"Trouble ahead, trouble behind, and you know that notion just crossed my mind"

The Annotated "Casey Jones"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
"Casey Jones"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

This old engine
makes it on time
Leaves Central Station
at a quarter to nine
Hits River Junction
at seventeen to
at a quarter to ten
you know it's trav'lin again

Drivin' that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you better
watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
and you know that notion
just crossed my mind

Trouble ahead
The Lady in Red
Take my advice
you be better off dead
Switchman sleepin
Train hundred and two
is on the wrong track and
headed for you

Drivin' that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you better
watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
and you know that notion
just crossed my mind

Trouble with you is
The trouble with me
Got two good eyes
but we still don't see
Come round the bend
You know it's the end
The fireman screams and
The engine just gleams

Drivin' that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you better
watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
and you know that notion
just crossed my mind

"Casey Jones"

Hunter has posted a facsimile of his first draft.

Musical details:

Recorded on

Covered by

Note: The Mississippi John Hurt version (recorded by him on his Folk Songs and Blues: Gryphon, 1963), is included on the Garcia/Grisman CD Shady Grove.

A snippet of the book-length interview, Garcia:

"Reich: Does "Casey Jones" grate on you when you hear it sometimes?

Garcia: Sometimes, but that's what it's supposed to do. (laughs)

Reich: It's such a sing-songy thing...

Garcia: Right. And it's got a split-second little delay, which sounds very mechanical, like a typewriter almost, on the vocal, which is like a little bit jangly, and the whole thing is, well...I always thought it's a pretty good musical picture of what cocaine is like. A little bit evil. And hard-edged. And also that sing-songy thing, because that's what it is, a sing-songy thing, a little melody that gets in your head."--p. 96.

A reader contributes this interpretation:

Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 12:04:17 -1000 (HST)
From: Mike Maddux
Subject: Re: Casey Jones

RE Casey Jones

Yeah, Neal was a great speed freak (better watch your speed) and lady in red is a barbituate (you'd be better off dead). And all notions "just crossed my mind"; Neal was famous for saying "It just occurred to me...". As the driver of The Bus, "Driving that train, high on cocaine..". Casey is Cassady. Anyway, that is the conventional wisdom on that song. I could be wrong...

MLS University of Hawaii 1985

Casey Jones

See Yahoo's Casey Jones category for links to Casey Jones sites.

"The Ballad of Casey Jones" was briefly part of the band's repertoire, appearing twice in shows in 1970.

The facts behind the story of John Luther "Casey" Jones have been well known since at least the early 1920's. The incident to which the original song refers took place on April 30, 1900. His nickname was from the town of Cayce, Kentucky, near his birthplace. He was an engineer on the Illinois Central line, with a trademark way of blowing the train's whistle, giving rise to the phrase "Casey Moan."

"`You see,' said Mrs. Jones [his widow, in a 1928 interview published in the Erie Railoroad Magazine,, vol. 24 (April, 1928), No. 2, pp. 13,14] "he established a sort of trade mark for himself by his inimitable method of blowing a whistle. It was a kind of long-drawn-out note that he created, beginning softly, then rising, then dying away almost to a whisper. People living along the Illinois Central right of way between Jackson and Water Valley would turn over in their beds late at night and say: 'There goes Casey Jones,' as he roared by.'" (Botkin, p. 241)

And A.J. "Fatty" Thomas, often a conductor on trains driven by Jones, said

"The `whistle's moan' in the song is right. Casey could just about play a tune on the whistle. He could make the col chills run up your back with it, and grin all the time. Everybody along the line knew Casey Jones' whistle." (ibid., p. 243)

Botkin, quoting the Erie Railroad Magazine, continues:

"The common story of the wreck in which Jones was killed is that Casey had to meet two freight trains which were too long to clear the siding. For some reason, never clearly explained, Casey failed to stop and he piled them up when he stuck the caboose and cars protruding out on the main line." (ibid., p. 244)

Casey, according to the accounts, was very unlikely to have been high on anything, however, being a teetotaler "in the days when abstinence was rare," (loc. cit.)

The original song memorializing Casey Jones was written a few days after the accident by , Jones' friend Wallace Saunders, an African American engine wiper.

According to Fuld:

"John Luther 'Casey' Jones was an engineer on Illinois Central Railroad's best railroad train, the 'Cannon Ball Express,' from Chicago to New Orleans. ... Jones's friend Wallace Saunders...is said to have adapted or written a ballad regarding the heroic tale, which was sung by Negro railroad men and then allegedly adapted by two white vaudevillians, Eddie Newton and T. Lawrence Seibert..."

John Lomax picks up the story in Folk Song U.S.A.:

"The Casey Jones ballad familiar to most Americans, sprang from Wallace Saunders' song by way, curiously, of the vaudeville stage. Tallifero Lawrence Sibert (born June 4, 1877, in Bloomington, Indiana; died February 20, 1917, in Los Angeles) toured the vaudeville circuit in a five-character act. According to Elliot Shapiro (one of the pundits of popular song), Sibert 'undoubtedly heard "Been on the Cholly So Long." He wrote a sketch about the brave engineer and incorporated it into his act.' Out on the pier in Venice, California, he bumped into a ragtime piano player, Eddie Walter Newton (born September 25, 1869, in Trenton, Missouri; died September 1, 1915, and his ashes were scattered under the pier cafe in Venice). Together they turned out a ragtime ballad about Casey, set him up as the main 'hogger' on a Western railroad line, and published the song themselves in the Southern California Music Company. By 1909 the song had swept the country as a popular hit, retaining so many folk-song touches that folk-singers have since then created scores of variants and parodies based on the Newton- Sibert ballad." (--p. 318)
Their version of the song has these words: (also available from Digital Tradition):
Come all you rounders if you want to hear
The story of a brave engineer
Casey Jones was the rounder's name
On the "six-eight" wheeler, boys, he won his fame
The caller called Casey at half past four
He kissed his wife at the station door
He mounted to the cabin with the orders in his hand
And he took his farewell trip to that promis'd land

Casey Jones--mounted to his cabin
Casey Jones--with his orders in his hand
Casey Jones--mounted to his cabin
And he took his... land (last line of each verse)

He looked at his water and his water was low
He looked at his watch and his watch was slow
He turned to his frieman and this is what he said
"Boy, we're going to reach Frisco, but we'll all be dead"
He turned to the fireman, said "Shovel on your coal
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
I'm gonna drive her til she leaves the rail
For I'm eight hours late by that Western Mail"

Chorus: Casey Jones--I'm gonna drive her
Casey Jones--til she leaves the rail
Casey Jones--I'm gonna drive her
For I'm eight...

When he pulled up that Reno hill
He whistled for the crossing with an awful shrill
The switchman knew by the engine's moan
That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones
When he was within six miles of the place
There No. 4 stared him straight in the face
He turned to his fireman, sai "Jim, you'd better jump
For there're two locomotives that are going to bump.

Chorus: Casey Jones--two locomotives
Casey Jones--going to bump

Casey said just before he died
"There're two more roads I would like to ride"
The fireman said "Which ones can they be?"
"O the Northern Pacific and the Santa Fe"
Mrs. Jones sat at her bed a sighing
Just to hear the news that her Casey was dying
"Hush up children, and quite your cryin'
For you've got another poppa on the Salt Lake Line"


Here's another version, from Botkin:

Come all you rounders for I want you to hear
The story told of a brave engineer;
Casey Jones was the rounder's name
On a heavy six-eight wheeler he rode to fame.

Caller called Jones about half-past four,
Jones kissed his wife at the station door,
Climbed into the cab with the orders in his hand,
Says "This is my trip to the promised land."

Through South Memphis yards on the fly,
He heard the fireman say, "You've got a white-eye,"
All the switchmen knew by the engine's moans,
That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones

It had been raining for more than a week,
The railoraod track was like the bed of a creek.
They rated him down to a thrity mile gait,
Threw the south-bound mail about eight hours late.

Fireman says, "Casey, you're runnin' too fast,
You run the block signal the last station you passed."
Jones says, "Yes, I think we can make it though,
For she steam much better than ever I know."

Jones says, "Fireman, don't you fret,
Keep knockin' at the firedoor, don't give up yet;
I'm goin' to run her till she leaves the rail
Or make it on time with the south-bound mail."

Around the curve and a-down the dump
Two locomotives were about to bump.
Fireman hollered, "Jones, it's just ahead,
We might jump and make it but we'll all be dead."

'Twas around this curve he saw a passenger train;
Something happened in Casey's brain;
Fireman jumped off, but Casey stayed on,
He's a good engineer but he's dead and gone--

Poor Casey was always all right,
He stuck to his post both day and night;
They loved to hear the whistle of old Number Three
As he came into Memphis on the old K.C.

Headaches and heartaches and all kinds of pain
Are not apart from a railroad train;
Tales that are earnest, noble and gran'
Belong to the life of a railroad man."

This note from a reader:

Subject: Casey Jones
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 1996 14:18:30 -0500
From: "Krulish, John"


In reference to Casey Jones' whistle, the song "Freight Train Boogie" contains this line: He woke everybody up along the line, oh Lord how the man made the whistle whine." This line is from Doc Watson's version. He sings it in the third verse.


Thanks, John!

Lady in Red

"The Lady in Red" has several connotations. Anna Sage, who betrayed John Dillinger to the FBI, was wearing red on the night Dillinger was shot--actually, she was wearing an orange skirt, which appeared red in the lights of the movie theater marquee. She was referred to in contemporary reports as "The Lady in Red."

See note from Mike Maddux, above, which points out the possibility that "Lady in Red" could be a reference to barbituates.

There is also a song by this title, written in 1935 by Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel.

keywords: @trains, @drugs
DeadBase code: [KCJ]
First posted: August 25, 1995
Last updated: May 2, 1998