Prison Songs: Work Song from Texas Prison

October 25, 2010



Prison Song: Old Alabama, 1947 (rare)

October 25, 2010



The Story of the Prison Song: Midnight Special

October 25, 2010

Midnight Special: A Prison Anthem

One of the greatest prison songs ever written is “Midnight Special” popularized by Lead Belly. The song lyrics go back to the early 20th Century. Lead Belly probably heard the song when his was an inmate in the Sugar Land prison. His version is based on his experience of getting arrested in Houston, his stay at the Sugar Land Prison (now the Beauford H. Jester pre-release Center) in 1925, and the legend of the Midnight Special.

The Midnight Special, in Lead Belly’s version, was a train that ran from Houston to San Antonio, approximating the route of Alternate 90.The train passed through the middle of the town of Sugar Land, and west of town, through the heart of what used to be known as the Imperial State Prison Farm (Sugar Land Prison), each day at midnight. Its headlight flashed through the bars and into the prison.

The superstition was that if the light shined on you, that meant your woman was on the train with the papers from the Governor to get you out of prison. Thus, the men hoped the light of the Midnight Special would shine it light on them.

It is difficult to trace each line of the song as it is fragments of many versions. Sheriff Rocko is likely a racist Sheriff in Harris County, Texas. Lead Belly was in jail there and escaped. Eddie Boone may have been a deputy or a good ‘o boy racist.

Read more about it at Wikipedia under Midnight Special (Song) and Lead Belly 

 

Lyrics:
(Lead Belly Version)

Yonder come Miss Rosie, how in the world do you know
Well I know by the apron and the dress she wore
Well an umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand
Well I’m gonna ask the governor, he turn a-lose a-my man

CHORUS:
Let the midnight special, shine the light on me
Let the midnight special, shine the ever-lovin’ light on me

When you get up in the mornin’, when that big bell ring
You go and march to the table, see the same damn thing
Knife and fork are on the table, there’s nothin’ in my pan
And if you say anything about it, havin’ trouble with the man

CHORUS

Well I went to the nation and to the territo(ry)
Well I thought about the girl I love, in that Mexico

CHORUS

If you ever go to Houston, oh you better walk right
And you better not squallow and you better not fight
Sheriff Rocko will arrest you, Eddie Boone will take you down
You can bet your bottom dollar, penitentiary bound

CHORUS

Well jumpin’ little Judy, she was a mighty fine girl
Well Judy brought jumpin’ to this whole round world
Well she brought it in the mornin’, just a while before day
She brought me the news, that my wife was dead
That started me to grievin’, then hollerin’ and a-cryin’
Then I had to give the worry about a been a long time

CHORUS