The song “Midnight Special” has recently become one of my favorites. First recorded in 1926 by Dave Cutrell (as part of the Oklahoma Cowboys Band). It was a country and western version.
However, the song is an American folk song and originated out of the penal system. I imagine John Henry may have sang a version of it at some point while working on the railroads. It’s possible, after all, that John Henry worked on the railroads as part of a chain gang.
There are many different versions of the song. No doubt a result of it being passed down through folk traditions and changed slightly here and there until many different varieties emerged. Here’s one of my favorite versions of it, sung by Odetta Holmes:
The following is probably the most popular version of this song, sung by Credence Clearwater Revival (led by frontman John Fogerty). The obvious blues influence of CCR lends to its name and their distinct sound. I love the soul in John Fogerty’s voice.
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the “Lead Belly” Ledbetter version of this song recorded in 1934. Enjoy.