This is our last song for this year’s series. Since last week’s tune espoused hatred for a train, we thought we’d end with one that again romanticizes train travel, the wandering lifestyle, and the train itself, with lyrics about gleaming headlights and firebox flashes—plus one of the coolest opening lines: “A long steel rail, a short crosstie.”
The Pressley Girls had listened to this song exactly twice before attempting to sing it, and they had the lyrics pulled up on their phones to look at as needed.
Quite a few years ago, when Dish Network first started featuring “radio stations” among their channels, I heard Tennessee Ernie and the Dinning Sisters sing this song on the classic country station. I liked it immediately but never dreamed how difficult it would be to sing it until we tried.
The girls were expecting to sing it in the same key as the original and would have had no problem doing it there. I had never checked the key of the original recording and mistakenly assumed it was in E major, where I could sing it somewhat comfortably. Turns out, Ernie and the Dinnings did it in C major, 4 frets lower than E! I knew I could never hope to sing it there.
Ernie Ford possessed one of the most powerful voices God ever placed inside a human body, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he sang it easily in C. I perhaps could have struggled through leading the solo verses in C or D flat, but the impassable obstacle was the fact that he sang bass when they all three sang together, notes I could not descend to or even reach in C. So, the girls agreed to move the song to D, two frets higher than they were comfortable with in order to make it possible for me to do the bass part.
You may notice that we have hard candy in our mouths, an old trick to protect one’s voice in situations like this (or at least make your throat feel better). Chatter and I should have traded chairs, putting the lowest and quietest vocal (mine) closest to the camera and the highest (her tenor) the farthest away from the camera, but hindsight is 20-20. I also wish the girls had practiced the wah-wah train whistle sound the Dinnings did, but no one thought of it until our one-take of the song was finished.
When Chatter says that’s the best she thinks she could do it, she’s referring to the song as a whole, not to our comedic stab at the train sound.
To hear this song done to perfection, all you have to do is search YouTube for the title along with “Tennessee Ernie.”
Thanks for watching our series. We hope you enjoyed it, and we’ll try it again next year. There are still plenty of great train songs left to do.
This song’s lyrics are below:
A long steel rail, a short crosstie… I’m on my way back home, The train I ride is the queen of them all, that Streamline Cannonball.
I can see the smile of the engineer, Although he’s old and gray, Contented heart, he waits for the call Of the Streamline Cannonball.
She moves along like a cannonball, Like a star in its heavenly flight. It’s the lonesome sound of the whistle you love As she travels through the night.
Her headlights gleam out in the night, The firebox flash you see, Will the blonde I like or the life that I love be home, sweet home to me?
She moves along like a cannonball, Like a star in its heavenly flight, It’s the lonesome sound of the whistle you love As she travels through the night.
I hope you enjoyed this last train song. Paul didn’t edit the video, so you get a peak behind the scenes for sure. Things like sweet potatoes so big I had to cut them in two pieces before baking sitting on my stove and me telling Chitter she needed to get the candy out of her mouth as only a momma can do 🙂