The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #119222   Message #2583655
Posted By: Dan Schatz
07-Mar-09 - 10:44 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Libba Cotten's Freight Train
Subject: Folklore: Libba Cotten's Freight Train
Lately "Freight Train," by Libba Cotten, is one of my son's favorite songs. I've known it all my life and sung it for at least the last twenty years, but never quite so often as in the last few weeks (after all, toddler's can be demanding that way).

It got me to wondering - what is the story behind the song? I know that Libba Cotten worked for the Seeger family in Chevy Chase, MD when Mike and Peggy were kids, and I'm told she wrote it at a very young age after she saw a train pass by. What I'm interested is the meaning behind the words.

Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don't tell them what train I'm on
So they won't know which way I've gone.

It's such a good song, such an easy, friendly melody that even those of us who sing it often don't think much about those words. There's teeth in these lyrics. Who is being looked for, and who's doing the looking and why?

She sings about "Chestnut Street" - is that a street in Carrboro, North Carolina, near Chapel Hill where she grew up?

What older roots might this song have - ideas that may have been in the tradition and that Ms. Cotten might have used when she made this song?

On an older thread, someone teasingly mentioned a fascinating story she once told about this song - but couldn't remember the details.

I completely accept the possibility that she may have just put those words in because they sounded good, and fit the tune she'd made up. That's common enough among songwriters. But it would be interesting to know if there's anything more to it than that.