The Ballad of Casey Jones
|"The Ballad of Casey Jones"|
|Lyricist(s)||Wallace Saunders, T. Lawrence Seibert|
|Recorded by||Joe Hickerson|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
"The Ballad of Casey Jones" is a traditional song about railroad engineer Casey Jones and his death at the controls of the train he was driving. It tells of how Jones and his fireman Sim Webb raced their locomotive to make up for lost time, but discovered another train ahead of them on the line, and how Jones remained on board to try to stop the train as Webb jumped to safety. It is song #3247 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
The song helped preserve the memory of Jones' feat down through the years in its 40+ versions and enhanced Casey’s legendary status to the extent that he has even become something of a mythological figure like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan to the uninformed. Books and pulp magazines about the railroad and its heroes helped to perpetuate his memory as well.
Soon after Casey’s death, the song was first sung by engine wiper and friend of Casey’s named Wallace Saunders to the tune of a popular song of the time known as "Jimmie Jones." He was known to sing and whistle as he went about his work cleaning the steam engines. In the words of Casey’s wife: "Wallace's admiration of Casey was little short of idolatry. He used to brag mightily about Mr. Jones even when Casey was only a freight engineer." But Saunders never had his original version copyrighted, and thus there is no way of knowing precisely what words he sang.
As railroaders stopped in Canton, Mississippi they would pick up the song and pass it along. Soon it was a hit up and down the I.C. line. But it was up to others with a profit motive to take it and rework it for a nationwide audience. Illinois Central Engineer William Leighton appreciated the song's potential enough to tell his brothers Frank Leighton and Bert Leighton, who were vaudeville performers, about it. They took it and sang it in theaters around the country with a chorus they added. But apparently even they neglected to get it copyrighted.
Reportedly Saunders received a bottle of gin for the use of the song. Nothing more was heard from him after this time and he passed into history as the man who helped to make Casey Jones an integral part of American folklore.
Finally, with vaudeville performers T. Lawrence Seibert credited with the lyrics and Eddie Newton the music it was published and offered for sale in 1909 with the title "Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer". As their intent was to entertain, it was hailed on the cover of the sheet music as the "Greatest Comedy Hit In Years" and "The Only Comedy Railroad Song." This version was the one that was strenuously objected to by Casey's wife for making her appear to have been unfaithful to Casey. The offending lines read: "Mrs. Jones sat on her bed a sighing/Just received a message that Casey was dying/ Said go to bed children and hush your crying/Cause you got another papa on the Salt Lake line." This is similar to a line in the song "Duncan and Brady". She spent her remaining years refuting those lines, once saying "That devil hasn't shown up in 58 years!"
By World War I, dozens of versions had been published and millions of copies were sold, securing the memory of a new American folk hero. Poet Carl Sandburg called the song "Casey Jones, the Brave Engineer" the "greatest ballad ever written". Casey Jones figures in many railroad songs, such as "Freight Train Boogie", by The Delmore Brothers.
- "The Ballad of Casey Jones", Billy Murray (Edison Blue Amberol 1550, 1912)—Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.
- "Kassie Jones", Furry Lewis, 1928 (Included on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music)
- 1932 American Folklife recording Abbott, Francis H. "Casey Jones" (mp3). Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Pete Seeger
- Burl Ives Decca 29129
- Johnny Cash
- The Dixieaires 1949
- Theme to the TV Show "Casey Jones" 1957
- The Golden Gate Quartet 1960
- The New Christy Minstrels 1964, Columbia CS8987
- Milt Okun 1957, Baton BL1203
- Grateful Dead  live 1970 performance released on Road Trips Volume 3 Number 3
- Robert DeCormier Singers Arabesque Z6675
- Drive Dull Care Away - Joe Hickerson - Folk-Legacy Records - 2002
- Spike Jones and his City Slickers - with new lyrics about Casey Jones Jr. who serves as a bombardier during World War II
- Merrill Jay Singers on Songs of the Railroad, Viking Record Company Ltd (1961) (a version with a happy ending).
- "Dr. Kinsey Report", The Jamaican Calypsonians - with new lyrics., 1955, Kalypso RL101 (included on Boogu Yagga Gal: Jamaican Mento 1950s )
- Lomax, John A. and Alan Lomax. American Ballads and Folk Songs. (1934; reprint, New York: Dover, 1994), p. 34
- Ballad of Casey Jones
- "A treasury of American Folklore," by B. A. Botkin, (American Legacy Press, NT, 1944) pp 241–246)
- April 1932, Erie Railroad Magazine, vol 28, no. 2, p12