Casey Jones

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from http://oldweirdamerica.wordpress.com:

“FATAL WRECK – Engineer Casey Jones, of This City, Killed Near Canton, Miss. – DENSE FOG THE DIRECT CAUSE – Of a Rear End Collision on the Illinois Central. – Fireman and Messenger Injured – Passenger Train Crashed Into a Local Freight Partly on the Siding-Several Cars Demolished.”  (From the Jackson, Tennessee Sun newspaper, April 30, 1900)

Soon after the fatal train collision that killed engineer John Luther Jones (he was nicknamed “Casey” because he was from the town of “Cayce”, Kentucky) on April 30, 1900, heroic tales of his death started to be told across the South. When he was living, Jones already had a growing reputation among railroad folks for his trademark whistle (every engineer at this time could make his own whistle) and for his aptitude at being always on time.

After his death, he became a real heroic figure and the song about him helped to carry his memory over the years.Like “Frankie and Albert”, the story of the Casey Jones ballad goes back and forth between the folk and popular music worlds. It originally started with Wallace Saunders, a black engine wiper who worked on a railroad shop in Canton. Saunders was known for his ability to make songs about people and singing or whistling them as he was working. The song he made up about Casey Jones, derived from an older African-American “Blues ballad” called “Jimmy Jones”. It had a very catchy tune and people along the railroad line started to sing it.

Illinois Central Engineer William Leighton loved the song so much that he told about it to his two brothers Frank and Bert, who were vaudeville performers. The Leighton brothers re-arranged the song with a chorus they added and sang it in theaters around the country. Finally two other vaudeville performers Lawrence Seibert, singer and Eddie Newton, composer, took the credit for the song and published it in 1909 under the title “Casey Jones , the Brave Engineer”. From then it became a very popular piece and although it described a tragedy, the song had a humorous feel and a catchy melody that pleased everyone. Recordings were made of the “vaudeville” Casey Jones” and this version entered as well the oral folk tradition where it could be mixed with older songs.

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