Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: The American Quartet

Casey Jones

First recorded by The American Quartet with Billy Murray (1910).
Hit version by Eddy Arnold (C&W #15 1956).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ is a traditional song about railroad engineer Casey Jones and his death at the controls of the train he was driving. The song helped preserve the memory of Jones’ feat down through the years in its 40+ versions and enhanced Casey’s legendary status to the extent that he has even become something of a mythological figure like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan to the uninformed. Soon after Casey’s death, the song was first sung by engine wiper and friend of Casey’s named Wallace Saunders to the tune of a popular song of the time known as ‘Jimmie Jones’.

“But Saunders never had his original version copyrighted, and thus there is no way of knowing precisely what words he sang. Illinois Central Engineer William Leighton appreciated the song’s potential enough to tell his brothers Frank Leighton and Bert Leighton, who were vaudeville performers, about it. They took it and sang it in theaters around the country with a chorus they added. But apparently even they neglected to get it copyrighted.

“Finally, with vaudeville performers T. Lawrence Seibert credited with the lyrics and Eddie Newton the music it was published and offered for sale in 1909 with the title ‘Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer’, and first recorded in 1910 by Billy Murray’s American Quartet.”

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