Monday, June 14, 2010

Freight Train Blues

Listened to a bit of Doc Watson's Pickin' the Blues album this weekend. His voice is a pleasure to be around, with all the warmth of a doting grandpa, and the experience of a sage. Most songs are fun or enjoyable in and of themselves, but some are especially enriched when you are familiar with alternate variations by different artists. For example, All Along the Watchtower by Dylan and by Hendrix.

So it is that when I hear Roy Acuff's Freight Train Blues, I can't help but hear Doc Watson's melodious, heart-warming rendition... which then calls to mind Bob Dylan's version with his energetic crooning.

I myself have a soft spot in my heart for trains and over the years I've painted a few pictures with trains in them. I've been fascinated by them since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. In college I did a self-portrait with a train in the background, called Train Coming 'Round the Bend. There's something mesmerizing about those behemoths rumbling across steel rail highways. They used to be a means of transportation for rich and poor alike, the poor taking to the boxcars in the same manner that young hippies stuck their thumbs out and took to the highways when I was a pup.

I saw ol' Doc Watson perform once back in the 70's in the Convocation Center at Ohio U. It was a two day folk music festival and the population swelled that weekend in Athens. So did the tensions among law enforcement because this was still the Viet Nam era and some of the people making music had made their views known... like Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Youngbloods. ("Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.")

The center of attraction that weekend was not the Viet Nam War, it was the music. It was all about the music.

For a good time, get yourself a copy of Doc Watson's Freight Train Blues, and then fetch a few minutes to drink in Bob Dylan's. It's fun.

Freight Train Blues

I was born in Dixie in a boomer's shack
Just a little old shanty by a railroad track
The hummin' of the drivers was my lullaby
And a freight train whistle taught me how to cry

I've got the freight train blues, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy
Got 'em in the bottom of my ramblin' shoes
And when that whistle blows, I've gotta go
Oh Lordy, guess I'm never gonna lose
The mean old freight train blues

Now my pappy was a fireman and my mammy dear
Was the only daughter of an engineer
My sister married a brakeman and it ain't no joke
Now it's a shame the way she keeps a good man broke

I've got the freight train blues, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy
Got 'em in the bottom of my ramblin' shoes
And when that whistle blows, I've gotta go
Oh Lordy, guess I'm never gonna lose
The mean old freight train blues

If you're nostalgic about trains the way other folks are, you might enjoy traipsing over to Hobo Junction to see what's going on there. If you have any stories about the hobo life, or trains, I'd like to hear them so we can share them. Meantime, I'd better run... Gotta catch a train!

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