ON THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Latest update on 29/05/2017

Artist: Greening's Dance Orchestra
Author: Irving King
Label: Imperial
Year: 1926

English dance orchestra. Different melody altogether; only Lionel Rothery's sparse vocal line more than halfway through the performance taps from the same source as all the American Midnight Specials: "On the Midnight Special, Shine a light on me..." The English melody is credited to Irving King, which is probably an alias for Jimmy Campbell and Reginald Connelly, authors of Try A Little Tenderness and If I Had You (see there). The melody of the Midnight Special (Blues) and the shape of the chorus may have derived from an old spiritual, as witnessed by close cousin Let The Church Roll On (Norfolk Jubilee Quartet - '26). It was also present in Creole Belles, a ragtime song recorded by Vess Ossman in 1902, reissued on Piedmont lp Ragtime - A Recorded Documentary (1899-1929). Mississippi John Hurt still sang it during the blues revival; Jim Kweskin, Arlo Guthrie and Taj Mahal knew it through him.

Covers:

1926:

Dave Cutrell & McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band [as Pistol Pete's Midnight Special]

1926:

Mimosa Dance Orch. [instrumental for kids]

1927:

Sam Collins [oldest recording as Midnight Special; less than five copies survived]

1929:

Romeo Nelson [as 11.29 Blues (The Midnight Special)]

1929:

Otto Gray & his Cowboy Band [vocal: Owen Gray]

1934:

Lead Belly [as Midnight Special; Lomax recording in Angola, LA]

1934:

Jesse Bradley [Lomax recording]

1935:

State Street Boys [with Big Bill Broonzy]

1935:

Jazz Gillum

1948:

Tiny Grimes

1952:

Weavers

1953:

Ken Colyer's Jazzmen [with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber]

1954:

Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group [with debutant Alexis Korner on guitar]

1957:

Big Joe Turner [as Midnight Special Train]

1957:

Josh White

1960:

Paul Evans

1961:

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

1961:

Harry Belafonte [as Midnight Special Blues; title track album]

1963:

Odetta

1963:

Hoyt Axton

1965:

Johnny Rivers

1966:

Spencer Davis Group

1967:

Van Morrison [Bang recording]

1969:

Duffy Power

1970:

Creedence Clearwater Revival

1970:

CCC Inc.

1971:

Little Richard

1975:

ABBA [for charity and in '78 as B-side of Summernight City]

1978:

Ferre Grignard

1982:

Drukwerk [as Schijn Een Lichtje Op Mij]

1988:

Paul McCartney [on his Russian lp]

1992:

Buckwheat Zydeco

1998:

Van Morrison-Lonnie Donegan-Chris Barber

2016:

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry

In Lead Belly's version the Midnight Special is the train (the Golden Gate Ltd.) servicing the Houston-San Francisco line, coming past the Texas State Prison in Sugarland where he first served time and learned this song. According to local legend, the cell window that was lit by this night train's headlight, housed the next prisoner to be released. Hope is a beautiful thing, but not to be confused with fantasy: in Big Joe Turner's version the Midnight Special train even carried prostitutes to inmates who behaved. Anyway, the Midnight Special became one of the most popular prison songs in the whole South. Another prison song, If You Ever Go To Jackson, uses the same melody. Sodarisa Miller's Midnight Special (1925) was an answer song to The Sunshine Special.

Contact


If you noticed blunt omissions, mis-interpretations or even out-and-out errors, please let us know by contacting us:

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info@originals.be

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