“Midnight Special” is a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisonersin the American South. The title comes from the refrain which refers to the MidnightSpecial and its “ever-loving light” (sometimes “ever-living light”). The song ishistorically performed in the country-blues style from the viewpoint of the prisoner. Thesong has been covered by many different artists. In 1934 Leadbelly recorded a version ofthe song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to himas the author. However, Ledbetter, instead, for his Angola session, appears to haveinserted several stanzas relating to a 1923 Houston jailbreak into the traditional song.John and Alan Lomax, in their book, Best Loved American Folk Songs, told a credulousstory identifying the Midnight Special as a train from Houston shining its light into a cellin the Sugar Land Prison.They also describe Ledbetter’s version as “the Negro jailbird’s ballad to match HardTimes Poor Boy”. Like so many American folk songs, its hero is not a man but a train.”The light of the train is seen as the light of salvation, the train which could take themaway from the prison walls. It is highly reminiscent of the imagery of such gospel songsas Let the Light from your Lighthouse Shine on Me. Carl Sandburg had a different view.He believed the subject of the song would rather be ran over by a train than spend moretime in jail.One day, one day, SirI was walking alongI heard that specialSinging a lonesome songChorus:Oh, let the Midnight SpecialShine her light on meLet the Midnight SpecialShine her ever lovin light on meIf you ever go to HoustonYou know you better walk rightYou know you better not staggerYou know you better not fightBecause the sheriff will just arrest youYou know he’ll carry you downAnd you can bet your bottom dollarOh Lord, you’re penitentiary boundChorusYonder come little Rosie
How in the world do you know?
I can tell her by her apronAnd the dress she woreUmbrella on her shoulderPiece of paper in her handGoes a marchin to the CaptainSays I want my manChorusNow here comes jumpin’ JudyI’ll tell you how I knowYou know, Judy brought jumpin’To the whole wide worldShe brought it in the morningJust about the break of dayYou know, if I ever get to jumpin’Oh Lord, I’ll up and jump away.Chorus – 2x