 1941. Cousin Emmy rewrote it as "Ruby" on a 1947 recording. In 1951 Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper covered it, and the Osborne Bros & Red Allen made "Ruby" a bluegrass classic in 1956 as "Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man?"
But the song had earlier branched out into the fiddle specialty "Train 45," one of G.B. Grayson & Henry Whitter's finest recordings, October 10, 1927. This was covered by Seve Ledford and the Carolina Ramblers String Band in 1943, and in 1937 by Wade Mainer, Zeke Morris and Ledford working as a trio -- that last recording was the first to reach outside the south when Alan Lomax included it on his historic set "Smoky Mountain Ballads" on Victor, date uncertain but sometime in the late 1940s.
"900 Miles" was the work of Woody Guthrie -- don't know where he got it from, but it's a distinctly different version -- and featured in the Lomaxes' Folk Song U.S.A." (1947), where it reached thousands of young folkies. So that was the first version to circulate strongly in the new folk community around 1950 and after.
All from the one train song.
Must admit it marked me for life on first hearing "900 Miles," then shortly thereafter the wonderful "Train 45." Best of all, though, was Arthur's "Reuben, oh Reuben," which became the one I sing. Bob