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Origin of and info about "Midnight Special"

Sweet Jane 61

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Traditional; arranged by John Fogerty

performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Appears on The Concert album, recorded in performance by Russ Gary at the Oakland Coliseum; January 31, 1970.

Written by "Leadbelly" in the 1930's.

In the version by Lead Belly, the Midnight Special is a train “The Golden Gate Ltd, between Houston and San Francisco that on his way passes in front of the Texas State Prison in Sugarland, where Lead Belly was in prison..

More information on "Leadbelly".

In the version of Big Joe Turner it’s also a train, that, on a saturday, used to bring whores to well behave prisoners.

It was one of the most popular prisonsong in the south of the States, especially after a prisonrebellion in 1923 in Houston. The song in fact has to be much older, the copyright from Howard Odum dates from 1911.

Another prisonsong ‘If you ever go to Jacksonâ€, uses the same melody.

The Midnight Special was train that would transport a prisoner's woman who would try and procure the inmate's freedom from governor. Also, I believe the prison thought that if the light shined on them while coming down the line, it had some bearing on whether they would be released.

The song was written during prohibition by a man serving time in a local jail in Newport News, Virginia. The "midnight special" was a police car, outfitted with a spot light. The "man" would drive up and down the allyways looking for illegal nip joints and such. He would use his search "light" to find illegal drinking and nip joints. The song was originally written as (Don't) let the midnight special, shine its light on me! This is because if it did, you would be caught, busted and sent up to face "the man". So one did not want the "midnight special" to shine it's light on me. The man who originally wrote the lyrics to this song sold them while still incarcerated. To do more research, search the archives of The Daily Press newspaper in Newport News Va. The did a article on this about 15 years ago.

Quoted from creedence-online.net forums and google sources.

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