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I've been down so long, down don't worry me - Ishmon Bracey, Trouble Hearted Blues

Author Topic: Railroad Bill  (Read 2722 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Railroad Bill
« on: May 03, 2014, 01:11:23 PM »
Hi all,
I thought to start a thread with transcriptions of different versions of "Railroad Bill".  We already have one by Frank Hutchison in the Frank Hutchison Lyrics thread, and I'll copy that one over here.  One of the earliest recorded versions was done by Will Bennett.  I don't know where he came from, and I don't believe he recorded many titles, but I particularly enjoy his version.  I first heard it on the old Origin Jazz Library record, "Let's Go Riding", an especially fine re-issue with a wonderful photo of a steamboat on its cover. 
Will Bennett backed himself out of C position in standard tuning for his version of "Railroad Bill", with a simple boom-chang accompaniment.  His version never goes to the E7 to F change that most recorded versions include, and in listening to him do the song, I don't miss the change at all, though I like it fine when other players do it.  Perhaps it gives his version an earlier feel.  I'm having a hard time hearing the lyrics in his last two verses and would really appreciate some help with them.  I have some phonetic approximations in bent brackets there, but they don't really make sense.  Here is a video of Will Bennett's performance for you:



Railroad Bill ought to be killed
Never worked and he never will
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill done took my wife
Threatened on me that he would take my life
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Goin' up on the mountain, take my stand
.41 derringer in my right and left hand
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Goin' up on the mountain, goin' out west
.41 derringer stickin' in my breast
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Buy me a gun just as long as my arm
Kill evahbody ever done me wrong
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Buy me a gun with a shiny barrel
Kill somebody 'bout my good-lookin' gal
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Got a .38 Special on a .44 frame
How in the world can I miss him when I've got dead aim?
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Then I went to the doctor, asked him what the matter could be
"If you don't stop drinkin', son, it'll kill you dead."
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Gonna drink my liquor, drink it in the wind
Doctor said it kill me, but he never said when
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

If the river was brandy and I was a duck
I'd sink to the bottom and I'd never come up
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Honey, honey, do you think I'm mean?
Just because I'm livin' on porks and beans
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ridfe, my Railroad Bill

The you talk about your honey, you oughta see mine
She's hump-backed, bow-legged, crippled and blind
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Honey, honey, do you think I'm a fool?
Think I'm gonna quit you while the weather is cool?
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Honey, honey, couldn't, what you mean?
Goin' through the world, in my heart to steal
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Goin' to the mountain, gravest thing
Pull to the world in the Natchez Queen
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

Edited 5/5 to pick up corrections from Gumbo

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: May 05, 2014, 10:23:25 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2014, 01:14:20 PM »
Hi all,
Frank Hutchison recorded "Railroad Bill" at his session in New York City on July 9, 1929, a very productive day in the studio that also yielded "The Chevrolet Six", "Cumberland Gap", "The Deal", "Johnny and Jane, Parts 1 and 2", "Cannon Ball Blues" and "K. C. Blues".  He played "Railroad Bill" out of C position in standard tuning, like everybody else.  His rendition has his characteristic timing, which I've come to think derived partially from his habit of intermittently omitting downbeats from his alternating bass and just hitting upbeats.  In some of his solos, there's a nifty patch where he slides up two frets into a D chord, a move that most people playing "Railroad Bill" don't employ.  Frank Hutchison sang a Spoonerism at the end of the second line of the fourth verse, something you don't hear all that often.  I would appreciate help with the bent bracketed word in verse three.

   Railroad Bill got so bad
   Stole all the chickens the poor farmers had
   Well, it's get back, old Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill went out West
   Shot all the buttons off a brakeman's vest
   Well, it's get back, Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill got so fine
   Shot ninety-nine holes in a shilver shine
   Well, it's ride, Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill, standing at the tanks
   Waiting for the train they call Hancy Nanks
   Well, it's ride, Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill, standing at the curve
   Gonna rob the mail train but he didn't have the nerve
   Well, it's get back, Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill, he lived on the hill
   He never worked or he never will
   Well, it's ride, Railroad Bill

   Railroad Bill went out West
   Shot all the buttons off a brakeman's vest
   Well, it's get back, Railroad Bill

Edited 4/21 to pick up correction from uncle bud

All best,
Johnm

Offline roig

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2014, 01:26:32 PM »
Will Bennett was from  Loudon, Tennessee according to most, if not all sources. He only made one record. The other side "Real Estate Blues" is rather interesting.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2014, 11:05:00 AM »
Hi all,
Frank Hovington recorded "Railroad Bill" a couple of times, first on July 5, 1975 at his home in Frederica, Delaware and again in 1980, two years before he died.  He is one musician who I wish had been recorded so much more than he was.  He has a seemingly endless supply of verses, many of which I've never heard anyone else sing, and he adds a little bridge section, the "If I lose" part, that I've not heard anyone else do in the song.  His guitar playing is beautiful and he has a lot of personal touches, including the melody taking the bass for a ride in the "If I lose" section.  I'm attaching a video of his 1980 version, which has most of the same verses as the 1975 version, with some slightly altered.  I've transcribed the 1975 version.



Railroad Bill, where have you been?
Been around the wold, Lord, I'm going back again
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill got so mean
Ran all the people out of New Orleans
He's a bad, bad outlawed man

Railroad Bill, waiting for a freight
Poor Railroad Bill, Lord, he is just too late
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill, waiting for a train
Looked around the corner, well he spied the St. James
He's a bad, bad outlawed man (Spoken: What he say?)

If I lose, let me lose, I don't care
If I lose, let me lose, I don't care
Lose many dollars tryin' to win one dime
We gamblers fall some hard luck sometime

Railroad Bill a bad, bad man
Shot the lantern out of the engineerman's hand
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill, going out west
Had nothing on but his coat and his vest
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Mama, oh Mama, how can it be?
Killed all the hustlers, ain't never killed me
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Rubber-tired a-buggy, double-seated hack
Goin' down to the graveyard, bring your girlfriend back
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill, where have you been?
Been around the world, child, I'm going back again
Let him ride, ride, Railroad Bill (Spoken: What he say?)

If I lose, let me lose, I don't care
If I lose, let me lose I don't
Lose many dollars tryin' to win one dime
We gamblers fall some hard luck sometime

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: May 05, 2014, 10:50:28 AM by Johnm »

Offline jostber

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2014, 01:11:42 PM »
Will Bennett was from  Loudon, Tennessee according to most, if not all sources. He only made one record. The other side "Real Estate Blues" is rather interesting.

Love that one! A favorite.

Offline finn

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2014, 05:32:30 PM »
Thank y'all for contributing these great lyrical finds. I only play the song via Etta Baker.  But these verses I've never heard of?  Whooo Wheee!  Extremely grateful to y'all.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2014, 05:57:32 PM by finn »

Offline Bald Melon Jefferson

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2014, 05:42:02 PM »
Wow, Mr. Hovington is all new to me...and thanks... great stuff. Got someone new to check-out!
Support the Music Maker Relief Foundation

Offline jphauser

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2014, 06:12:27 PM »
There is some great background info in Railroad Bill on the folk music site Comparative Video 101.  It includes a picture of  a man posing with the dead body of Morris Slater, a.k.a. Railroad Bill.  I remember once reading that he was so "bad" that after learning the law was waiting on a train to ambush him he went ahead and robbed the train anyways.
Here is a link to the site.

http://compvid101.blogspot.com/2013/08/railroad-bill.html

Jim H

Offline finn

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2014, 06:50:18 PM »
Thanks for that link.  Mr. Miller has inspired me with this
  thread. It took decades for me to find out  that the songs of my beginning finger - picking youth were inspired by
 true - life accounts, or at least spoken of at the time.  Real nice to hear the history of this one.  Love this song!

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2014, 06:51:47 PM »
i have a couple of incomplete suggestions for those last two Will Bennett verses, John

Honey, honey, couldn't ... what you mean?
Goin' through the world in my heart to steal
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

it's like he misses out a word between couldn't and what, eg "couldn't understand what you mean"
Quote
Goin' to the mountain, gravest thing
[Pull] to the world in the Natchez Queen
REFRAIN: Now I'm gon' ride, my Railroad Bill

« Last Edit: May 04, 2014, 06:53:13 PM by Gumbo »

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2014, 07:10:40 PM »
Jerron Paxton sings some verses that I've never heard anywhere else (which I promptly stole for my own self  >:D ). When I asked him where he got the lyrics he said he took some from Will Bennett and the rest he heard his grandmother singing around the house when he was a kid.  :D
Just found this vid which made me laugh (warning: song cuts out a little early)...

Some of the lines have already been written out here, but a couple of my favorites are:

Railroad Bill gonna take a little ride
Gonna drag his corpse around the countryside

Railroad Bill has taken his rest
My .41 slug (sometimes he sings "rocket") layin' dead in his chest

EDIT: Found a better quality version of the same track... He sings a bunch more verses here that he didn't sing in the version I stole from him! I'll try to write it out when I get more time unless someone else beats me to it. I gotta steal that hatchet line too! https://soundcloud.com/evangelistrecordco/blind-boy-paxton-railroad-bill
 
« Last Edit: May 04, 2014, 07:25:42 PM by Mike Brosnan »

Offline blueshome

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2014, 01:20:34 AM »
John Jackson did a nice version if I recall. I'll look it out and transcribe the lyrics.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2014, 10:01:27 AM »
Thanks for joining in, folks, it makes it all more fun.

Hobart Smith, or Saltville, Virginia, recorded "Railroad Bill" several times.  An early version of his that was recorded in the '40s, I believe, by Alan Lomax, achieved a good bit of circulation on both sides of the Atlantic and was widely copied.  The version on the attached video is from 1959-1960 or so.  Hobart Smith credited his version to a local musician, Bob Campbell, an albino African-American musician, whose rendition was never equalled, in Hobart's estimation.  Hobart studied the song so hard, he had versions that he played on banjo (fantastic!) and accordion, which I would love to hear, but believe was never recorded. 
What an engine Hobart Smith had!  Almost everything he played had a feeling of barely-contained energy, and whatever he played, whether banjo, fiddle, guitar, or piano, was so strong.
A couple of places in the lyrics I'm not sure of, and would appreciate corroboration or correction.  The attached video concludes at 2:40, despite being 4:03 long.



SPOKEN: Railroad Bill, the title, this song here

Railroad Bill, so mean and so bad
He whupped his Mammy, shot a round at his Dad
One morning, just before day

Railroad Bill, he's standing on a hill
A-rolling cigars out of a ten-dollar bill
Oh, ride, ride, ride

Railroad Bill, so mean and so bad
He whupped his Mammy, shot a round at his Dad
One morning, just before day

[February], one morning, the showers and rain
Around the curve come a timely train
Oh, ride, ride, ride

If the bums going to bend the rail
Ain't nobody for to tell the tale
Oh, ride, ride, ride

Railroad Bill is standing on the hill
He'll never work, or he never will
Oh, ride, ride, ride

All best,
Johnm




Offline Johnm

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2014, 10:24:38 AM »
Thanks very much for the help on the Will Bennett version, Gumbo.  I like all of your suggestions and have made the changes.  Thanks!
All best,
Johnm

Offline funkapus

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Re: Railroad Bill
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2014, 12:01:57 PM »
Hi all,
Frank Hovington recorded "Railroad Bill" a couple of times, first on July 5, 1975 at his home in Frederica, Delaware and again in 1980, two years before he died.  He is one musician who I wish had been recorded so much more than he was.
(snip)
John, just curious (and a little OT), but do you know if anyone has ever done an instructional book/CD or video aimed at Frank Hovington's playing?  As a newb to a lot of this stuff, I discovered him this year and fell in love with his playing.  Eleanor Ellis showed me the basics behind his "Lonesome Road Blues"; but at this point in my skill development, playing it at the tempo he does seems like it'll never be possible.  :)  And I haven't tried  anything else of his yet, hence my question . . .


 


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