The Mosam Skiffle Train

Twice Bitten Three Times Shy - Something about the songs

1. John Henry
John Henry was a steeldriver (digging tunnels for the railroads) during the construction of the Big Bend Tunnel on the C&O line in West Virginia around 1873. When steamdrills came into use, John rebelled against them because many workers were facing redundancy. He took up the challenge against a steamdrill. He won, but suffered a heart-attack soon afterwards. In 1924 Fiddlin’ John Carson made the first recording of the song that had been passed on by spoken word for many years.

2. Oh Monah
Nat Gonella together with The Ted Easton Jazzband had a hit with it in 1975. We reworked their version for fiddle and accordion.

3. In The Evening
A bluessong that was already popular in the 1920’s in Jackson, Mississippi. The first known recording is by its composer Leroy Carr on piano and Scrapper Blackwell on guitar. Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” was based on it and that song again was adopted by The Rolling Stones, with Ry Cooder on mandolin. The Walter Trout Band also covered it.

4. Putting On The Style
A Comedy song played by Lonnie Donnegan in an arrangement by Cazden, and so do we. It’s a funny story about showing off by ordinary folks like you and me.

5. Bright Lights Big City
A Rhythm and blues song by Jimmy Reed from 1961, that was recorded by Rod Stewart, Neil Young and Donald Fagen, among many others. It did very well for Jimmy Reed as the song was recorded and released by more than fifteen artists. Our version is an adaptation by our dobro player Peter Houben.

6. Green Corn
A song of which the origins are elusive. We adopted the Ray Bush (no relative) and The Avon City Jazzband version from 1958. It’s for certain that Huddy Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly) already had this song on his repertoire in the 1930’s.

7. Orange Blossom Special
Written by Ervin Rouse and first recorded by Russell Wise and Mr. White in 1936 under the title “Train Blues”. Ervin Rouse recorded the song himself in 1939 under the original name “Orange Blossom Special ”. The Orange Blossom Special was the fist streamline train on the line Miami-New York. Our violinist Bärbel Ehlert gives a virtuoso rendition and in her arrangement makes a musical sidestep to the Orient Express.

8. Little Red Rooster
Known by most people in the Rolling Stones version of 1964. The number, composed by Willy Dixon, was first put on record in 1950 by Margie Day and The Griffin Brothers, so even ten years before Howlin’ Wolf. In this version our washboardplayer, Maddy Bleize, uses the melodica, a wind instrument with an accordion like sound.

9. Parlez nous a boire
A pubsong from Louisiana in a typical Cajun arrangement. “Let’s not talk about marriage, but only about the pleasure of drinking. Whatever girl you marry, beautiful or plain, poor or rich, nothing good will come from it.” Dewey Balfa claims to have written the song, but there are some other interpreters of Cajun music who have their doubts. In any case he gives a marvellous rendition in the movie “Southern Comfort”, together with his Balfi Brothers, in a line-up of vocals, fiddle, guitar and triangle.

10. Sixteen Tons
Written by Merle Travis in 1947 and made worldfamous by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955 who, according to Arnold Rijpens in his book “The Originals”, made a multitude of 16 tons (the equivalent of a hundred thousand Euro in Dutch) from it. Merle based the song on an expression of his father, who was a miner. When he came home in the evening, he used to say: ”Sixteen tons every day and what do you get ?” And then, when his children were looking at him inquisitively, he himself came up with the answer: “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

11. My Dixie Darling
We mixed the Lonnie Donnegan and Humblebums version into our Belle from Dixie.

12. Pay Me My Money Down
This song originated from the inhabitants of the St.Simons Islands who worked in the harbours of Brunswick. The lyrics contain sneering remarks, aimed at the rich kids of the plantation owners on the Sea-Islands of Georgia.

13. The Grand Coulee Dam
As far as we know the first commercial in history that was sung. Woody Guthrie wrote the song in order of The Bonneville Power Administration, which exploited the dam in the Columbia River. Woody’s involvement was intended to take away any doubts among the farmers concerning the benefits of electricity on the farm. Song For Lonnie The uncrowned king of Skiffle, Lonnie Donnegan, died November 3, 2002, during a concert trip, of heart failure. Peter Houben wrote a song about it using a melody by Lutz Eikelmann. Indeed, with the death of Lonnie, symbolically speaking, there came an end to the Rock Island Line.

15. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
As far as we could establish the first recording dates from 1950 and is by its composer Earl Scruggs. It was made in Knoxville, Tennessee. In those days Scruggs played in a band called “Earl Scruggs and Lester Flat with The Foggy Mountain Boys”. Beside Earl on banjo the band consisted of Lester Flat (vocals, guitar), Curly Seckler (mandoline), Judy and sometimes Cedric Rainwater (bass), Benny Sims and Jimmy Shumate (fiddle) and Mac Wiseman (guitar). It is sometimes said that Earl Scruggs did for the 5-string banjo, what Paganini did for the violin.

16. Big Rock Candy Mountain
A funny American folksong of which the year of birth is shrouded by the hazy clouds of a distant past. The first recording dates from around 1928 by Harry McClintock. Later it was covered by many others, among which The New Christy Minstrels and Roger Whittaker.

Last update: 18-04-2004.
Copyright © 2004 Theo Solberg. All rights reserved.