Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Midnight Special

First recorded (as “Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special”) by Dave Cutrell (1926).
Also recorded (as “The Midnight Special Blues”) by Sam Collins (1927).
Hit versions by Lead Belly (1934), Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper (C&W #4 1959), Paul Evans (US #16/UK #41 1960), Johnny Rivers (US #20/CAN #36/AUS #86 1965).
Also recorded by Harry Belafonte (1962), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969).

From the wiki: “‘Midnight Special’ was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as ‘Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special’ by Dave ‘Pistol Pete’ Cutrell (a member of McGinty’s Oklahoma Cow Boy Band). (In March 1929, the band, now named ‘Otto Gray and the Oklahoma Cowboys’, recorded the song again, this time with the traditional title using only the traditional lyrics.)

“Sam Collins recorded the song commercially in 1927 under the title ‘The Midnight Special Blues’ for Gennett Records. Collins’ version also follows the traditional style but his recording was the first to name the woman in the story, Little Nora, and he was the first singer to refer to the Midnight Special’s ‘ever-living’ light. In 1934 Huddie William ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Ledbetter recorded at least three versions of the song, including one in 1940 with the Golden Gate Quartet, a gospel group.

“Folk/bluegrass musicians Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper had a Top 5 Country hit with the song in 1959 as ‘Big Midnight Special’. Paul Evans’ 1960 recording was the first to chart in the US Top 40, charting too on the UK Singles chart.

“Harry Belafonte’s 1961 recording is notable for containing the first official recording work done by Bob Dylan, who played harmonica for the session.

“Johnny Rivers recorded two versions of ‘Midnight Special’: the first, recorded live in 1964, reached the US Top 20 in early 1965; a studio re-recording by Rivers was used as the theme song for the 1972-1981 NBC music-variety series of the same name, The Midnight Special.”

Sam Collins, “The Midnight Special Blues” (1927):

Lead Belly, “Midnight Special” (1934):

Lead Belly & the Golden State Quartet, “Midnight Special” (1940):

Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, “Big Midnight Special” (1959):

Paul Evans, “The Midnight Special” (1960):

Harry Belafonte (with Bob Dylan), “Midnight Special” (1961):

Johnny Rivers, “Midnight Special” original live recording (1964):

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Midnight Special” (1969):

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