The Ballad Of Casey Jones

Album: American Classics (1902)

Songfacts®:

  • This song is also known as "Ballad Of Casey Jones" or simply "Casey Jones". John Luther Jones was a railroad engineer - train driver in English parlance - who was killed when his train the Cannonball Express crashed into a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi on April 30, 1900. When Jones saw the other train he told his fireman Sim Webb to jump; Webb leapt from the speeding Cannonball Express and although knocked unconscious escaped with bruising, but Jones managed to reduce the speed of the train from 75 to 35 miles per hour, which undoubtedly saved the lives of his passengers.

    Obviously the stuff of legend, it was unsurprising that his heroism was versified, but rather than a troubadour, it was a fellow railwayman who wrote the ballad, Wallace Saunders who worked as a cleaner in the railroad shop at Canton. Saunders appears to have improvised the song purely for his own amusement, but as often happens with folk songs, it was picked up by someone else, in particular by another railroad engineer, William Leighton, whose brothers Frank and Bert were vaudeville performers. They worked on it, added a chorus, and took it on the road with them.

    When it was first published in 1902, T. Lawrence Seibert was credited as the composer, and Eddie Newton as the lyricist. Wallace Saunders never received a dime for his creation.
  • The song has evolved into more than forty different versions, the Grateful Dead song "Casey Jones" having little or nothing in common with the original, a faithful adaptation of which was used as the theme for the syndicated Casey Jones TV series which was first screened in the United States from 1958-9.

    Less than eight months after Casey Jones died, the British Casey Jones, John Axon, was born. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2

Comments: 1

  • Mark from London, EnglandUnusual thing about TV series-only ran one season but there were two different versions of the title song,.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Yacht Rock!

Yacht Rock!Song Writing

A scholarly analysis of yacht rock favorites ("Steal Away," "Baker Street"...) with a member of the leading YR cover band.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"They're Playing My Song

Armed with a childhood spent devouring books, Mike Scott's heart was stolen by the punk rock scene of 1977. Not surprisingly, he would go on to become the most literate of rockers.

Janis Ian

Janis IanSongwriter Interviews

One of the first successful female singer-songwriters, Janis had her first hit in 1967 at age 15.

The End Of The Rock Era

The End Of The Rock EraSong Writing

There are no more rock stars - the last one died in 1994.

Tom Johnston from The Doobie Brothers

Tom Johnston from The Doobie BrothersSongwriter Interviews

The Doobies guitarist and lead singer, Tom wrote the classics "Listen To The Music," "Long Train Runnin'" and "China Grove."

Penny Ford of Snap!

Penny Ford of Snap!Songwriter Interviews

The original voice of Snap! this story is filled with angry drag queens, video impersonators and Chaka Khan.