Big Railroad Blues

Lyrics: Noah Lewis
Music: Noah Lewis

Well my mama told me, my papa told me too
Well my mama told me, my papa told me too
Well I shouldn't be here trying to sing these railroad blues

Wish I had listened to oh what mama said (note 1)
Wish I had listened to oh what mama said
Well I wouldn't be here trying to sleep in this cold iron bed (note 2)

Well I went to the depot, I never got there on time
Went down to the depot, never got there on time
Well that train's rolling down, she's rolling down the line

Mister jailer go away now, don't tell me no lies
Mister jailer go away now, don't tell me no lies
Well that train's going down, she's rolling down the line

Well my mama told me, my papa told me too
Well my mama told me, papa told me too
Well I shouldn't be here trying to sing these railroad blues

Wish I had listened to oh what mama said
Wish I had listened to oh what mama said
Well I wouldn't be here trying to sleep in this cold iron bed
The earliest version by the Grateful Dead, on "Rare Cuts And Oddities" contains an extra verse:
I asked the judge now, what might be my fine
I asked the judge now, what might be my fine
Ninety years on the Rocky Island Line (note 3)
Notes
(1) the sheet music has this line as "Should I hear the lesson of what my mama say?" But I'm pretty sure that's a mis-transcription.
(2) similarly, the sheet music has "cold dark bed."
(3) It originally sounded to me that Garcia sang "Rocky Highland Line". But Ben Anderson pointed out to me that this was more likely to be a reference to the Rock Island line, which makes sense. This stanza normally appears in "Worried Man Blues", with some versions (eg by Mel Tillis) having it as "Rocky Island Line". But many (eg the Carter Family, Ralph Stanley etc) have it as "Rocky Mountain Line".

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     Feb/Mar 1966 Rare Cuts And Oddities
      5 Apr 1971 Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)
     31 Jul 1971 Road Trips Number 1, Volume 3
      7 Aug 1971 Dick's Picks Vol 35
     21 Oct 1971 Dave's Picks Volume 3
     26 Oct 1971 Download Series Vol 3
     22 Mar 1972 30 Days Of The Dead (2013)
     28 Mar 1972 Dick's Picks Vol 30
      8 Apr 1972 Steppin' Out with the Grateful Dead: England '72 (note 3)
     11 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     17 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     26 Apr 1972 Hundred Year Hall (note 4)
     29 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
      4 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     10 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     11 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     13 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     23 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     25 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     21 Sep 1972 Dick's Picks Vol 36
     26 Feb 1973 Dick's Picks Vol 28
     21 Nov 1973 Road Trips Volume 4, Number 3
     10 Dec 1973 Download Series Vol 8
     19 Dec 1973 Dick's Picks Vol 1
     19 Oct 1974 Grateful Dead Movie (CD only)
      6 May 1981 Dick's Picks Vol 13
      6 Apr 1982 Road Trips Volume 4, Number 4
     26 Mar 1990 Spring 1990
Notes
(3) also on the box set Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
(4) also on the box set Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings

"The Dead" Concert Recordings

Furthur Digital Downloads and CDs

Recordings from dead.net Tapers Section

Phil Lesh and Friends Digital Download Series

Mickey Hart Downloads

Roots
The original recording was by Cannon's Jug Stompers (Gus Cannon and Noah Lewis). I don't know of any covers before the Grateful Dead's, so it seems likely they learnt it off the original recording. The lyrics on that recording are very hard to make out, and it may be that the Dead took took some of the lyrics from elsewhere:
Wish I had of listened, oh Lord, what mama said
Wish I had of listened, oh Lord, what mama said
Lord I wouldn't have been a [??]

Lordy, mama told me, [Lordy, papa told me too]
Lordy, mama told me, [papa told me too]
[??]

Well the railroad that I live [??]
[??] railroad [?]
Mama said [??] [on ninety nine]

Mister [?] go away now, don't tell me no lies
Mister [?] go away now, don't tell me no lies
It might never stop here, keep on riding by

Feel like [??] [I denied]
Lord I did [??]
[?] rolling cross [?]

Futher Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For sheet music, see:
          Hundred Year Hall songbook (guitar TAB)

 


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