Orange Blossom Special (song)

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"Orange Blossom Special"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album Orange Blossom Special
Songwriter(s)Ervin T. Rouse

The fiddle tune "Orange Blossom Special", about the passenger train of the same name, was written by Ervin T. Rouse (1917–1981) in 1938. The original recording was created by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. It is often called simply The Special. It has been referred to as the fiddle player's national anthem.[1]


By the 1950s, it had become a perennial favorite at bluegrass festivals, popular for its rousing energy.

For many years, Orange Blossom Special has been not only a train imitation piece, but also a vehicle to exhibit the fiddler's pyrotechnic virtuosity. Performed at breakneck tempos and with imitative embellishments that evoke train wheels and whistles, OBS is guaranteed to bring the blood of all but the most jaded listeners to a quick, rolling boil.
—Norm Cohen, author, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong


Rouse copyrighted the song before the Orange Blossom Special train ever came to Jacksonville. Other musicians, including Robert Russell "Chubby" Wise, have claimed authorship of the song. Wise did not write it although he claimed for years that he had. Rouse, a mild mannered man who lived deep in the Everglades never contested the matter. Years later, Johnny Cash learned of Rouse and brought him to Miami to play the song at one of his concerts. In a video on YouTube, Gene Christian, a fiddler for Bill Monroe who knew both men, confirms that Rouse wrote and copyrighted the song.[2] Christian says in the interview that Chubby Wise popularized the song by playing it weekly on the Grand Ole Opry.

As Wise tells the story, he and Rouse decided to visit the Jacksonville Terminal in Florida to tour the Orange Blossom Special train.

... even though it was about three in the morning we went right into the Terminal and got on board and toured that train, and it was just about the most luxurious thing I had ever seen. Ervin was impressed, too. And when we got done lookin' 'er over he said, "Let's write a song about it." So we went over to my place ... and that night she was born. Sitting on the side of my bed. We wrote the melody in less than an hour, and called it Orange Blossom Special. Later Ervin and his brother put some words to it.

Rouse copyrighted the song in 1938 and recorded it in 1939. Bill Monroe, regarded by many as "the father of bluegrass music", recorded the song (with Art Wooten on fiddle) and made it a hit. Since then countless versions have been recorded, among them Wise's own, as an instrumental in a 1969 album Chubby Wise and His Fiddle. And that version, said Wise, "is the way it was written and the way it's supposed to be played".[3]

Leon "Pappy" Selph says that he was the author of The Orange Blossom Special in this interview in 1997. He states that he wrote it in 1931.[4]


The lyrics of the song are in the 12-bar blues form but the full piece is more elaborate.

Look a-yonder comin'
Comin' down that railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin'
Comin' down that railroad track
It's the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin' my baby back

Well, I'm going down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe Californy
And get some sand in my shoes
I'll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose these New York blues

"Say man, when you going back to Florida?"
"When am I goin' back to Florida? I don't know, don't reckon I ever will."
"Ain't you worried about getting your nourishment in New York?"
"Well, I don't care if I do-die-do-die-do-die-do-die."

Hey talk about a-ramblin'
She's the fastest train on the line
Talk about a-travellin'
She's the fastest train on the line
It's that Orange Blossom Special
Rollin' down the seaboard line

The lyrics of the first verse are very reminiscent of the Jimmie Rodgers song "Freight Whistle Blues".[citation needed]

Notable versions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ennis Davis, Robert Mann, Reclaiming Jacksonville: Stories Behind the River City's Historic Landmarks (2012), p. 108.
  2. ^ "Gene Christian tells us who wrote the Orange Blossom Special", video interview, n.d., archived at Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  3. ^ "SAL Rwy's Orange Blossom Special". The Florida Railroad Company, Inc. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
  4. ^ "Interview with Leon "Pappy" Selph". HOUSTON INSTITUTE FOR CULTURE. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  5. ^ "Original versions of Orange Blossom Special by Chet Atkins, Guitarist - Boston Pops Orchestra - Arthur Fiedler, Conductor | SecondHandSongs".
  6. ^ "Grammy Award Nominees 1989 - Grammy Award Winners 1989". Retrieved April 2, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Randy Noles (2007). Fiddler's Curse: The Untold Story of Ervin T. Rouse, Chubby Wise, Johnny Cash, and The Orange Blossom Special. Anaheim Hills, CA: Centerstream. ISBN 978-1-57424-214-0.


External links[edit]