Midnight Special – Lead Belly version

LB
Lead Belly – by Dennis McNett

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – Lead Belly

Yonder comes Miss Rosie. How in the world do you know?
Well, I know her by the apron and the dress she wore.
Umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand,
Well, I’m callin’ that Captain, “Turn a-loose my man.”

Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me.
Oh let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin’ light on me.

When you get up in the morning, when that big bell ring.
You go marching to the table, you meet the same old thing.
Knife and fork are on the table, ain’t nothing in my pan.
And if you say a thing about it, you have a trouble with the man.

Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me.
Oh let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin’ light on me.

If you ever go to Houston, boy, you better walk right,
And you better not squabble and you better not fight.
Benson Crocker will arrest you, Jimmy Boone will take you down.
You can bet your bottom dollar that you’re Sugarland bound.

Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me.
Oh let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin’ light on me.

Well, jumping Little Judy, she was a mighty fine girl.
She brought jumping to this whole round world.
Well, she brought it in the morning just a while before day.
Well, she brought me the news that my wife was dead.
That started me to grieving, whooping, hollering, and crying.
And I began to worry about my very long time.

Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me.
Oh let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin’ light on me.

Lead Belly’s 1940 version of ‘Midnight Special’ is slightly different from the one released by the Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1964, both in the rhythm and in the lyrics.

Here the verses appear in different order, starting from Rosie the woman who is bringing paperwork related to her husband/lover’s pardon. Rosie is a common figure in prison songs and she generally brings good luck (in this case, she is arriving with a pardon)
The second verse deals with life in prison and the third contains warning on how to behave in Houston.
And then there is Judie, the girl who informs the narrator of his wife’s death. The alliterative name Jumpin’ Judy, comes from old blues song, where the term ‘jump’ is usually a reference to sex.
Like Rosie, also Judy was a recurring character in chain gang songs, and she was one of the heroines of the Southern convict farms, where “wives” were allowed in at weekends.
She makes her appearance in Dylan’s unfinished song ” I Wanna Be Your Lover “, too, but here the term may also be the ironic nickname for the whip used by the guards.
Anyway, if she had come to lend some physical comfort to the convicts, now she has to tell the narrator that his wife , miss Rosie, who in the beginning was trying to ask the governor to free him has died. As a result, he is left with no hope of getting out of prison soon.

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