Album: Library of Congress recording (1934)
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Songfacts®:

  • The roots of this song go farther back into folk history than we can trace them. The version that stands today, recorded in 1934, evolved out of work songs sung by African American slaves.

    Slavery was long over by the time John and Alan Lomax put the song on tape for the Library of Congress, but the lyrics about a man escaping captivity (Long John is "long gone") resonated with the singers, who were inmates at Darrington State Prison Farm in Texas. The main singer was the only one identified by name, "Lightning."
  • Historians trace blues staple "Baby, Please Don't Go" back to "Long John."

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