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More Train Songs...


More potential material for the Train Set: A Dodson Drifters hit that might be fun to do is “The Lightning Express,” by J. Fred Helt and E.P. Moran (1898). It’s supposed to be a waltz, but the Dodson Drifters never played it as a waltz—we always did it in 4/4 time, starting slow and gradually speeding up (just like a train). Happiest song about death I know (and I’ve written a few). There was a real “Lightning Express,” I found (the Internet is a wonderful place)—a promotional train run in 1876 to see how fast one could get from the East Coast to the West (the answer is 83 hours, a record that’s rarely been broken). But that’s not what the song is about. The song is, as I noted, about death.

Another traditional one we could do is the Gospel song “Life’s Railway to Heaven.” That was copyrighted in 1918 by Charlie D. Tillman, a reported patent-medicine salesman turned revival preacher who had a habit of publishing other people’s hymns as his own. “Life’s Railway” was reportedly ripped off from a Mormon girl poet. Other people have added to the song over the years, including the Dodson Drifters; the version we played had five verses, making it a pretty long song. I know I can sing it because Brother Bill and I used to sing it with the Drifters.

Got lyrics from Rev. Skip Johnson and from “Tampa Stan” Good I can musicate, and I know I can sing those because I’ll write the music so I can sing it. Skip’s is religious (of course), but it rocks—I like that. I’ve received a number of complete songs from people, with more promised—thanks, everybody. My next task is to go through them all and see which ones I can sing. There are at least a few I know are going to be outside my voice range.

And I might end up with another one of my own, too. Dylanesque folk-rock, with a very “train-ey” beat. At this point, I have pieces of a few verses, and don’t know if the thing will get (or need) a chorus; it’s got a good tag line, repeated at the end of every verse (and chorus, if the song gets a chorus): “My baby’s on that train, and I’m gonna let her go.” I worry if the song ends up just verses and no chorus, it might come across as too much like the Southern Pigfish anthem, “For Their Own Ends.” The train song, though, will be more of a blues, and in a different key (I hope). Maybe that’s enough difference. Great to feel productive again. I haven’t written a song since, well, last month.

We’ll be sans a blues harp player for October 1—Doc will be out of town. I wonder if we could substitute a fiddle? (I like having both a “whiny lead” and a “non-whiny lead.”) I know a really good fiddle player… Practice is easy, because I do the CD trick—and I’d want to have setlists, CDs and lyrics (&c.) to everybody a good 3-4 weeks ahead of time. I’ll have to ask—both the band and the fiddle player.

Advice from Performing Songwriters United Worldwide (who just revived their Facebook page, and started a blog, too, on Wordpress): “Do one small thing every day, and one big thing every month.” As I hunker down at the house for an anticipated two days without the truck (which is in the shop with alternator troubles), I wonder if I’ve managed to do that.

I’ve done a lot of little things lately—more than one a day sometimes, mostly because it’s Concert Season. (That’s one reason there’s been an issue of the blog almost every day.) Big things? I might consider the Willamette Writers gig one of those, because it may (I hope) have long-term impacts that I can’t see right away. The Writers’ Guild might be another. In both cases, it is too early to tell if I’ve done something big. I know only that I’ve done something different.



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