MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • “Midnight Special” is a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisoners
    in the American South. The title comes from the refrain which refers to the Midnight
    Special and its “ever-loving light” (sometimes “ever-living light”). The song is
    historically performed in the country-blues style from the viewpoint of the prisoner. The
    song has been covered by many different artists. In 1934 Leadbelly recorded a version of
    the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him
    as the author. However, Ledbetter, instead, for his Angola session, appears to have
    inserted 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 credulous
    story identifying the Midnight Special as a train from Houston shining its light into a cell
    in the Sugar Land Prison.
    They also describe Ledbetter’s version as “the Negro jailbird’s ballad to match Hard
    Times 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 them
    away from the prison walls. It is highly reminiscent of the imagery of such gospel songs
    as 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 more
    time in jail.
    One day, one day, Sir
    I was walking along
    I heard that special
    Singing a lonesome song
    Chorus:
    Oh, let the Midnight Special
    Shine her light on me
    Let the Midnight Special
    Shine her ever lovin light on me
    If you ever go to Houston
    You know you better walk right
    You know you better not stagger
    You know you better not fight
    Because the sheriff will just arrest you
    You know he’ll carry you down
    And you can bet your bottom dollar
    Oh Lord, you’re penitentiary bound
    Chorus
    Yonder come little Rosie

    How in the world do you know?

  • I can tell her by her apron
    And the dress she wore
    Umbrella on her shoulder
    Piece of paper in her hand
    Goes a marchin to the Captain
    Says I want my man
    Chorus
    Now here comes jumpin’ Judy
    I’ll tell you how I know
    You know, Judy brought jumpin’
    To the whole wide world
    She brought it in the morning
    Just about the break of day
    You know, if I ever get to jumpin’
    Oh Lord, I’ll up and jump away.
    Chorus – 2x