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Railroad Bill
Composer: Traditional

Railroad Bill was played by an unnamed bluegrass band with Jerry Garcia on banjo at an unknown venue in Burlingame in January 1962.

Some attempts have been made to link this song with real incidents but it seems most likely that Railroad Bill is a legendary character.



Recordings

no info Single (Whoa Mule / Railroad Bill), Riley Puckett (w/ Gid Tanner), 1925
no info Single (All Night Long / Railroad Bill), Roba Stanley, 1925
no info Single (Boston Burglar / Railroad Bill), Frank Hutchison, 1929
no info Single (Tight Like That / Railroad Bill), Otis Mote, 1929
no info Willie P. Bennett, 1929
no info 900 Miles and other R.R. songs, Cisco Houston, 1953
info Shivaree!, Jean Ritchie, Oscar Brand, Tom Paley, Harry & Jeanie West, 1955
no info Single (Railroad Bill / Stackalee), Lonnie Donegan, 1956
info Instrumental Music Of The Southern Appalachians, Various Artists (Mrs. Etta Baker), 1956
info Folksongs and Ballads of Virginia, Paul Clayton, 1956
no info Mountain Songs and Banjo Tunes, Guy Carawan, 1958
info Sings American Folk Songs, Walt Robertson, 1959
info An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs, Lonnie Donegan, 1959
no info American Negro Songs from Slavery Times, Michel LaRue, 1960
info Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 1961
info The Newport Folk Festival 1960 Vol 2, Various Artists (Cisco Houston), 1961
no info Dave Guard and The Whiskeyhill Singers, 1962
no info Presenting, The New Christy Minstrels, 1962
info Folk Music of Washington Square, Various Artists (Gary Lapow), 1962
info Fleming Brown, Fleming Brown, 1962
no info Raise A Ruckus, Lonesome River Boys, 1963
no info The Gaslight Singers, The Gaslight Singers, 1963
info Way Out West With, Alex Campbell, 1963
no info Hollywood Hootenanny, Various Artists (Barbara Dane), 1963
no info Big Sky Singers, Big Sky Singers, 1964
no info Fate Is Only Once, Harry Taussig, 1965
info Traditional Music At Newport, 1964, Vol. 1, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 1965
info More Old Time Mountain Music, J.E. Mainer & His Mountaineers, 1967
info The Asch Recordings, 1939 to 1945, Vol. 2, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 1967
no info Mountain Banjo, Songs and Tunes, Various Artists (Riley Puckett and Gil Tanner), 1968
no info Songs of America, The Hi-Tiders, 196?
no info Visit Puget Sound, The Group, 196?
no info California Blues, The Stonemans, 1970
no info The Train That Carried My Girl from Town, Frank Hutchison, 1973
info Ooh So Good 'N' Blues, Taj Mahal, 1973
no info Cold and Lonesome on a Train, Sparky Rucker, 1977
no info Rollin' On, Floyd County Boys, 1978
no info Folk Music In America, Vol. 6, Songs Of Migration and Immigration, Various Artists, 1978
no info On the Move, Rose City Singers, 197?
no info Jubilee Concert, Lonnie Donnegan, 1981
info Very Early Joan Baez, Joan Baez, 1982
no info Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 1, No. 10), Various Artists (Andy Breckman), 1984
no info Folk Visions and Voices, Traditional Music and Song in Northern Georgia, Vol. 2, Various Artists (Willie Hill), 1984
no info Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 3, No. 6) Live at the Bottom Line, Various Artists (Rod McDonald), 1986
no info Shake Sugaree, Taj Mahal, 1988
no info Hard Travellin', Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 1989
no info Skillet Licker Music 1955-1991, The Tanner Legacy, Gordon Tanner and Joe Miller, 1992
no info Don't Get Killed, Andy Breckman, 1990
no info One-Dime Blues, Etta Baker, 1991
no info The Collection, Taj Mahal, 1992
no info Steel Drivin' Man, Harvey Reid, 1992
no info EP Collection, Lonnie Donnegan, 1992
no info More Than "Pye in the Sky", Lonnie Donegan, 1993
info Sinners and Saints 1926-1931, Various Artists (Willie Bennett), 1994
info All Kinds of Folks: Prestige/Folklore Years, Vol. 1, Various Artists (Ramblin' Jack Elliott), 1994
no info Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music, Various Artists (Turner Froddell), 1995
no info Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 1997
no info Southern Journey, Vol. 5: Bad Man Ballads, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 1997
info Old-Time Music From West Virginia: 1927-1929, Various Artists (Frank Hutchison), 1997
no info In Progress & in Motion: 1965-1998, Taj Mahal, 1998
no info Tabernacalin', Big Foot Chester, 1998
no info Skiffle Sensation, Lonnie Donegan, 1998
info Give up the Ghost, Jim Gaudet, 1998
no info Monsters of Folk: American Tour, Various Artists (Dave Alvin), 1998
no info Field Recordings, Vol. 4: Mississippi & Alabama (1934-1942), Various Artists (Jesse Harris), 1998
no info Railroad Bill, Etta Baker, 1999
no info Country Blues & Ditties, John Jackson, 1999
no info Front Porch Blues, John Jackson, 1999
no info This Land Is Your Land, Phil Rosenthal, 1999
info Living Country Blues: An Anthology, Various Artists (Guitar Frank), 1999
no info Talking Guitar Blues: The Very Best of, Lonnie Donegan, 2000
no info Showcase . . . Plus, Lonnie Donegan, 2000
no info The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast 1998, Van Morrison/Lonnie Donegan/Chris Barber, 2000
no info Best of the Vanguard Years, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 2000
info The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 2000
no info Gone with the Wind, Frank Hovington, 2000
no info The Roots of Taj Mahal, Various Artists (Will Bennett), 2000
no info As Good as It Gets: Skiffle, Various Artists (Lonnie Donegan), 2000
no info The Early Blues Roots of Bob Dylan, Various Artists (Will Bennett), 2000
info Blue Ridge Legacy: The Alan Lomax Portait Series, Hobart Smith, 2001
no info The Deep River of Song: Alabama, Various Artists, 2001
no info The Rough Guide to Americana, Various Artists (Dave Alvin), 2001
no info Appalachian Breakdown, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2001
no info Somebody Told the Truth, Cephas & Wiggins, 2002
info Legacy, Doc Watson and David Holt, 2002
info Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land, Dave Alvin, 2002
info Joan Baez in Concert, Pt. 2, Joan Baez, 2002 (CD bonus track)
no info The Best of the Bluegrass Tradition, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2002
no info Virginia Roots: The 1929 Richmond Sessions, Various Artists (Tom and Otis Mote), 2002
no info Fast Folk: A Community of Singers and Songwriters, Various Artists (Andy Breckman), 2002
no info Presenting/In Person, The New Christy Minstrels, 2003
no info Green Green, The New Christy Minstrels, 2003
no info Bluegrass Roots, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2003
no info Easy Pickins, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2003
no info Etta Baker with Taj Mahal, 2004
no info Honey in the Lion's Head, Greg Brown, 2004
no info Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg, Dan Zanes, 2004
no info Live At Western Star, Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo, 2004
no info Doing the Skiffle, Sunday Skifflers, 2004
no info Music Makers With Taj Mahal, Various Artists (Taj Mahal w/ Etta Baker), 2004
no info Skiffle Revival, Various Artists (Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo), 2004
info Classic Folk Music from Smithsonian Folkways, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 2004
info In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes, Hobart Smith, 2005
info Worried Blues, Frank Hutchison and Kelly Harrell, 2005
no info Carolina Breakdown, Etta Baker and Cora Phillips, 2005
info The Essential Taj Mahal, Taj Mahal, 2005
no info Brothers at Heart, Bruce Dix & Jim Nunally, 2005
no info The Folk Den Project, Roger McGuinn, 2005
no info Where the Mangoes Are, Kate McDonnell, 2005
no info Rattle All Night Long and Shake You!, Legendary Hucklebucks, 2005
info Shaken by a Low Sound, Crooked Still, 2006
info Red Clay Country, Paul Brown, 2006
no info Skiffle King: 50th Anniversary Edition, Lonnie Donegan, 2006
no info Vol. 3 (1941-1946), Sonny Terry & Brownie Mcghee, 2006
no info Just Plain Folk, George Lawton, 2006
no info Folk & Blues: The Roots of Americana, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2006
info Classic African American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways, Various Artists (John Jackson), 2006
info Classic Railroad Songs from Smithsonian Folkways, Various Artists (Walt Robertson), 2006
info Old Time Mountain Music / More Old Time Mountain Music, J.E. Mainer & His Mountaineers, 2007
info Oooh So Good 'N Blues / Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff, Taj Mahal, 2007
no info The Original Skiffle Recordings 1953-1956, Lonnie Donegan, 2007
no info In All Honesty (2-on-1), The Stoneman Family, 2007
no info Way of the Rail, Neil Woodward, 2007
no info Great British Skiffle 1948-1956, Various Artists (Lonnie Donegan), 2007
no info Simply the Best: British Jazz from the 1950s, Vol. 2, Various Artists (Lonnie Donegan), 2007
no info Womenfolk: Iconic Women of American Folk, Various Artists (Etta Baker), 2007
no info Black Heroes: From Stagger Lee to Joe Louis, Various Artists (Will Bennett), 2007
info Folk Roots: The Sound of Americana, Various Artists (Tom Paley), 2007
no info Crucial Acoustic Blues, Various Artists (John Jackson), 2007
info People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938, Various Artists (Will Bennett), 2007
no info Midnight Special: The Skiffle Years, Lonnie Donegan, 2008
no info The Roots of Van Morrison, Various Artists (Will Bennett), 2008
no info Skiffle at Its Best, Various Artists (Lonnie Donegan), 2008
no info Living Country Blues USA, Vol. 8, Various Artists (Guitar Frank), 2008
no info Great British Skiffle, Vol. 2: 1952-1957, Various Artists (Lea Valley Skiffle Group), 2008
no info The UK Skiffle Boom, 1954-1957, Various Artists (Lea Valley Skiffle Group), 2008
no info Psychobilly and Rockabilly Mayhem, Various Artists (Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo), 2008
no info Original Hits of the Skiffle Explosion, Lonnie Donegan, 2009
no info Cutting Loose, David Holt and Josh Goforth, 2009
info Oooh So Good 'N Blues / Mo' Roots, Taj Mahal, 2009
info Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff / Oooh So Good 'N Blues, Taj Mahal, 2009
no info American Murder Ballads, Various Artists (Cisco Houston), 2009
info The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, Taj Mahal, 2013
info Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), Bob Dylan, 2013

Lyrics

Only a few of the many deeds that are attributed to Railroad Bill in song are described in the lyrics used by the group that included Jerry Garcia. The lyrics of that version are;

Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill,
He don't work and he never will,
He'll just ride, ride, ride.

Railroad Bill he ain't so bad,
Killed his ma, shot a round at his dad,
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

Railroad Bill coming home soon,
Killed (McMillan?) by the light of the moon,
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

(Mistress McMillan she whooped out?)
(Don't ask my husband cause I heard him fall?)
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

I went down on old number one,
Railroad Bill he had just begun,
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

I went down on old number two,
Railroad Bill he was almost through,
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

Railroad Bill coming down the hill,
Lighting a cigar with a ten dollar bill,
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

He killed a chicken, sent me a wing,
(Thinks I don't work, cause I ain't doing a thing?)
And I'll ride, ride, ride.

Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill,
He don't work and he never will,
He'll just ride, ride, ride

 
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