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Origins: Midnight Special

DigiTrad:
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL


Related threads:
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Lyr Req: Midnight Special (Delmore Brothers) (9)
Lyr Req: Fiddlin John Carson's Midnight Special (10)
Lyr Req: Midnight Special Blues (Sam Collins) (3)


GUEST,Whistle Stop 30 Aug 04 - 08:38 AM
Joe_F 30 Aug 04 - 10:16 AM
Flash Company 30 Aug 04 - 10:18 AM
Wilfried Schaum 30 Aug 04 - 11:45 AM
Leadfingers 30 Aug 04 - 12:04 PM
Mark Clark 30 Aug 04 - 12:56 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 30 Aug 04 - 01:46 PM
GUEST,Whistle Stop 30 Aug 04 - 02:14 PM
Cllr 31 Aug 04 - 09:22 AM
Cllr 31 Aug 04 - 09:29 AM
Steve Parkes 31 Aug 04 - 10:55 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 31 Aug 04 - 12:11 PM
Billy the Bus 31 Aug 04 - 12:43 PM
Joe Offer 31 Aug 04 - 03:38 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 31 Aug 04 - 06:40 PM
GUEST,honeydhont 15 Sep 04 - 08:35 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 15 Sep 04 - 09:02 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 16 Sep 04 - 12:24 AM
GUEST,Gene 08 Jul 07 - 03:22 PM
Peace 08 Jul 07 - 03:26 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 08 Jul 07 - 08:07 PM
Peace 08 Jul 07 - 09:49 PM
Peace 08 Jul 07 - 09:59 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 08 Jul 07 - 10:20 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 08 Jul 07 - 10:39 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 08 Jul 07 - 11:08 PM
Barry Finn 09 Jul 07 - 01:27 AM
GUEST,Richie 09 Jul 07 - 11:40 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jul 07 - 01:32 PM
masato sakurai 09 Jul 07 - 06:27 PM
Wilfried Schaum 13 Jul 07 - 10:43 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Jul 07 - 01:48 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 07 - 08:13 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 07 - 09:22 PM
toadfrog 20 Jul 07 - 10:22 PM
Uncle_DaveO 21 Jul 07 - 10:07 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 21 Jul 07 - 12:13 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 21 Jul 07 - 12:18 PM
Roberto 09 Feb 08 - 02:04 PM
Doc John 22 Jun 08 - 01:32 PM
greg stephens 22 Jun 08 - 02:38 PM
Joe_F 22 Jun 08 - 08:26 PM
Barry Finn 22 Jun 08 - 09:13 PM
Barry Finn 22 Jun 08 - 09:14 PM
Brian Hoskin 23 Jun 08 - 04:46 AM
GUEST,Bonecrusher 24 Sep 10 - 12:18 AM
Stilly River Sage 09 Oct 12 - 08:30 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Oct 12 - 10:30 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Oct 12 - 11:02 PM
Mark Ross 09 Oct 12 - 11:49 PM
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Subject: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,Whistle Stop
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 08:38 AM

Haven't been around these parts much lately. Last night I was asked a question that I was surprised that I couldn't answer: what was the "Midnight Special" in the old Leadbelly song? I thought it might have been a train, but I'm really not sure. Can anyone give me the scoop?

Thanks gang -- WS


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Joe_F
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 10:16 AM

There seems to be general agreement that it was a train, but beyond that, ideas vary.

Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs:
Many legends are connected with this jail song. One, told by Pete Seeger, is the belief among some of the prisoners that if the light from the midnight special, as it passed the prison, should fall on a man sleeping in his cell, that man would go free.

Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, has two versions, each with its own explanation.
P. 26:
And her man considers that he has twenty years yet to serve, he cries out that he would rather be under the wheels of a fast midnight train.
P. 217:
A fast train, such as "The Midnight Special," means a getaway, outside air, freedom.

Take your pick.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Flash Company
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 10:18 AM

Definitely a train, ran near to one of the Southern Penitentiaries (Can't remember which!) the prisoners dream being that they could leave on it. No doubt someone else will fill in more details

FC


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 11:45 AM

Here I found: [Editor's Note: A Midnight Special = An express train--a fast way to get out of jail --Steve]


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Leadfingers
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 12:04 PM

And I always thought it was a chocolate and Southern Comfort drink for after the bar closed at festivals catered for by the Singing Chef !!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Mark Clark
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 12:56 PM

Yes, the midnight special is an express train out of prision. Those in the US who may not have actually seen a speeding train, won't remember that the central headlamp on the front of steam engines moved back and forth sweeping it's light in an arc back and forth across the tracks. When the tracks ran close to a building such as a warehouse or Texas' Sugar Land Penitentiary, the engine's search lamp might fall on the building during its swing. I think the legend at Sugar Land was that if the light chanced to fall on your cell window, you'd be the next one to ride the Midnight Special out of there.

I don't know if this legend was common across southern prisons or was unique to the Sugar Land Penitentiary, mentioned in the song.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 01:46 PM

From: LONG STEEL RAIL - The Railroad in American Folksong

Cohen, Norm, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1981, pp 478-484.

The Midnight Special (Pistol Pete's Midnight Special)

During the 1950's folksong revival, a favorite at hootenannies and concerts was this Texas prisoner's song. The Lomaxes wrote that the Midnight Special was the Golden Gate Limited, departing from Houston's Southern Pacific depot at midnight for San Antonio, El Paso, and points west. (1) Thirty miles out of Houston, the Midnight Special shone its light through the barred windows at the Texas state prison farm at Sugarland, reminding the inmates of the light and freedom on the other side of the prison walls. (2) In an engrossing examination titled "A Who's Who of "The Midnight Special,'" Texas folklorist Mack McCormick traced the individuals named in some versions of the song (especially Leadbelly's) to a 1923 incident. (3) Jack Smith, a bank robber sentenced to twenty-five years' hard labor, broke out of the Houston county jail while waiting for the transfer man, Uncle Bud Russell, who was due to arrive shortly to take him to the state penitentiary. Smith was captured a few hours later by Houston sheriff T.A. Binfor. Four other Houston law officers of that time were memorialized in one of Leadbelly's stanzas.

Bason an' Brock will arrest you,
Payton and Boone will take you down,
Oh, the judge will sentence you,
Penitentiary bound.(4)

McCormick's researches do not prove that the "The Midnight Special" originated at the time of this 1923 jailbreak. It seems more probable that Leadbelly and others set the details of that event into the framework of an earlier, well-established traditional song. The strongest evidence for this assumption is that the song appeared widely throughout the South within a very few years after 1923, and invariably in versions that did not mention any of the individuals associated with the Houston events of 1923.

That some elements of "The Midnight Special" are far older than the song as a whole is attested by verses Howard W. Odum printed in 1911:

Get up in mornin' when ding dong rings,
Look at table - see same damn things.<5>

The earliest reference to the song I have found was in a letter to Robert W. Gordon, then conducting the column "Old Songs That Men Have Sung" in Adventure magazine. Dated August 3, 1923, the letter requested additional verses of the song, and gave one verse ("If you go to the city, you better go right . . .") and chorus. Carl Sandburg published two variants in his 1927 anthology American Songbag, both without attribution. A frequent source of Sandburg's material was Robert W. Gordon's immense manuscript collection of folksongs, gathered during the several years' correspondence with readers in his column. Another of Gordon's correspondents, Terril McKay, sent Gordon a song he called simple "Jail Song" that he had heard several years earlier, in the fall of 1923, in the Harris County Jail in Houston. Except for a few adjustments in the use of dialect, and the change of Judge Robinson's name to Judge Nelson, this song is identical with one of the two that Sandburg printed )p.217). Gordon himself printed a fragment of the song in one of a series of columns on folksongs that he published in the New York times in 1927. In McKay's version, Sheriff Binford became T. Bentley.

The first commercial recording of "The Midnight Special" was made in 1926, by Dave Cutrell, with McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band for the OKeh label, ..

The person most responsible for spreading the popularity of "The Midnight Special" was doubtless Huddie Leadbetter. "Leadbelly"..recorded the song several times in his career. The earliest was in July 1934 when John Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress in the Louisiana State Prison Farm at Angola..

The "Midnight Special" tune is, in part, a variant of the 1900 ragtime pop tune "Creole Belles."

(1) John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, Folk Song: U.S.A. (New York; Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947), p. 292.

(2) An alternative explanation for what the Midnight Special meant to prison inmates was offered by Carl F. Andre of Vicksburg, Miss., in a July 27, 1955, letter to Duncan Emrish, then head of the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song: "As I got the story, a number of years back, convicts who had been outstanding during the week were rewarded on Sunday by a visit from Memphis prostitutes who boarded a train in Memphis at Midnight Saturday; hence the title of the song."

(3) Mack McCormick, "A Who's Who of "The Midnight Special,'"Caravan No. 19 (Jan., 1960).

(5) "Grade Song" in Howard W. Odum "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes." JAF24 (Oct-Dec 1911, 382.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,Whistle Stop
Date: 30 Aug 04 - 02:14 PM

Once again, the Mudcat comes through! Thanks to all of you for fleshing this out.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Cllr
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 09:22 AM

Midnight special is also slang for a .22 calibre pistol.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Cllr
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 09:29 AM

post in haste repent at leisure.
I was thinking of Lynynrd Skynyrd "Saturday night special" and even that mentions a .38 not a twenty two. Ho hum cllr


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 10:55 AM

Mark -- I've never seen a US train at night (or any thert time, I suppose!) Her in the UK trains have never had headlights, as there is far less long-distance single-track here, and it would be dangerous to spoil other drivers' night vision. Trains do carry one or more small lights front & back, and the configuration indicates what kind of train it is: slow passenger, express passenger, slow freight, etc., but these are not bright enough to see by.

I've seen plenty of pics of US locos, from the giant streamliners of the 40s 50s to the old 4-4-0 woodburners of Casey Jones and Union Pacific, which were on British tv way back. Did those enormous oil lamps really swing from side to side? Was it intentional, or were they just a bit loose?

Steve


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 12:11 PM

Most did not have the swinging headlight. Only some on specific lines.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Billy the Bus
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 12:43 PM

G'day Steve,

Thanks for explaining the logic behind the lack of headlights on Pongolian Puffers - it has perplexed me for years.

Our NZ locos didn't have 'mechanical' swinging headlights, but the beam certainly swung in a narrow arc, especially on curves. I guess it was a factor of speed, loading etc.

Cheers - Sam


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Joe Offer
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 03:38 PM

Gargoyle covered it well, but there's also quite an entry in the Traditional Ballad Index:

Midnight Special, The

DESCRIPTION: "Let the Midnight Special shine its light on me; Let the Midnight Special shine its ever-loving light on me." The prisoner describes how he was arrested, the difficult conditions in prison, and a visit from his girlfriend
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Sandburg)
KEYWORDS: prison hardtimes warning crime police train
FOUND IN: US(SE,So)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Randolph 292, "The Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sandburg, pp. 26-27, "The Midnight Special"; 217, "Midnight Special" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSUSA 91, "The Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 71-75, "The Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 908-909, "The Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
Arnett, p. 142-143, "Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 55, "Midnight Special" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 71, "Midnight Special" (1 text)
DT, MDNTSPCL

Roud #6364
RECORDINGS:
Jesse Bradley, "Midnight Special" (AFS 218 A1, 1934)
Dillard Chandler, "Gastony Song" (on Chandler01)
Folkmasters, "The Midnight Special" (on Fmst01)
Frank Jordan & Group, "Midnight Special" (AFS 619 A1, 1936)
Leadbelly & the Golden Gate Quartet, "The Midnight Special" (Victor 27266, 1941; rec. 1940)
Pete Seeger, "The Midnight Special" (on PeteSeeger18) (on PeteSeeger26) (on PeteSeeger43)
Pete Seeger & Big Bill Broonzy, "The Midnight Special" (on BroonzySeeger1) (on BroonzySeeger2)
[Wilmer] Watts & [Frank] Wilson, "Walk Right In Belmont" (Paramount 3019, 1927; on TimesAint04)
Ernest Williams, "Midnight Special" (AFS CYL-11-5, 1933)
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Jumpin' Judy"
cf. "Mississippi Jail House Groan" (floating lyrics)
Notes: Legend has it that, should the light of the Midnight Special shine on a convict, he would soon be freed. Carl Sandburg, on the other hand, believes that the song refers to suicide: That the convict would rather be dead under the wheels of the train than spend another twenty years in prison. - RBW
File: R292

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions

The Ballad Index Copyright 2004 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 06:40 PM

I'm not up to typing the discography - but Cohen references 125 different recordings - and nearly a quarter century has passed since his compilation.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,honeydhont
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 08:35 PM

"The "Midnight Special" tune is, in part, a variant of the 1900 ragtime pop tune "Creole Belles.""

Strictly speaking of the Midnight Special's TUNE, I recently noticed the similarity with the old (19th century??) negro spiritual 'Let The Church Roll On'. The oldest recording seems to be made by the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet in 1926. Thereafter more versions/adaptations were made by the Carter Family, Mahalia Jackson, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, etc. Soundclips-a-plenty on Amazon.com

In my opinion, it seems likely that the aforementioned 'Creole Belles' AND 'Midnight Special' was derived from this spiritual. Lead Belly himself recorded his "Midnight Special" also in a gospelcontext with the Golden Gate's backing him in 1940.
Any comment on this? And does anyone knows perhaps when 'Let the Church Roll On' was first mentioned or published?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 09:02 PM

"Let The Church Roll On" is generally regarded as a negro spiritual, so listed in the Cleveland Index. Versions appeared in Grissom and McIlhenny. The version in Grissom, "The Negro Sings a New Heaven," with music, I will post in a new thread.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 16 Sep 04 - 12:24 AM

In Chicago it is and was a folk radio program. Besides folk it has turned to show tunes and comedy as well over the last 30 years. The first host was Mike Nichols--now a film director of note. Then Ray Nordstrand and Norm Pellegrini. Now it's hosted by Rich Warren.

Most of the explanations here of how the song came to be, along with the light setting prisoners free idea, have been used by many many many of our introductions on stage for this good old folk chestnut. Soooo, it must be true, right??

Art


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Subject: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: GUEST,Gene
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 03:22 PM

In the DT Libarary, the version attributed to Ledbelly ends on a verse about convict fever. I was listening to one of Ledbelly's widespread releases - something like Children's Songs - and he ends with a verse something like:

"..."
that my wife was dead
that started me to grieving
... "

I'd like to get the rest of that verse if anybody has it?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Peace
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 03:26 PM

"Well, she brought me the news that my wife was dead/That started me to grieving/Whooping, hollering, and crying/And I began to worry/About my great long time."

From http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=33:09frxcy5ld0e

(TAKES A FEW SECS TO LOAD.)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 08:07 PM

Useful link, Peace. It gave me the date of this Leadbelly version that guest Gene is looking for (the first by him, 1934) and the list of all the tracks on that 1934(-1949) recording, "Death Letter Blues," which is impossible to find. A later box set "Important Recordings 1934-1949" should (I hope!) have that same track.

Lomax recorded it on vinyl in 1934, says the note at allmusic.com. Lomax used a different version, unattributed, in his "American Ballads and Folk Songs," 1934. The book probably was already issued by the time Lomax met Leadbelly at Angola in 1934.

First records of the song are from the 1920s, but there is speculation that it is older. I hope mudcatters will post lyrics of some of the recordings pre-dating Leadbelly.

See thread 72889 for some posts that may or may not be helpful. Midnight Special


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Peace
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 09:49 PM

Try a google of

Death Letter Blues, recording, leadbelly

I don't know anything about Rhapsody, but maybe there?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Peace
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 09:59 PM

Q,

Re the recording.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 10:20 PM

May be good. Doesn't have "Midnight Special," however. When I get the set, I'll post whether or not it has his first recording. He changed it every time he recorded, I think.
Death Letter Blues was the title of that old album listed in Allmusic- I am hoping thet the set I ordered has the same early tracks.
No one prints the contents of album booklets, or the date of tracks, in their blurbs, so it is not possible to tell which take is there.


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Subject: Lyr. Add: Pistol Pete's Midnight Special (1926)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 10:39 PM


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Subject: Lyr. Add: Pistol Pete's Midnight Special (1926)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Jul 07 - 11:08 PM

(Hit the space bar by accident, which submit's message- durn!)
Discussed above by Gargoyle, but lyrics not given.

Lyr. Add: PISTOL PETE'S MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Chorus and 1st. verse:
Wake up in the mornin', hear the ding-dong ring,
Go marchin' to the table and there's the same old thing.
Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me.
Let the Midnight Special shine her ever-loving light on me.

Yonder comes my woman. How do you know?
I can tell her by her apron and the dress she wore.
Umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand,
Marching down to the captain, she says, "I wants my man."
Chorus:

I never had the blues so in all my life before,
Than when my baby left me, at the jailhouse door.
Oh, she left me crying, the tears rolled down her face,
Says, "I'd rather see you dead, boy, than in this place."
Chorus:

Now, Mister McGinty is a good man,
But he's run away now with a cowboy band.
Chorus:

Now Otto Gray, he's a Stillwater man.
But he's manager now of a cowboy band.
Chorus:

When you get to the city, boys, you better have the [bail?],
Or the law, they'll arrest you, and they'll put you in jail.
The judge he'll fine you, they'll shake you down,
If you haven't got the money, boys, you're jailhouse bound.
Chorus:

If you got a good man, woman, you better keep him at home,
For those city women won't leave him alone.
They'll paint and powder, they sure look swell,
And the first thing you know, woman, your man's gone to h---.
Chorus:

Dave Cutrell, "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special," with McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band. Recorded May 11, 1926, in Saint Louis, MO; OKeh Master 9650-A, released on OKeh 45057, ca. Sept. 1926.

pp. 478-484, with score, Norm Cohen, 1981, "Long Steel Rail."

Billy McGinty was not a musician, but he was an early cowboy and a member of Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders." He headed up a group of old-time musicians.


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Subject: Lyr Add: MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (Lead Belly)
From: Barry Finn
Date: 09 Jul 07 - 01:27 AM

Recorded at Ramsey 2 Farm, Texas State Prison, July 4th, 1964.

Chorus
Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin' light on me

Here comes Bud Russel*, how in the world do you know
Well he know him by his wagon* and the chains he wore

Big pistol on his shoulder, big knife in his hand
He's comin'to carry you back to Sugarland*

Ch

Oh, younder come Rosie, how in the world do you know
I know her by her apron & the dress she wore

Umbrella on her shoulder piece of paper in her hand
She hollerin' & cryin', won't you free my man

Well she cause me to worry, hollerin' & a-cryin
Well she cause me to worry 'bout my great long time

Ch

If you ever go to Paris, man, you better walk right
And you better not stumble & you better not fight

Police he'll 'rest you & 'll drag you down
The judge he'll find you, you'll be penitentiary bound

ch

*Bud Russel (see Bud Russel thread) was the transfer man for the Texas Prison system for 40 yrs
*Bud's wagon was called Black Betty
* Sugarland was the nickname for another state farm

See Bruce Jackson's book "Rise Up Dead Man"

Barry


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 09 Jul 07 - 11:40 AM

Thanks for the lyrics Q. This is the earliest recorded version. I think the band is really Otto Gray's Oklahoma Cowboys which was sponsored by McGinty.

Otto Gray later recorded the song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jul 07 - 01:32 PM

Otto Gray was the band leader, but the 1926 OKeh recording is labeled McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band.
A cd, "Otto Gray's Oklahoma Cowboys," available from countysales.com, has the track "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special," probably redone later.
Otto Gray got the idea for the band in 1918. From 1924-1936, Otto Gray and His Oklahoma Cowboys played and toured the country. Band members were recruited from Gray's 2500 acre ranch. He says he and a cowboy friend, Billy McGinty, developed the idea of a band of real cowpunchers to take the music of the West to a new generation. Gray says McGinty fronted for the organization. McGinty was one of the first bronc-riding world champions, and had been with Buffalo Bill's Show.
McGinty later was made permanent President of the of the National Roughriders Association. Gray had been a cowboy before he became a rancher, and, with his wife, was known for his trick and fancy roping.

The above from a 1959 article in "Oklahoma Today" :
http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oktoday/1950s/1959/oktdv9n4.pdf
Oklahoma Today


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: masato sakurai
Date: 09 Jul 07 - 06:27 PM

Sandburg's The American Songbag (1927) is downloadable at Internet Archive (Click here).


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 13 Jul 07 - 10:43 AM

Concerning electronics I know I'm more on the stupid side. Can you explain how to download the book from this site? I've looked for a button or other device but looked in vain.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Jul 07 - 01:48 PM

Wilfried, one can download by right-clicking on one of the formats listed on the left. I have Windows XP and updated pdf; other systems may be different.

The book in used condition is available for under $10 from dealers listing with Abebooks, etc. I much prefer to have the book if it is affordable.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 07 - 08:13 PM

In the older linked thread, I will post the contents and recording dates of the 90-odd tracks in the 4-cd box set by JSP, "Leadbelly, Important Recordings." The version Gene wants lyrics for is included: track 10, recorded with the Golden Gate Quartet, 1940 NY.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 07 - 09:22 PM

"Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-1949," JSP Records, London 2006, 4 discs, 96 sides.

CD A
Western Cowboy
Blind Lemon Blues
Midnight Special
Irene
Recorded Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, July 1934
C. C. Rider
Rec. Wilton, CT, 1935
Governor O. K. Allen
Julie Ann Johnson
I'm Sorry Mama*
Take a Whiff on Me*
Recorded Angola, July 1934. *Tracks transposed on CD A.
Boll Weevil
The Titanic
Green Corn
Po' Howard
DeKalk Blues
Frankie and Albert
Rec. Wilton, CT, 1935
Queen Mary
The Hindenburg Disaster Part 1
The Hindenburg Disaster Part 2
Rec. Washington, D. C. June 1937
Leaving on the Morning Train Blues*
The Bourgeois Blues
New York, Dec. 1938. * First time on cd.

CD B In the Studio
Roberta Part 1
Roberta Part 2
Packin' Trunk Blues
C. C. Rider
Becky Deem, She Was a Gamblin' Girl
Honey, I'm All Out and Down
Four Day Worry Blues
You Can't Lose me, Charlie
New Black Snake Moan
Alberta
Rec. New York, Jan 23, 1935
Baby, Don't You Love Me No More
Ox Drivin' Blues
Death Letter Blues Part 1
Death Letter Blues Part 2
Kansas City Papa
Red River Blues
Fort Worth and Dallas Blues
You Don't Know My Mind
Rec. New York, Jan 24, 1935
Daddy I'm Coming Back to You
My Friend Blind Lemon
Mr Tom Hughes' Town
Shorty George
Matchbox Blues
New York Feb. 1935
Yellow Jacket
T. B. Woman Blues
New York, March 1935

CD C, In the Studio 1935-1943
Pig Meat Papa
Bull Cow
My Baby Quit Me
Frankie and Albert Part 1
Frankie and Albert Part 2
Poor Howard/ Green Corn
The Gallis Pole
New York April 1939
Pick a Bale of Cotton
Whoa Back, Buck
Midnight Special
Rock Island Line
New York, June 1940, with The Golden Gate Quartet.
Good Morning Blues
T. B. Blues
Red Cross Store Blues
Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On
I'm On My Last Go-Round
New York City
Rec. New York, June 1940
Grey Goose
Stew Ball
Take This Hammer
Can't You Line 'Em
Ham An' Eggs
New York, June 17, 1940, with the Golden Gate Quartet.
On a Monday
John Henry
How Long
Ain't You Glad
New York, July/August, 1943, with Sonny Terry

CD D The Last Years
John Hardy
New York, Nov. 1943
Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Pretty Flowers in Your Backyard
In New Orleans
New York, Feb. 1944
Outskirts of Town
New York, Apr. 1944, with Sonny Terry
Mother's Blues (Little Children Blues)
New York, c. Apr. 1944, with Josh White
In the Evenin' When the Sun Goes Down
New York, c. May, 1944, with Sonny Terry
Jim Crow Blues
Mr Hitler
Corn Bread Rough
New York, c. May 1944
Ella Speed
Rock Island Line
Tell Me Baby
Take This Hammer
Irene (Goodnight Irene)
On a Christmas Day
Backwater Blues
Eagle Rock Rag
Sweet Mary Blues
Grasshoppers in My Pillow
Rec. Hollywood, Oct. 1944, Paul Mason Howard on zither.
Diggin' My Potatoes
Defense Blues
Easy Rider
Pigmeat
New York c. June 1946, with Sonny Terry, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Brownie McGhee, George 'Pops' Foster
Howard Hughes
Rec. New York 1947
Shine On Me
Rec. Austin, TX, June, 1949

The boxed set contains a brief text with each cd. There are no lyrics. Recording quality is good.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Midnight special
From: toadfrog
Date: 20 Jul 07 - 10:22 PM

And all this time, I thought Sugarland was the town that elected Tom DeLay to Congress!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 21 Jul 07 - 10:07 AM

I think it was Mark Clark who said

Those in the US who may not have actually seen a speeding train, won't remember that the central headlamp on the front of steam engines moved back and forth sweeping it's light in an arc back and forth across the tracks.

I grew up in Minnesota, back in the steam train era, and lived in close proximity to a rail line.   I never, ever saw a train with a sweeping headlight.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 21 Jul 07 - 12:13 PM

Swivel headlamps were used on a few lines. The following from the Alberta Railroad Museum:
http://railway museum.ab,ca/files/pdfs/marker_2002.4_jul-aug.pdf

Article on Canadian National Railways, 1934-1936-
"The Continental, which was the name given to the transcontinental passenger train of the day, consisted usually of about eight cars hauled by a mountain-type (4-8-2) of the 6000 series.......At Jasper the 6054 and 6055 [coal burners] were replaced by oil burning engines with wooden pilots and swivel headlights, numbered 6057 and 6058."

I believe that such headlights were used on some other 'mountain' lines, but would not have been seen in the region of the Texas-Louisiana prison farms.

Some locomotives (Climax built one) had a small truck in front that could swivel, bearing the headlight in front.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 21 Jul 07 - 12:18 PM

Error in above link- http://railway museum.ab.ca/files/pdfs/marker_2002.4_jul-aug.pdf
Museum


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Subject: Lyr Req: Lead Belly's Midnight Special
From: Roberto
Date: 09 Feb 08 - 02:04 PM

I'd like to get the transcription of Lead Belly's recordings of The Midnight Special. This is the one with the Golden Gate Quartet, RCA 1940. Please, check it, because I'm not sure of many words...

Midnight Special
Lead Belly with The Golden Gate Quartet

Yonder come a-Miss Rosie - How in the world do you know?
Well, I know her by the apron and the dress she wore
Umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand
Well, I'm gonna an' ask the governor, he turn a-lose a-my man

Let the Midnight Special shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine the ever-lovin' light on me

When you get up in the mornin' when that big bell ring
You go and march to the table, see the same damn thing
Knife and fork are on the table, ain't nothin' in my pan
And if you say a thing about it, have trouble with the man

Let the Midnight Special shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine the ever-lovin' light on me

Well, I went to the Nation and the Territo*
Well, I thought about that girl I love, lived in Mexico

Let the Midnight Special shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine the ever-lovin' light on me

If you ever go to Houston, oh you better walk right
And you better not squabble and you better not fight
Benson Crocker will 'rest you, Eddie Boone will take you down
You can bet your bottom dollar: penitentiary bound

Let the Midnight Special shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine the ever-lovin' light on me

Well, jumpin' little Judy, she was a mighty fine girl
Well, Judy brought jumpin' to this whole round world
Well, she brought it in the mornin', just a while 'fore day
She brought me the news that my wife was dead
That started me to grievin' and hollerin' and cryin'
Then I had begin to worry 'bout my great long time

Let the Midnight Special shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine the ever-lovin' light on me


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Subject: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Doc John
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 01:32 PM

In Midnight Special there's a line, more or less: 'Benson Bronco will arrest you; Peyton Boone will take you down' Sounds like a law officer and a judge to me but does anyone know it these characters existed?

Doc John


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: greg stephens
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 02:38 PM

Alan Lomax's published a transcription of this original Leadbelly recording, and his version went as follows:

Bason an'Brock will arres'you
Payson an'Boone will take you down".

Whether he checked that with Leadbelly I couldn't say. The lines come in the "If you ewver go to Houston" verse, and Leadbelly lived there at one time. So he was presumably referring to people with whom he was acquainted in one of his many brushes with the law?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Joe_F
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 08:26 PM

Sandburg's _American Songbag_ makes it

T. Bentley will arrest you,
He'll surely take you down;
Judge Nelson'll sentence you,
Then you're jailhouse bound.

He doesn't say where he got it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Barry Finn
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 09:13 PM

Those names just keep changing around as well as the place names. Sandburg in his American Songbag (1927) gives 2 versions one has "T Bently will arrest you" & "Judge Nelson'll sentence you". That would go back before Leadbelly's time. It was common practice for the singers to use the names that had personnal ties to their own situation. I've seen it as Sheriff Denton among others too. The Bud Russel that keeps coming up in various versions was a Transfer Agent for the State of Texas, he's probably the only 'consistent' real name (not saying the other's aren't real) that keeps coming up that has any long time connection with the song. He worked in the systen for over 40 yrs transfering over 115,000 men, starting in 1908.

"Yonder come Bud Russel, "how in the world do you know"
Well I know him by his wagon & the chains he wore

Big pistol on his shoulder, big knife in his hand
He's comin' to carry you back to Sugarland

Barry


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Barry Finn
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 09:14 PM

Sorry Joe for the cross-post
Barry


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Brian Hoskin
Date: 23 Jun 08 - 04:46 AM

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell comment on this in their The Life and Legend of Leadbelly:

"The inmates saw the train as a potent symbol and soon added other verses about prison life and about local incidents concerning the Houston police, including Bud Russell, the "transfer man" who had taken Huddie down to Sugarland. A stanza that Leadbelly almost always sang in his version of the song was:

Bason and Brock will arrest you,
Payton and Boone will take you down,
The judge will sentence you,
And you Sugarland bound.


A.W. Brock was the chief of police in Houston for a time and the team of George Payton and Johnnie Boone was a pair of city detectives who specialized in working the black sections of town. Leadbelly himself had not spent much time, if any, in Houston before his Sugarland stay, so this stanza either dates from years there after his release or was created after hearing other Sugarland inmates describe the conditions in Houston."   (1993:84)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: GUEST,Bonecrusher
Date: 24 Sep 10 - 12:18 AM

The old Parchman convicts told me that when the "Yellow Dog Line" locomotive turned northwest, just out side of Drew, Mississippi, the headlamp swept across the cages. If the light hit you - something good was fixing to come your way about dawn.

Nowadays the tracks are gone, but you can still see where the Yellow Dog Line turned northwest.

One night a lady from the "world" got permission to come to our prayer meeting on the inside. She said that her son was almost killed in a car wreck out in the Delta somewhere about a month earlier. But some kind of a light shone down - just about the time the searchers were looking for where the kid had been thrown. And the light fell on her son. She said, they didn't ever find out where the light came from. A couple of the old convicts said: "That was the midnight special..." (Of course it hadn't run from Drew to Tutwiler in 40 years!) But that's what they said. Bonecrusher


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Subject: Lyr ADD: Midnight Special
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:30 PM

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
(collected by Carl Sandburg)

Yonder come Roberta! Tell me how do you know?
By de color ob her apron and de dress she wo'.
Umberella on her shoulder, piece o' paper in her han',
She says to de cap'n: "I want my man!"
Let de Midnight Special shine a light on me,
Oh twenty long years in the pin-i-ten-tiar-y!

This arrangement is from the song as rendered by midnight prowlers in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. It is impressionistic in style, delivering the substance of two lives in brief array. We see the man behind the bars looking out toward Roberta, who carries a document given her by some politician or precinct worker. The warden tells her, probably, the day is not Visitor's Day. As her man considers that he has twenty years yet to serve, he cries out that he would rather be under the wheels of a fast midnight train. Arr. H.J.

______________
Arr. H.J. means Henry Joslyn, Composer, violinist, conductor, New York City. Born, Elmira, New York. Symphonic suite, "Native Moments," produced by Stokowski and Philadelphia Orchestra. etc. The note on page xv in the front matter is longer, but I wanted some reference to Sandburg's arrangement notation.

The song on pages 26-27 of the The American Songbag, 1927, by Carl Sandburg, has been referred to in this thread but the verse and author's note were not entered into the record until now. It looks like a one-verse fragment.
MD


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 10:30 PM

Lyr. Add: Midnight Special
("From Texas Negroes")

Let the Midnight Special
Shine its light on me,
Let the Midnight Special
Shine its ever lovin' light on me.
1
If you ever get to Dallas,
Well you better walk right
Well you better not gamble
Well you better not fight.

That sheriff will get you
And he tuck you in,
The judge will sentence you,
And you're penitentiary bound.

Yonder come a little Rosy,
How in the world do you know?
I can tell her by her apron
And the dress she wore.

Umbrella round her shoulder,
Piece of paper in her hand,
Look a here, Mister Warden.
I wants my ever-lovin' man.

Vance Randolph, 1980, Ozark FolkSongs, vol. 2, pp. 377-378, with tune. Sung by Robert Pounds, MO, 1942.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 11:02 PM

Does anyone have the Leadbelly version as quoted in Botkin?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Midnight Special
From: Mark Ross
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 11:49 PM

When I lived in Wichita, Kansas the coffeehouse where I played was called the Forum. It was a triangular building, built something on the lines of the Flatiron Building in NYC. The tuneup room was the old vault, complete with massive safe door (I would have hated to get locked in there), and the stage was towards the wide end of the building. It was right next to the RR mainline, and when a southbound train came barreling down the track the headlight would shine right on the stage. If you knew the schedules you could be singing "Let the Midnight Special shine its everlovin' light on me." just as the train would do that.

Mark Ross


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