July 2010

Before we get to the main topic, in honor of July's historic American/Russian spy swap (nearly sixty years since Gary Powers' conviction for spying), you need to play Johnny's River's coolest hit, Secret Agent Man. At 67 years of age, Rivers still plays concerts, check him out if you get the chance, an awesome singer and guitar player! He'd be our first pick for a Superbowl half-time show. Not that we'd waste a Sunday watching any part of the stupid game...

Like it or not, the word engineer comes from engine, as in locomotive. Thus we are all linked to the legacy of trains. Train stories tend to center around catastrophic collisions, as you'll learn about in some of these songs.

Want to learn about music from the Furry Leader? Check out Matt the Cat's Friday Night Cat Fight on Mattthecat.com. Vote for your favorite versions of familiar tunes, and you can earn a Ph.D. in early R&B by listening to his juke-in-the-back series. Thank for entertaining us all, Matt! Skip down Matt's FNCF page today and hear all of the versions of Midnight Special, it's sort of related to locomotives. If you like what you hear, sign up for the newsletter, make a contribution like we did, and consider going on a doo-wop cruise!

Casey Jones

John Luther "Casey" Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900) was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee, who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi, on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African American engine wiper for the IC. This version is sung by Johnny Cash, many artists have covered it. Forget about the Grateful Dead version, Casey Jones was never "high on cocaine".

Choo Choo Charlie (Good and Plenty commercial)

Clearly a derivative of Casey Jones, Choo Choo Charlie is pretty much pounded into the head of all U.S. adults over the age of fifty. Note that the engineer is male and the passenger is female, this is going to come up again...



Downbound Train by Chuck Berry

A song about drinking heavily, resulting in a bad dream and a great song. The devil himself was the engineer... you can't get a better train ride than that!



Let it Rock by Chuck Berry

An interesting adaptation of Johnny B. Goode's melody. Just a day in in the life of railroad workers, playing craps, and getting the heck out of the way of a "off-scheduled" train. Let it Rock is an ironic title, regarding the subject train, the workers are about to "let it roll."



I'm Going to be an Engineer by Peggy Seeger

Pete Seeger's half sister Peggy Seeger composed this. The Unknown Engineer's mother was an engineer in the 1950s, this song is how it was back then, not a good situation for those missing the Y chromosome.


Wreck of the Old 97 by Roy Acuff

In 1903, 33 year-old engineer Joseph A. ("Steve") Broadey died trying to make up time on a fast mail run, in all nine people were killed when the 97 plunged off a trestle. He had to make up time because the U.S. Post Office had a penalty clause, costing the Southern railway some serious cash for every minute the mail was late. In Acuff's song, the Old 97 crashes because it lost its airbrakes. Air brakes were invented by George Westinghouse, who became a wealthy industrialist, and eventually bankrolled Nikola Tesla's AC power transmission system. Tesla is in the Microwaves Hall of Fame. Like the accupuncturist said when he was jamming pins into my toes to cure a sore elbow, it all connected...


Mystery Train

There's no mention of engineers in Mystery Train, but you have to admit it is the coolest song referenced on this page. The song was first recorded at Sun Records, written by Junior Parker and Sam Phillips and recorded by Junior Parker and his Blue Flames. Later it was recorded by Elvis, with Scotty Moore playing some crazed guitar licks which stand out as an enduring masterpiece today. What's the Mystery of Mystery Train? Not sure, but there certainly is some irony, when Elvis is singing about a perfect square! (the train is sixteen coaches long).

Here for your enjoyment we've got versions by both Junior and Elvis. Which do you like better?

Sam Phillips is best known as the guy who signed Elvis, then sold his contract to RCA for $35K. But he led an interesting life and made a pile of bucks as an original investor in the Holiday Inn chain. His Memphis radio station WHER employed an all-female cast in the 1950s, totally unheard off then, and now!


Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!