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Casey Jones Lyrics

Driving 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

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

(Repeat Chorus)

Trouble ahead, Lady in red
Take my advice you'd be better off dead
Switchman's sleeping, train hundred and two
Is on the wrong track and headed for you

(Repeat Chorus)

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

(Repeat Chorus)

Music by Jerry Garcia
Casey Jones lyrics by Robert Hunter
First performed 6-20-69 Fillmore East, New York, NY
Final performance 3-27-93 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY
Casey Jones lyrics copyright Ice Nine Publishing Company, Inc.

Grateful Dead Songs - Casey Jones

Casey Jones was introduced in June of '69 at the Fillmore East and quickly became one the band's most famous songs. Before Touch of Grey came along it was either Truckin' or Casey Jones that introduced most people to the Grateful Dead.

Grateful Dead at the San Francisco Zoo in 1966 by Herb Greene.

It stayed in heavy rotation until the band's hiatus in '74. The song was brought back on Fall tour in '77 but was only played a few times each year after that. It wasn't performed at all in '83 and only twice in '84 at which point it was retired for 8 years.

It returned in '92 but appeared only four more times - the final performance being 3-27-93 at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY. According to Deadbase it was played 311 times in all - nearly as often as Bertha.

At the San Francisco Zoo 1966
Photo by Herb Greene

The song was part of the band's early Seventies transition away from experimental, acid soaked, psychedelic rock. The songwriting team of Hunter and Garcia was experiencing a massive burst of creativity and heading towards a more laid back country style. Casey Jones lyrics reflect this return to the roots of traditional Americana - the type of music that Jerry had been into for most of his life before the Grateful Dead were formed.

Early versions of Casey Jones are very different than what we're used to, they lead in with a long instrumental jam and are very slow and mellow. There's no build up to the crescendo at the end (my favorite part) and they sound nothing like the powerhouse that it would soon become in live performance. It would be about 6 months before the song evolved into the form we're all familiar with from Workingman's Dead.

Grateful Dead Festival Express train.

Casey jones lyrics made it one of the first Grateful Dead songs to contain railroad references. It's part of a blues tradition of "train songs" that based the rhythm of the song on the sound of the engine chugging down the tracks.

(I learned that in my Blues 101 class in college. It's about time I found a use for my "higher education".) The rhythm can clearly be heard in the increasing tempo at the end of the song which sounds just like a locomotive picking up speed.

Trains were one of the band's favorite themes and the motif can be seen repeatedly in many of their tunes.

These include Beat it On Down The Line, Big Railroad Blues, Jack Straw, He's Gone, They Love Each Other, I Know You Rider, Might As Well and Tons of Steel - just to name a few.
Festival Express DVD cover art.
They even did a festival tour in Canada in 1970 entirely by train. It's documented in one of my favorite rock music films - Festival Express.

Who Was Casey Jones?

Casey Jones lyrics are largely based on fact. John Luther "Casey" Jones was an engineer on the Illinois Central line during the later part of the 19th century. He got his nickname from his hometown of Cayce, Kentucky.

He was famous for his unique way of blowing a train whistle which was dubbed the "Casey Moan". People could instantly identify who was driving when they heard him go by.

On April 30th 1900, he was killed in a massive train wreck when he had a close encounter with the caboose of another train. No one knows exactly what caused the accident but it's believed that a freight train he was supposed to meet was too slow getting off the track. For some reason he was in a hurry and was going too fast too stop in time.

Hunter made up the part about cocaine when he was writing Casey Jones lyrics - it's generally agreed that Jones was straight as an arrow and that controlled substances played no part in the catastrophe.

Poster for the musical comedy Casey Jones.

When it was first released, some radio stations refused to play the single because of the drug reference. They assumed the band was glorifying coke - but if you actually listen to Casey Jones lyrics you see the opposite is true.

If it wasn't for the controversy the tune might have been one of the band's first big hits. Instead it was another in a long line of near misses they had throughout their career.

The tragic story of Casey Jones has been part of the traditional American songbook for over a hundred years now. It's been recorded numerous times by many different artists in various forms.

The song first appeared at the time of the wreck, written by Wallace Saunders who was a railroad man that worked with Jones. An earlier version of the song - The Ballad of Casey Jones - was played twice in 1970 by the Grateful Dead in their acoustic sets and also appeared on the Garcia/Grisman album Shady Grove.

Appeared On

  • Dick's Picks Vol. 16, 2000 (11-8-69)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 4, 1996 (2-13+14-70)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 8, 1997 (5-2-70)
  • Three From The Vault, 2007 (2-19-71)
  • Ladies and Gentlemen... 2000 (4-25 thru 4-29-71)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 35, 2005 (8-7+24-71)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 30, 2003 (3-25+28-72)
  • Rockin' The Rhein, 2004 (4-24-72)
  • GD Download Series Vol. 10, 2006 : (7-21-72)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 23, 2001 (9-17-72)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 11, 1998 (9-27-72)
  • Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings, 2008 (11-9 thru 11-11-73)
  • GD Download Series Vol. 8, 2005 (12-10-73)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 31, 2004 (8-4 thru 8-6-74)
  • Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, 2004 (10-16 thru 10-20-74)
  • The Closing of Winterland, 2003 (12-31-78)
  • Road Trips Download, 2008 (11-5-79)
  • Dick's Picks Vol. 27, 2003 (12-16-92)

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