BIG RAILROAD BLUES

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
BIG RAILROAD BLUES
Noah Lewis was an American jug band musician, generally known for playing the
harmonica. Lewis was raised in the vicinity of Ripley, Tennessee. He was noted for being
able to blow two harmonicas at once–through his mouth and his nose. He played in local
string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with
Gus Cannon. When jug bands became popular in the mid-1920s, he joined Cannon’s Jug
Stompers and recorded for Victor Records in January 1928. The songs from that session
included “Minglewood Blues”, “Springdale Blues”, and “Madison Rag”. On a later
recording with the Jug Stompers, “Viola Lee Blues”, he sang lead vocal and played a
melancholy harmonica solo. He died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in
Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961. Noah Lewis is buried in a cemetery near Nutbush, Tennessee.
After his death, several of his songs become part of the repertoire of the Grateful Dead,
including “New, New Minglewood Blues”, “Viola Lee Blues”, and “Big Railroad Blues”.
Well my mama told me, my papa told me too,
Now my mama told me, papa told me too,
Well I shouldn’t be here tryin’ to sing these railroad blues.
Wish I had a’listened to what my mama said,
Wish I had a’listened to what my mama said,
Well I wouldn’t be here tryin’ to sleep in this cold iron bed.
Well I went to the depot, I never got there on time,
Went down to the depot, never got there on time.
Well my train done left, she’s a rollin’ down the line.
Mister jailer go away now, don’t tell me no lies,
Mister jailer go away, don’t tell me no lies,
When the train’s going down, she’s rollin’ down the line.
Well my mama told me, my papa told me too,
Now my mama told me, papa told me too,
Well I shouldn’t be here tryin’ to sing these railroad blues