Railroad Bill

Any young finger-picker must master 'Railroad Bill'. It's a rite of passage. The song has been recorded hundreds of times going back to the 1920's by the best country, blues and folk musicians. Just to name a few of my own favorites: Vera Hall, Etta Baker, Hobart Smith, Lonnie Donegan, Riley Pucket, Roba Stanley, Cisco Houston and Jack Elliot.I learned it from Ramblin' Jack, in person actually.

I don't often do songs that everyone else has done a thousand times, but this really is a dear old favorite of mine and I might as well.

The real Railroad Bill was a big surprise to the railroad bulls along the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad line in southern Alabama - a gun-totin' hobo. He was an African-American gunman who became a legend - not a Robin Hood figure, but famous anyway. In the winter of 1895 the L&N detectives killed a man named Morris Slater, a convict-lease worker who in 1893 had fled from a turpentine camp in Florida, after killing a lawman. They claimed to have shot the notorious Railroad Bill. Who knows? Actually who knows if 'Railroad Bill' was one man or many?


Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill
He never worked, and he never will,
And it's ride, ride, ride. Railroad bill

Railroad Bill's a mighty bad man
Shot the light out of the poor brakeman's hand

Railroad Bill, sittin’ on a hill
Lightin' cigars with a ten-dollar bill.

Railroad Bill took my wife,
Said if I didn't like it, gonna take my life.

Railroad Bill, he’s mighty mean
walked all the way here from New Orleans

Railroad Bill, he’s mean and he’s bad
Stole all the chickens that that poor farmer had

Got a thirty-special in a forty-five frame,
I can't miss 'cause I got dead aim.

Railroad Bill, he ain't so bad
Whupped his mama, shot a round at his dad.