Mudcat Café message #1385175 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #21456   Message #1385175
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
22-Jan-05 - 10:10 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Railroad Bill
Subject: RE: Help: Railroad Bill
Now for the best and completest version of Railroad Bill I've been able to put together from Olive Woolley Burt and from Dorothy Scarborough, both of whom were in time to catch the still existing late-1920s ballad of Railroad Bill before it became a catch-all for verse scraps like those still sung till today. For my own singing I have revised the verse order somewhat, attempting to set them up chronologically, as follows.

Standin' on the corner, didn't mean no harm,
Policeman grab me by my arm,
Says I'm lookin' for Railroad Bill.

Talk about your bill, your ten-dollar bill,
You never seen a bill like Railroad Bill,
        He'll lay your poor body down.

Railroad Bill, mighty bad man,
Shot them lights out the brakeman's hand,
        They's lookin' for Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill, mighty bad man,
Shot all the lights off of the stand,
        That bad Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill, got no wife,
Always lookin' for somebody's life,
That badů

Railroad Bill, he did not know
That Jim MacMillan had a forty-fo',
        Laid his poor body down.

Railroad Bill, comin' home soon,
Killed MacMillan by the light of the moon,
Thatů

Railroad Bill cut a mighty big dash,
Killed MacMillan like a lightnin' flash,
He'll lay your poor body down.

First on the table, next on the wall,
Old corn liquor is the cause of it all,
That badů

Railroad Bill, ridin' on the train,
Tryin' to act big like Cuba and Spain,
That badů

Get up, old woman, you sleepin' too late,
Railroad Bill's come knockin' on your gate,
That badů

Railroad Bill, he's got sore eyes,
Won't eat nothin' but apple pies,
That badů

Railroad Bill, eatin' crackers an' cheese,
Long come the sheriff, chipper as you please,
        Says, ain't you that Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill, might big spo't,
Shot all the buttons off the Sheriff's coat,
        You bad Railroad Bill.

Sheriff he got him a special train,
When he got there, was a drivin' rain,
He's lookin'ů

Ten policemen, all dressed in blue,
Comin' down the avenue, two by two,
They's lookin'ů

Everybody told him, you better go back,
Bill is a-comin' down the railroad track,
That badů

Ol' Culpepper went up on Number Five,
Goin' bring him back, dead or alive,
That badů

Railroad Bill lyin' on the grocery floor,
Got shot two times, they shot him two times more,
        They shot down old Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill said before he died,
Fit all the trains so the rounders can ride,
        Didn't it rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.


NOTES: For my own singing I've tended to vary the chorus as above, but the original versions stick rigidly to the refrain of "Lookin' for Railroad Bill."

This makes me wonder if the song was first composed during, or immediately after, the manhunt...that would date it to c. 1897-98.

Note borrowings from "Crawdad Song" and from "Natural-Born Eas'man" / "Jay Gould's Daughter" / "Casey Jones."

Another chorus line I've found reported: Oh, ain't he bad, oh, the railroad man.