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Lyr Req: The Little Black Train

Desert Dancer 05 Mar 01 - 12:16 PM
Quincy 05 Mar 01 - 12:40 PM
Quincy 05 Mar 01 - 12:48 PM
Stewie 05 Mar 01 - 05:16 PM
Desert Dancer 05 Mar 01 - 10:03 PM
Q 31 Dec 04 - 01:55 AM
Mark Ross 31 Dec 04 - 10:29 AM
Q 31 Dec 04 - 01:25 PM
Azizi 31 Dec 04 - 06:56 PM
Q 31 Dec 04 - 07:58 PM
Q 28 Dec 06 - 02:14 PM
Charley Noble 28 Dec 06 - 03:43 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 28 Dec 06 - 03:44 PM
Bat Goddess 29 Dec 06 - 09:07 AM
Louie Roy 29 Dec 06 - 09:36 AM
Desert Dancer 29 Dec 06 - 11:41 AM
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Subject: The Little Black Train
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 12:16 PM

Before I start transcribing, anyone have the words handy for the old-time Southern gospel song, The Little Black Train? It's the one with the refrain,

There's a little black train a-comin'
Get all your business right,
You better get your house in order
for the train may come tonight.

as done by Double Decker Stringband, Debby McClatchy, Rayna Gellert & Frank Lee (working as a duo, also known for the Freight Hoppers), etc.

Rayna and Frank were just here in Tucson and the words really came through when they sang it -- in two-part harmony, with fiddle and banjo (I believe Frank played banjo on that, but it could have been guitar, I've no clear memory). (They were great! Book 'em or hear 'em when you can! Here's my first blue clicky attempt: Click here)

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN^^
From: Quincy
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 12:40 PM

Becky....here's a version of it slightly different to yours though.

The Little Black Train

There's a little black train a comin
Set your business right
There's a little black train a comin
And it may be here tonight

Go tell that ball room lady
All dressed in the worldly pride
That death's dark train is coming
Prepare to take a ride

God sent to Hezikai
A message from on high
You better set your house in order
For you must surely die

He turned to the wall in weeping
We see and hear his tears
He got his business fixed all right
God spared him fifteen years

We see that train with engine
And one small baggage car
Your idle thoughts and wicked deeds
Will stop at the judgement bar


best wishes, Yvonne

That poor young man in darkness

Cares not for the gospel light

Til suddenly he hears the whistle blow

And the little black train in site

Have mercy on me lord

Please come and set me right

Before he got his business fixed

The train rolled in that night


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN^^
From: Quincy
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 12:48 PM

Ooooh Sorry about that!!! Missed out on the last verses all together!

Here they are again!

That poor young man in darkness
Cares not for the gospel light
Til suddenly he hears the whistle blow
And the little black train in site

Have mercy on me lord
Please come and set me right
Before he got his business fixed
The train rolled in that night


Yvonne


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Stewie
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 05:16 PM

Norm Cohen gives a text from the Carter Family in his 'Long Steel Rail' (p 625, new edition). There are 2 minor differences from Quincy's above posting:

Stanza 4, line 2: 'We see him here in tears'

Stanza 6, line 2: 'Cared' rather than 'Cares'.

Reference is given to 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38.

Evidently, the song was first recorded (4 times) in 1926 by the redoutable Rev. J.M. Gates and later by various hillbilly artists, including Henry and Emry Arthur in 1928. The Carters did not record it until 1935, and 2 copyrights (1935 and 1937) were taken out in the Carters' names!

--Stewie.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN^^
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 05 Mar 01 - 10:03 PM

Well, the version I've heard is slightly different -- Emory Arthur (and Double Decker String Band) are cited by Debbie McClatchy on her cd 'Til the Good Times Come. I've transcribed the following (the bits in brackets I just can't quite get):
Cho: There's a little black train a-comin'
get all your business right.
You gotta (or "better")set your house in order
for the train could come tonight.

God sent Hezekiah
a message from on high:
"you better set your house in order
for thou is sure to die"

He went to the wall and weeping
his eyes all filled with tears
he got his business fixed, alright,
God spared him fifteen years.

Cho.

A poor young man in darkness
[came out] for the Gospel light
'til suddenly a whistle blew
from the little black train in sight.

"Oh [if you do not] spare me
I see my wicked ways
I pray the Lord have mercy
and spare me many more days."

But God had fixed his shackles
upon his [? tide]
before he got his business fixed,
the train had pulled in that night.

A rich old man in his mansion:
"I have no future to fear,
my barns are overflowing,
I'll live for many long years."

"I sure have plenty of money,
with naught but myself to please,
I've filled my barns and larders,
I expect to take my ease."

And while he sat there planning,
his God in power and might,
said, "You rich old fool, at the judgement bar
your soul's required tonight."

Cho.

I guess I'll e-mail Rayna and Frank and see if they can fill in the blanks.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN
From: Q
Date: 31 Dec 04 - 01:55 AM

Lyr. Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN
(Black and white gospel, Scarborough)

God said to Hezekiah
In a message from on high,
Go set thy house in order
For thou shalt surely die.

Chorus:
The little black train is coming
Get all of your business right;
Better set your house in order,
For the train may be here tonight!

He turned to the wall weeping,
Oh! see the king in tears.
He got his business fixed all right
God spared him fifteen years.

When Adam sinned in Eden
Before the birth of Seth,
That little sin brought forth a son
They called him conquering death.

Go tell the ballroom lady, And filled with earthly pride,
That death's black train is coming;
Prepare to take a ride.

This little black train and engine
And little baggage-car,
With idle thoughts and wicked deeds,
Must stop at the judgement bar.

A poor young man in darkness
Cared not for the gospel light,
Until suddenly the whistle blew
From the little black train in sight!

"Oh! death, will you not spare me?
I've just seen my wicked plight.
Have mercy, Lord, do hear me,
Please come and help me get right."

But death had fixed his shackles
About his soul so tight,
Before he got his business fixed
The train rolled in that night.

The rich fool in his granary said,
"I have no future fears;
Going to build my barns a little larger
And live for many years.

"I now have plenty of money,
I expect to take my ease,
My barns are over-running;
No one but self here to please."

But while he stood there planning,
The God of power and might
Said, "Rich fool, to judgement come;
Thy soul must be there tonight."

Scarborough- "....a Holy Roller song from Texas." "A delay here brings no complaint against the management."
Dorothy Scarborough, 1925 (1963), "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs," Folklore Assoc. Inc., pp. 260-261.

Newman I. White (1925) heard a similar but fragmental version from Ed Lloyd, an African-American from North Carolina, "where he had heard it sung for many years." Another fragment from White:

Look here, nigger, do you figger on going up dar;
If you get your business right, get your heart in order;
For the little black train is going to come at night.
Heard in Durham Co., NC, 1909.
N. I. White, 1928, American Negro Folk-Songs, no. 6 A-B, The Little Black Train, pp. 65-66.

The Carter Family lyrics for "Little Black Train" were posted from
Bluegrasslyrics.com by George Seto in thread 56422: Little Black Train

A version similar to that transcribed by Scarborough was printed, with music, in "Our Singing Country."

Lyr. Add: THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN
Brother Elihu Trusty, KY, 1937

Chorus:
There's a little black train a-comin'-
Get all your business right;
There's a little black train a-comin',
An' it may be here tonight.

Oh, the little black train is a-comin',
I know it's goin' to slack;
You can tell it by its rumblin'-
It's all draped in black.

The train we are singin' about,
It has no whistle or bell,
And when you find your station
You are in Heaven or Hell.

There's a little black train and an engine,
And one small baggage car;
You won't need to have much baggage
To come to the judgement bar.

O Death, why don't you spare me?
I see my wicked plight.
Have mercy, Lord, to hear me,
Come and set me right.

Oh, Death had fixed the shackles
Around his throat so tight,
Before he got his business fixed,
The train rolled in that night.

They are men and women
What love their sport and game,
Yet Death is ridin' with them
Will take them just the same.

Go tell that barroom lady,
All filled with worldly pride,
That Death's black train's a-comin'-
Prepare to take a ride.

There's a rich old man in his darkness
Says: "I have no such fears-
I'll build my barns a little larger,
For I'll live a million years."

So while he sat there plannin',
The God of power and might
Took the old fool to the judgement bar,
So his soul's in the fire tonight.
pp. 46-47, with music (not same as given by Grissom, see below). Lomax and Lomax, 1941 (Dover 2000), "Our Singing Country, Folk Songs and Ballads."

Lyr. Add: LITTLE BLACK TRAIN IS A COMIN'

God tole Hezykiyah
In a message from on high;
Go set yo' house in ordah,
For thou shalt sholy die.
He turned to the wall a weepin',
Oh! See the King in tears;
He got his bus'ness fixed all right,
God spared him fifteen years.

Chorus:
Little black train is a comin',
Get all yo' bus'ness right;
Go set yo' house in ordah,
For the train may be here tonight.

Go tell that ball room lady,
All filled with worldly pride,
That little black train is-a comin',
Prepare to take a ride.
That little black train and engine
An' a little baggage car,
With idle thoughts and wicked deeds,
Must stop at the judgement bar.

There was a po' young man in darkness,
Cared not for the gospel light,
Suddenly a whistle blew
From a little black train in sight.
"Oh, death will you not spare me?
I'm just in my wicked plight,
Have mercy Lord, do hear me,
Pray come an' set me right."
But death had fixed his shackles
About his soul so tight,
Just befo' he got his bus'ness fixed,
The train rolled in that night.

With music (very different from that given in Lomax and Lomax). Collected in Kentucky, pp. 10-11, M. A. Grissom, 1930 (Dover 1969), "The Negro Sings a New Heaven."

Lyr. Add: LITTLE BLACK TRAIN IS COMIN'
Ruby Pickins Tartt Coll., Alabama

Oh, de little black train is a-comin'
Hit'll git yo' bizness right.
Better fix yo' house in order,
Kaze hit may be here tonight.

Chorus:
Oh, de little black train's er comin',
Hit's comin' round de curve,
It's puffin' en hit's blowin',
Hit's strainin' every nerve.

God sent Keziah a message,
A message from on high,
Better git his bizness fixed all right
Kaze hit may be here tonight.

Keziah turned t' de wall a-weepin'
He seed king in *Caaz,
He got his bizness fixed all right,
He gave him fifteen years.

Oh, de little black train's er comin',
Hit's comin' round de curve,
It's puffin' en hit's blowin',
En hit's strainin' every nerve.

* May refer to the king in Assyria who was besieging the Israelites.
This spiritual was used by Kurt Weill in his folk opera, "Down in the Valley."
No music, p. 64, O. and J. Solomon, 1984, "Honey in the Rock," Ruby Pickins Tartt Coll., Alabama.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Mark Ross
Date: 31 Dec 04 - 10:29 AM

I believe woody Guthrie recorded this with Cisco Houston.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Q
Date: 31 Dec 04 - 01:25 PM

Little Black Train sung by Woody Guthrie is available on the 4-cd set "The Asch Recordings," and perhaps on other cds.

It is not among the lyrics in "Woody Guthrie Folk Songs," 264 pp., Ludlow Music, Inc., 1963.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Azizi
Date: 31 Dec 04 - 06:56 PM

Here's Dorothy Scarborough's quote about this song already given in excerpted form:

"A more sinister aspect of train-arrival [in "Negro" folk songs] is in another Holy Roller song from Texas. The little black train here represents Death, and the passengers for whom seats are reserved appear not to be crowding eagerly about the ticket window. This train had no schedule, but, like other public carriers, is uncertain in its time arrival and departure. But a delay here brings forth no complaints against the management."

end of quote

I'm curious if anyone knows of any serious study on the relationship between the use of referents such as "gospel train" and other trains in spirituals and the "Underground Railroad" 'system' that helped enslaved African Americans escape to the Northern states and to Canada.

I ask this because I've come to believe that 20th-21st century people may be romantizing and over-estimating the amount of times that spirituals were used to rely coded messages about plans to escape slavery.

There's a number of websites that make brief mention of the use of double meanings or 'coded messages' in spirituals. Most of them list African American spirituals such as "Steal Away," "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Deep River," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as examples of spirituals used to alert others that they would be fleeing slavery [perhaps with help from someone skilled in such escape like Harriet Tubman].

Now, I don't deny that spirituals had multiple uses- sometimes they were sung to express religious faith; to sustain and encourage folk, and to set the rhythm for backbreaking work. And undoubtedly sometimes they were sung to relay hidden messages. But I wonder how much of this escape from slavery coded message element was promoted in the 20th century or before to counteract the erroneous belief and teaching that African Americans were content to be slaves.

It just seems to me that what with the presence of snitches {i.e. fellow slaves who wouldn't think twice about "tellin on" a person if there was something in it for them} it was too risky to publicly sing out your plan to escape that evening or soon and very soon.

Of course, lines in spirituals like "run to Jesus" or "you better run 'fore de train done gone" and "I aint got long to stay here"
sound like they could have been used as coded messages.

But I think using these songs this way was done very selectively and very carefully, since escape from slavery was a very dangerous undertaking. It would seem that the least said about such a plan, the better.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Q
Date: 31 Dec 04 - 07:58 PM

Azizi, in several threads, I have disputed the notion of simple code songs associated with the underground railway or with escape. To believe in them, one would also have to believe that slaves were subnormal in intelligence and had no means of communication. Much depended upon passing on information about how to contact people who would help and how to find safe houses. Explicit information passed by word of mouth was necessary.
Slave narratives from those who escaped tell of such help, or tell of careful, solitary escapes by one who was smart enough to know when to move and where and when to hide. A successful escapee had to be brave, intelligent and observant.
There are threads on this subject, which would be better discussed there.

At the time these gospel songs were written, the term "holy roller," to a member of a more organized church, could simply mean someone with evangelical leanings, or who went to the tent gatherings set up by a traveling preacher and his entourage. Scarborough, if she was like my grandparents and I think she was, applied the term in this way. People who worshipped noisily and without discipline were avoided.
Gospel train songs succeeded the ship and chariot songs in part. Scarborough comments that the Negro overlooked the automobile, but although poor whites and blacks might own a rickety car or truck, the train was the premier mode of travel almost up to WW2. If one was really going somewhere, they put on their best clothes and boarded the train.


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Subject: Lyr Add: LITTLE BLACK TRAIN
From: Q
Date: 28 Dec 06 - 02:14 PM

One more version.

LITTLE BLACK TRAIN

Chorus
There's a little black train a-comin';
Get all your business right;
Get your house in order;
The train may be there tonight.
1.
God spoke to Hezekiah
In a message from on high,
Said prepare yourself for dying,
For the little black train tonight.
2.
Hezekiah got in earnest,
Turned to the walls and prayed;
God heard Hezekiah prayin',
Spared him fifteen years.
3.
Go and tell the ballroom ladies
Who's filled with worldly pride,
Death's little black train is comin',
Get prepared to take a ride.

N. L. White, 1928, American Negro Folk Songs, collected NC 1925 from Ed Lloyd.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Charley Noble
Date: 28 Dec 06 - 03:43 PM

Q-

Jeff Warner recently recorded a version of this song on his CD JOLLY TINKER. I found his rendition very haunting.

The tune itself was the inspiration for my musical adaptation of the C. Fox Smith poem titled "Rio Grand." Here's a link to how I sing that song: Click here and search for lyrics!

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 28 Dec 06 - 03:44 PM

As noted on p.626 of Steel Rail

In 2 Kings 20 (also in Isaiah 38, where the same account is given0, we read:

2 Kings 20 (King James Version)

1In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

2Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying,

3I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.

4And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying,

5Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.

6And I will add unto thy days ....

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 29 Dec 06 - 09:07 AM

Lyrics for Jeff Warner's recording can be found at www.JeffWarner.com, go to "Performances" then to "Jolly Tinker" then to "Jolly Tinker Lyrics".

I don't have the CD with me here at work, so I don't have access to the notes -- which would have his source for the song.

Linn


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Louie Roy
Date: 29 Dec 06 - 09:36 AM

I have the recording of Little Black Train by the Carters and wil gladly send an MP 3 to any one who wants it,but will need your email address Louie Roy


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Little Black Train
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 29 Dec 06 - 11:41 AM

In the "Jolly Tinker" notes, Jeff Warner says that he learned Little Black Train from the Double Decker String Band.

~ Becky in Tucson


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