Maurice Baker

Author and Songwriter

Tom Fleming

Tom Fleming, in 1997, wrote: ‘Blues music belongs to the railroad; the swaying of the train and the clickerty-clack of the rails. Jazz composer, W.C. Handy (1873 – 1958), claims to have discovered the blues while waiting at a railway station in Tutwiler, Mississippi. He noted that while waiting, “A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. The effect was unforgettable.” The blues and trains had an auspicious union right from the beginning of the century… a link never really broken.’ Fleming goes on: ‘The period between 1890-1939 saw the mass migration of Afro-Americans from the south to the industrial north – the most notable being a newly found freedom from slavery and available employment in such as Detroit and Chicago.’ He adds, ‘During slavery the attraction to the railroad was both real and symbolic.’ Many slaves were owned by rail companies and ‘…work songs were sung to the rhythm of the swinging hammer as spikes were driven into the rails.’ Also, ‘Trains passing by plantation fields represented freedom.’ After abolition, ‘It was common for musicians to jump on and off freight trains to visit neighbouring towns and farms.’ Some also, ‘joined the army of wanderers drifting across the country.’ Many stories were told about those who both drove and travelled by train and, ‘The variety in which the theme of the railroad or train is placed within each blues song is as numerous as the songs themselves.'