Grateful Dead – Casey Jones

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones is ready, watch your speed

As a teenager, this song blasted from the car stereo with the windows down. The rebellion had kicked in and just to sing along with “cocaine” made us all giddy…although none us would have known cocaine if it was in front of us. Great song by the Dead.

The song was on the album Workingman’s Dead released in 1970. With it’s Americana sound…it became with the American Beauty one of their most popular albums. The song was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.

“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.

Casey Jones was not released as a single and did not chart. It remains one of their most popular songs known by non-Dead Heads.



The Real  CASEY JONES  1864-1900

American folk hero Casey Jones was born John Luther Jones on March 14, 1864, in a rural part of southeastern Missouri. He would work as an engineer on the railroad later in life.

On April 30, 1900, Jones volunteered to work a double shift to cover for a fellow engineer who was ill.  He had just completed a run from Canton, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, and was now faced with the task of returning on board Engine No. 1 headed southbound.

When he pulled out of the Memphis station in the early hours of April 30, the train was running late so he hurried to make up for lost time. As the train rounded a curve near Vaughan, Mississippi, it collided with another train on the tracks, but not before Jones told his fireman to jump to safety. Jones remained on board, supposedly to try to slow the train and save his passengers, and Jones the only person to die in the accident.

Following Jones’s death, Wallace Saunders, an African-American railroad worker in Mississippi, developed a ballad about the fallen engineer that became popular with other men in the railroad yards.

From Songfacts

Ask if the song grates his nerves when he hears it…Jerry Garcia: “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.

Casey Jones

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones is ready, watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

This old engine makes it on time
Leaves central station ’bout a quarter to nine
Hits river junction at seventeen to
At a quarter to ten you know it’s travelin’ again

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones is ready, watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

Trouble ahead, lady in red
Take my advice you’d be better off dead
Switchman’s sleeping, train hundred and two is
On the wrong track and headed for you

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones is ready, watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

Trouble with you is the trouble with me
Got two good eyes but you still don’t see
Come round the bend, you know it’s the end
The fireman screams and the engine just gleams…

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Grateful Dead – Casey Jones”

  1. On our live stream Friday night we were talking about Casey Jones in regards to the AC/DC song What’s Next To The Moon
    Little different vibe to say the least lol

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read a review with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir about “Casey Jones” and they said that the train was a metaphor, if you will, about the cocaine train. The nature of cocaine, why it is so dangerous and addictive, is you do a line and it make you feel great, but the euphoria doesn’t last very long. You want to experience the euphoria again so you do another line and another line all within increasingly shorter intervals. That’s the cocaine train. That’s the Casey Jones you better watch your speed.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That sounds really good and it makes sense…that is one I didn’t find. When I did searches it kept sending me back to the real Casey…Thanks Pam.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Probably the first Grateful Dead tune I ever heard, on the “classic rock” station before “classic rock” was really a ready-term. Certainly has that earworm quality, just kind of keeps running through my mind all day like a little HO train on a beginner’s set track!
    Interesting point from AllthingsThriller, about the metaphor – never thought of it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I snorted Coke for the first time when the Dead played this song at the Academy of Music, NYC in March of 1972. My buddy whipped out these lines and we all snorted it. My brain started slamming down the track like Casey’s train, what a blast that was.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. By the way: “Casey Jones” is a song that Mississippi John Hurt sang. Hunter and Garcia’s version is different from Hurt’s version; but he is one of the folkloric ghosts in the background.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That is the only thing that came to mind but Uncle John’s Band couldn’t have been too radio friendly either but I guess they beeped that out since it only happened once.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This is one of the main songs I think of when I think of TGD. That little flourish in the very beginning of the song is my favorite part. It gets monotonous but the sound of the wheels of a train are monotonous so it fits pretty well.

    Liked by 1 person

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