Wabash Cannonball

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"The Wabash Cannonball" is an American folk song about a fictional train, thought to have originated in the late nineteenth century. Its first documented appearance was on sheet music published in 1882, titled "The Great Rock Island Route" and credited to J. A. Roff. All subsequent versions contain a variation of the chorus:

Now listen to the jingle, and the rumble, and the roar,
As she dashes thro' the woodland, and speeds along the shore,
See the mighty rushing engine, hear her merry bell ring out,
As they speed along in safety, on the "Great Rock-Island Route."

A rewritten version by William Kindt appeared in 1904 under the title "Wabash Cannon Ball".[1]

The Carter Family made one of the first recordings of the song in 1929, though it was not released until 1932. Another popular version was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936.[1] The Acuff version is one of the fewer than forty all-time singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide.

It is a signature song of the Indiana State University Marching Sycamores and the Purdue All-American Marching Band as the ISU and Purdue campuses are near the Wabash River. It is also associated with the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjack Marching Band, the Kansas State University Marching Band, and the University of Texas Longhorn Band. It was also used as the theme song by the USS Wabash (AOR-5).

The song "The Wabash Cannonball" is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.[2] It is the oldest song on the list.

History[edit]

In addition to The Carter Family's 1929 recording and Roy Acuff's 1936 recording, many hillbilly artists recorded "The Wabash Cannonball" during the Great Depression era of the 1930s and 1940s, and the song was also recorded by Piedmont Blues legend Blind Willie McTell. Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album "Bing Crosby Sings The Great Country Hits". The song increased in popularity during this time.

Origins[edit]

There are many theories of the origin of "The Wabash Cannonball". Utah Phillips states that hobos imagined a mythical train called the "Wabash Cannonball" which was a "death coach" that appeared at the death of a hobo to carry his soul to its reward. The song was then created, with the lyrics and music telling the story of the train. Another theory [3] states that the song is based on a tall tale in which Cal S. Bunyan, Paul Bunyan's brother, constructed a railroad known as the Ireland, Jerusalem, Australian & Southern Michigan Line. After two months of service, the 700-car train was traveling so fast that it arrived at its destination an hour before its departure. Finally, the train took off so fast that it rushed in to outer space, and for all is known, it is still traveling through space. When the hobos learned of this train, they called her the "Wabash Cannonball" and said that every station in America had heard her whistle.

Namesakes[edit]

In the wake of the song's popularity, the Wabash Railroad renamed its daytime express run between Detroit and St. Louis as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949, the only actual train to bear the name, which it carried until discontinued in 1971.[4] However, the train was named after the song, not the other way around.

A roller coaster at the now-defunct Opryland USA theme park was titled after the song as well. It was operated from 1975 to 1997.[5] In 1998, after Opryland's closing, the double cork-screw coaster was relocated to Old Indiana Fun-n-Water Park (Thorntown, Indiana, USA). In 2003, it was moved into storage. The coaster specs: Length 1200 ft, Height 70 ft, Speed 50 mph, with double cork-screw style inversions.[6]

Lyrics[edit]

The lyrics as performed by The Carter Family in their 1929 recording:

Verse:

From the great Atlantic ocean to the wide Pacific shore
She climbs flowery mountain, o'r hills and by the shore
She's mighty tall and handsome, and she's known quite well by all
She's a regular combination of the Wabash Cannonball.

Verse:

Oh, the Eastern states are dandy, so the Western people say
Chicago, Rock Island, St. Louis by the way
To the lakes of Minnesota where the rippling waters fall
No changes to be taken on the Wabash Cannonball.

Chorus:

Oh, listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar
As she glides along the woodland, o'r hills and by the shore
She climbs the flowery mountain, hear the merry hobos squall
She glides along the woodland, the Wabash Cannonball.

Verse:

Oh, here's to daddy Cleaton, let his name forever be
And long be remembered in the courts of Tennessee
For he is a good old rounder till the curtain 'round him fall
He'll be carried back to victory on the Wabash Cannonball.

Verse:

I have rode the I.C. Limited, also the Royal Blue
Across the Eastern countries on Elkhorn Number Two
I have rode those highball trains from coast to coast that's all
But I have found no equal to the Wabash Cannonball.

Chorus:

Oh, listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar
As she glides along the woodland, o'r hills and by the shore
She climbs the flowery mountain, hear the merry hobos squall
She glides along the woodland, the Wabash Cannonball.

Another verse

She came down from Birmingham on a cold December day
As she pulled into the station you could hear all the people say
There's a gal from Birmingham, She's long and she's tall
She came down from Birmingham on the Wabash Cannonball

Variations[edit]

Many variations of the lyrics exist, including:[7][8]

Here’s to Jennings Bryan, may his name forever stand
And always be remembered in hearts throughout the land.
His earthly race is over and the curtain round him falls,
But they’ll carry him home to vict'ry on the Wabash Cannon Ball.
  • 'Courts' instead of 'Hearts'
  • 'Glory' or 'Dixie' instead of 'Victory'
  • 'Lonesome' instead of 'merry' hobos
  • 'Daddy Claxton', 'Danny Claxton', 'Daddy Clayton', or 'Boston Blackie' instead of 'Daddy Cleaton'
  • "When his earthly days are over and the curtains 'round him fall" in the next-to-last line of the song
  • 'While' or 'We're' instead of 'You're', in the final line of the chorus
  • 'Rumble' instead of 'Rumor' in the chorus.
  • There are several known versions of the second and final lines of the first stanza. Some believe that "she's the 'boes accommodation called the Wabash Cannonball" was most likely the original final line of the first stanza, even though it is probably the least popular today. One common variation calls her a "streamlined combination."
  • There are alternative versions in which the second and third stanzas are changed significantly, including the 1966 recording by Johnny Cash.[9]

Use in Collegiate Sports[edit]

The Wabash Cannonball (arranged by Joel Leach) is known as the unofficial "second" fight song of Kansas State University, having been played since the late 1960s. It was the only piece of sheet music rescued from the KSU music department in the Nichols Hall fire of 1968,[10] and grew in popularity with students and fans. The Kansas State University Marching Band says that "the Wabash Cannonball has come to represent the survival of the underdog in the hearts and minds of all true K-State fans, and has earned a secure place in the KSUMB's history and traditions."[11] Currently Kansas State is the prime contributing player of the song and most noted with Big 12 fans and spectators. Fans rock back and forth to the song while its played.

The University of Texas Longhorn Band plays the song at the beginning of every fourth quarter during football season. The tradition began when Texas was in the Southwest Conference and Kansas State University was in the Big 8 Conference. Texas band director Vincent R. DiNino once asked football coach Darrell K. Royal if he had any songs he would like to hear the Longhorn Band play. His response was that they didn't play enough country music and that he would like to hear Wabash Cannonball. 'Band rivalry' has developed since both schools joined the Big 12 Conference.

At Stephen F. Austin State University, the Twirl-O-Jacks traditionally perform to the tune as played by the Lumberjack Marching Band at the beginning of each football game. The band has also been known to play excerpts from the song during various sporting events.

Jukebox Cannonball[edit]

In 1951, Jesse Rogers adapted "Wabash Cannonball" into "Jukebox Cannonball" by retaining the original melody but replacing it with a new set of lyrics. Many recordings of this song were made in the early 1950s, primarily by artists from the New York-Pennsylvania region, including Rogers himself, Ray Whitley, and Rex Zario. Bill Haley and The Saddlemen (later known as The Comets) also had a minor hit with the song in 1952, which was considered an early example of rockabilly. Haley re-recorded the song in 1979.

Big Wheel Cannonball[edit]

A version recorded by truckin' music/country star Dick Curless is an ode to truckers. The first verse is: "This proud and mighty nation will sing forever more of pioneers, brave engineers, and heroes by the score but the world of transportation has its own breed just as great they're the men of steel behind the wheel of the big rigs hauling freight"

Tennessee Ernie Ford[edit]

In the third season (1952–53) of I Love Lucy, Ernie Ford sang a rendition of the song in the episodes "Tennessee Ernie Visits" and "Tennessee Ernie Hangs On".

The Moody Brothers[edit]

The Wabash Cannonball is among several classic train songs featured in The Moody Brothers Grammy nominated instrumental "The Great Train Song Medley."

Lonnie Donegan[edit]

Lonnie Donegan recorded a version of the song for his 1956 album, Lonnie Donegan Showcase.

Robert Fripp & The League Of Crafty Guitarists[edit]

An arrangement of "Wabash Cannonball" was recorded by Robert Fripp & The League Of Crafty Guitarists on their album Intergalactic Boogie Express: Live in Europe.[12]

Woody Guthrie[edit]

The Dustbowl Balladeer's "Grand Coulee Dam" — one of several songs he wrote about the largest concrete structure in the United States — is a rework of the "Wabash Cannonball".

Chorus:

In the misty crystal glitter of her wild and windward spray
Men have fought the pounding waters and dared a watery grave
Oh, she broke their boats to splinters but she gave them dreams to dream
Of the day the Coulee Dam would tame that wild and wasted stream

"She" is the Columbia River. The song is really an ode to the river as much as the dam - rather like the way some popular versions of the "Wabash Cannonball" seem to be as much about that tall glamorous girl from Tennessee, as about the train.

Guthrie also composed another song—"Farmer-Labor Train"—with the same melody.

Dizzy Dean[edit]

Dizzy Dean, who had been a talented, colorful pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams, and had been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, often sang verses of the song on the Major League Baseball Game of the Week in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Doc Watson[edit]

The legendary Bluegrass guitarist Doc Watson and his son Merle included a rhapsodic version of The Wabash Cannon Ball on the live album Doc Watson on Stage in 1982, reissued on CD in 1990.

Chuck Mead[edit]

Chuck Mead covered this song on his 2012 album, "Back at the Quonset Hut"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Wabash Cannonball, The". California State University, Fresno. 
  2. ^ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "500 songs that shaped rock and roll" [1]
  3. ^ "The Wabash Cannonball / From the great Atlantic Ocean mp3 midi free download beach motel Sechelt bed breakfast". Ingeb.org. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  4. ^ Schafer, Mike (2000). More Classic American Railroads. Osceola, WI: MBI. p. 145. ISBN 076030758X. OCLC 44089438. 
  5. ^ "Wabash Cannonball (Opryland USA)". Roller Coaster Database. 
  6. ^ "Wabash Cannonball (Old Indiana Fun-n-Water Park)". Roller Coaster Database. 
  7. ^ "The Wabash Cannon Ball Tinwhistle Tablature". Guitarnut.com. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  8. ^ "Roy Acuff, Wabash Cannonball Lyrics". Cowboylyrics.com. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  9. ^ "Johnny Cash Lyrics: Wabash Cannonball Lyrics". HotLyrics.net. 2007-05-06. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  10. ^ "Nichols Hall story". Kansas State University. 
  11. ^ "Welcome to Kansas State University Bands!". Kansas State University Bands. 
  12. ^ Fripp, Robert; The League of Crafty Guitarists (2003) [1995], Intergalactic Boogie Express: Live in Europe..., King Crimson, Discipline Global Mobile, Sku DGM9502. Intergalactic Boogie Express: Live in Europe... at AllMusic. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 

External links[edit]