Roots of Bob

Gotta Serve Somebody

From a posting of mine to


I have transcribed here the lyrics for "Little Black Train", as performed by Woody Guthrie. Does anybody know anything else about this song? The song structure greatly reminds me of "Gotta Serve Somebody". There's the train imagery, too, but of course that's very prevalent (the "holy slow train"),

This song appears on the album "Woody Guthrie with Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry, Vol 1", "International Joker Production", 1982. Judging by some of their other products, I assume that Joker is some sort of quasi-legal outfit. All songs are credited to Woody except "House of the Rising Sun", but that's meaningless, since songs such as "John Henry", "Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Feet", "DanvilleGirl #2" (#2?) are also credited to Woody.

There's a little black train a-coming
coming down the track
you gotta ride that little black train
but it ain't a-gonna bring you back

You may be a bar-room(?) gambler
and cheat your way through life
but you can't cheat that little black train
or beat this final ride

You silk and bar-room(??) ladies
dressed in your wordly(?) pride
you gotta ride this little black train
that's coming in tonight

Your million dollar fortune
your mansion glittering white
you can't take it with you
when the train rolls in tonight

Get ready for your savior
and fix your business right
you've gotta ride that little black train
to make your this ride

Woody's song "East Texas Red" (performed by Arlo on the Folkways Vision Shared CD) has the lines:

One traveler said, "Mr. Texas Red, you fix your business right
'Cause you're gonna ride your little black train just one year from tonight."

And Catherine Yronwode added:

Seth, check out "The Downbound Train" for VERY, VERY similar lyrics about a train filled with gamblers and easy-living types who find that they "ain't comin' back." I have it in R&B form on an LP by Chuck Berry and also in Western Swing form on an obscure 45 by a Texas country music DJ named Harlan Harrell. I assume both of these draw on an earlier recorded version. If you cannot locate the text, ask me to transcribe either or both versions.

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