Breedloves's Folk Songs


    “Railroad Bill” was a favorite in both the black and white traditions. The Traditional
    Ballad Index gives its earliest date (printed or recorded) as 1927. The writer of the note
    for the Ballad Index rejects as ‘unproven’ the theory that it related to a notorious bad man
    by the name of Morris Slater (also known as Railroad Bill) who terrorized Florida and
    Alabama in the 1890s. However, Stephen Calt, in his notes to ‘The Late Bill Williams:
    Blues, Rags and Ballads’ Blue Goose 2013, had no hesitation in saying that it was ‘a
    salute to a once-notorious Alabama train robber and one of the most famous pieces in
    black folk tradition’. Bill Williams’ recording of the song is splendid – he was first
    discovered and recorded in 1970 in Kentucky when he was in his 70s. In ‘American
    Ballads and Folk Songs’ the Lomax’s give a text and tune of the song from the black
    tradition. They assert that Railroad Bill was a completely legendary character. They point
    out that it is interesting that, in the song, he is captured by another black after eluding
    white law officers. Two of the most popular versions by white singers are Cisco Houston
    and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The earliest recording by a white artist was that by the great
    bluesman from West Virginia, Frank Hutchison. Frank recorded his version at his last
    recording session in 1929.
    Railroad Bill mighty bad man,
    Shoot dem lights out o’ de brakeman’s hand-
    It’s lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Railroad Bill mighty bad man,
    Shoot the lamps all off the stan’-
    An it’s lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    First on table, next on wall,
    Ole corn whiskey cause of it all-
    It’s looking fer Railroad Bill.
    Ole McMillan had a special train,
    When he got there wus a shower a rain-
    Wus lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Ev’body tole him he better turn back,
    Railroad Bill wus goin’ down the track-
    An it’s lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Well, the policemen all dressed in blue,
    Comin down sidewalk two by two,
    Wus lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Railroad Bill he had no wife,
    Always lookin fer somebody’s life-
  • An it’s lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Railroad Bill was the worst ole coon
    Killed McMillan by the light o’ the moon-
    It’s lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Ole Culpepper went up on Number Five,
    Goin’ bring him back, dead or alive,
    Wus lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.
    Standin’ on the corner, did n’t mean no harm,
    Policeman grab me the arm-
    Wus lookin’ fer Railroad Bill.”

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