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Casey Jones by Grateful Dead

Album: Workingman's DeadReleased: 1970
  • "Casey Jones" is (very) loosely based on the real life happenings of the heroic engineer Casey Jones, who was the subject of the famous 1902 song "The Ballad Of Casey Jones." It was doubtful that Jones was high on cocaine when he took over the train, and although his life was ended when he was hit by a train traveling the wrong way, he sacrificed his life so those on board could be saved.
  • In the book Garcia: A Signpost to New Space, Jerry Garcia was asked if this song grates on him when he hears it. The Dead frontman replied: "Sometimes, but that's what it's supposed to do. It's got a split-second little delay, which sounds very mechanical, like a typewriter almost, on the vocal, which is like a little bit jangly, and the whole thing is, I always thought it's a pretty good musical picture of what cocaine is like. A little bit evil. And hard-edged. And also that sing-songy thing, because that's what it is, a sing-songy thing, a little melody that gets in your head."
  • Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter came up with the line "Drivin' that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you'd better watch your speed," which he wrote down and put in his pocket. He didn't think of it as part of a song until he looked at it later and decided to complete the lyrics.

    When they put the song together, Hunter looked for ways to omit the word "cocaine," which at the time was a controversial word for song lyrics (they had taken some heat for using "Goddamn" in "Uncle John's Band"). Hunter tried some other phrases - "whipping that chain," "lugging propane" - but couldn't find an acceptable substitute, so Casey Jones ended up high on cocaine as originally written.
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Comments: 19

I remember this song off their "Workingman's Dead" LP in 1970. Me & my little brother bought this album in '70 since we were DeadHeads (fan) back then. As for "Casey Jones" it was a really catchy song, but the drug references were controversial to some people back then. I remember at the time I wondered about the real Casey Jones. So I read up on him back then & all the biographies had no mention of drug use by Jones. Later, I read that the drug use was a fiction added by Garcia. The song would've been popular even without the drug reference.Rotunda - Tulsa, Ok
Check back in the Dead's concert history, late 1969 early 1970 they also sang an acoustic folk song the Ballad of Casey Jones, closer to the story of the original.

Not to be confused with the Hunter/Garcia song "Casey Jones." This is a traditional song, with Jerry playing the version recorded by Mississippi John Hurt. The Dead played this song in some acoustic sets in 1970, and Jerry played it with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band as well as with John Kahn and David Grisman. This is the version Jerry played with the Dead and the JGAB.
Alph - Bridgeport, Ct
I think this song may be about heroin. The line "Casey Jones, watch your speed" could refer the warning from older heroin users to new ones not to inject too quickly.Mark - New Orleans, La
As a direct descendant of John Luther "Casey" Jones I would just like to say - great song - poor choice of words for rhymes' sake. We as a family have never heard or seen any evidence that he ever used cocaine. The man was a hero. We are proud of him.Ava - Loganville, Ga
There is a hiddin meaning to the song..Listen to the live versions; talking about overdosing.
"in case you jones", "you better watch your speed"..
Michael - Honolulu, Hi
I disagree with several of the above comments, seems they are based on hearsay. If you know the history of Casey Jones (from Cacey, Kentucky hence the name) then you know that Casey was making a late night run, because of another engineer being sick. Cocaine, in those days was not illegal or banned in any way, it was fairly new. They really did not know the issues involved with cocaine use in those days. It was also a common remedy and used in Coca Cola until 1903. The wreck happened in 1900. I guess no one here thinks Casey didn't think anything about having a cocaine tincture or Coca Cola to get him through the ride, past the tiredness of driving? Not like it would have been much different than a Red Bull or high energy drink today. Not that he would have used cocaine on every trip, but much like truckers do with caffeine and other drugs today, he could have used it. Plus it was very commonly found among people who were "on the road" so to speak, including people involved with transportation and lodging. I've known several anti-drug people who have no problem taking the pain medicine the doctor gives them, or going in for sedation dentistry, but never for fun or recreational purposes. These people are the worst drug addicts and therefore that's why they are anti-drug.Bubba - Cashville, Al
I think this song is about neal cassady becasue he died right to train tracks after a three week speed binge and jerry garcia and him were friendsMac Mountain - Leaucadia, Ca
Umm, Nicholas is right:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ewTbvmQ_q4
Patrick - Providence, Ri
"and you know that notion, just crossed my miiiiind!" Last scentence in the song, amazing.Joe - Bellingham, Wa
this song is one of the bestSteven - Anaheim, Ca
it wasnt actually "casey Jones" it was a guy named jones from a place called caseyBlake - Watertown, Sd
I read some book about how songs start...and Casey Jones was one of the songs covered. The info on the song said that Robert Hunter came up with 'Drivin that train, high on cocaine' he knew it sounded bad, but he couldnt come up with any other lyrics. he tried to improvise cocaine with propane, and i think insane, but it didnt sound right.Dhani - Wausau, Wi
as I understand it this song inspired was written while the dead was on tour on the Cross Canada tour that included Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, the band and others. the musicians traveled together in private cars by train across Canada. I doubt that it was Casey Jones that was the one high on this train.

and just for the record the real Casey Jones was a tea totler and did not use drugs or alcohol an
David - Peterborough Ontario, Ok
Nick... the Greatful Dead weren't exactly the number one advocates against drugs...Sean - Shrewsbury, Ma
So last semester i took an american folklore class and my professor told the following story, which i'll repeat as closely as i remember. "So in 1969 (not sure about the year) me and my friends went to a Dead concert, and right before they came out to play Casey Jones, Jerry walked right to the front of the stage with the biggest bag of blow i've ever seen, it must have been a 4 or 5 pound bag. He very casually took a pinky-full, then handed it to the first guy in the front row. He then took a pinky-full and passed it to the next guy. It was the coolest thing because nobody bogarted the bag, everyone just took what they needed. The bag made it all the way back to the forth or fifth row. When it was all gone, someone held up the empty bag (to signal that it was gone) and they promptly started the song.Jim - Toledo, Oh
gotta love the dead.....r.i.p. jerryJon - Ilion, Ny
Regardless of its meaning, me and my husband love driving and singing this song....fun times.Jessica - Roanoke, Va
In reality is fiction, it does warn about wreckless behavior and drugs. Who cares, Its happy! Wheather you use drugs or not, it will make you think of a fool who is stoned out of their gourd driving a train high on cocaine :) Whats better than driving a train high on cocaine :)Cowticket - Indiana, In
This song is a warning against wreckless behavior, with Casey Jones' actions fictionalized to serve the message of the song.Nicholas - Vancouver, Canada