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.

https://www.biography.com/personality/casey-jones

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…

The Grateful Dead

I’ve never been a Deadhead but I am envious of them. Unlike any other band…their music and fans belong in a special class. The fans are joined to an elusive club and a lot of them are really close. The band at one time was so accessible… more than any other band I’ve heard of… They have so much music to pick from…years and years of touring and recording. The band not only didn’t mind fans recording their concerts but set up a special place to record for a time. Led Zeppelin’s manager would have his goons smash fan’s recording equipment for doing that…other bands also.

They did not compromise…they did what they wanted to do and forget the rest. Top ten records? Nah…didn’t need them…didn’t have one until the 80s and still outdrew almost everyone. I’m happy they did have the one in the 80s…Touch of Grey…they really didn’t need it but it made the general public take notice. It was great in the 80s to see a cool anti-rock star Jerry Garcia with the Grateful Dead chugging away on MTV sounding better than the spandex idiots on the other videos at the time.

For me, I like their early seventies period a lot. Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty (which are two classic albums) From The Mars Hotel and a little later the adventurous Terrapin Station. I mostly like songs that are condensed down…hence why I was never really big on the long jams but I really respect the musicianship that went into them live. They could be playing folk, bluegrass, jazz and then switch on a dime to rock…and make it fit. To me, it was like a huge bus rolling down the road about to go off the cliff at any moment and then suddenly being jerked back on the road before the crash….sometimes it wasn’t but for the most part, it was pulled back just in time.

When Jerry died in 1995 I was sad. I didn’t know a whole a lot about him or the band…though I had their greatest hits in the early 80s…I knew enough to know someone and something special had gone too soon…I also regretted not being on that bus for a small ride anyway.

Songs I like:

Ripple, A Friend of the Devil, Mr. Charlie, Truckin, Uncle Johns Band (which I could listen on a tape loop for eons and eons), U.S. Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Casey Jones, Attics of My Life, Brokedown Palace, Box of Rain, Sugar Magnolia, Touch of Grey, Hell in a Bucket and a Garcia solo Sugaree…

There are many more I’m not remembering…