The song connects some scenes of gambling, work and romance, by situating them on the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad. The expression "Deal Go Down" comes from the card game "Georgia Skin".
The railroad serves as more than a setting; Max Haymes finds, in the one unclear verse, a furious description of the convict lease work used when the railroad was laid, before Johnson was born.Elijah Wald agrees that the song features lyrics and structure of an archaic work song, similar to "It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad"; the traditional melody and structure were adapted from Charley Patton's record, "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" (1929), its lyrics discarded. David Brackett describes the musical changes, "Johnson modifies this arrangement, simplifying the high-register slide part... and adding a contrasting syncopated figure in the middle of the recording (but omitting the sermon)." But Wald traces also lyrics borrowed from the song "Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down", recorded by Fiddlin' John Carson among others, which might have suggested to Johnson some of the changes in arrangement.