Slow Train to Georgia
Author: Norman Blake
Date/Studio: 1984 Altman, San Francisco, CA
Engineer: Sandy Stone
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: When the Moon Fell on California (KM318)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
One summer day in 1978 I was sitting on the front porch at the Commodore's gazing out at the harbor and picking paint chips. That was a favorite past-time for many of us living in the Cupola House at Point Hudson. The sunniest place in the marina it gathered all sorts of people for conversation and jes' sittin'. Carol Hasse strolled up with her guitar and plunked herself down. “I got a new song.”
She strummed her way though a pretty tune she called, Slow Train to Georgia. It had good words. She sang about “taking down her ol' guitar and playing it everyday.” I liked it. She did it in a three-chord regular progression with a straight-ahead, folky, singing style. It was easy to learn. I really liked the bridge about having hard luck and trouble and being a fair-weather bum.
We were all fair-weather bums. Most of the people who came to sit on that porch were sailors either on their way to, or just back from, some place like Tahiti, Baja, Ixtapa and other sunny ports. Hasse was also a sailor and a sailmaker. As her business grew she would end up traveling the world, but not yet.
I taught the song to Albert a few weeks later. He wanted it to have a more train-like rhythm. He had a tune similar to the one I was showing him that he had written back in '75 on his way to KG2 in George Dodge. It used a “full-barre” hammer-on from the open D that progressed to bar-E, bar-F# and then came to rest on the bar-G. That gave a funky backbeat to the regular G-D-A of the rest of the song he had originally written about our friend, Capt'n Barefoot John Griffin of Raccoon Mountain, Alabama.
John was a pioneer in information theory and the development of computers. By '74 when we met him, he'd been retired for ten years, long before the rest of us knew computers even existed. Al's lyrics began with, “I was hanging out in Portland and I met the caffeine king-- drank 14 cups and two ice teas daily. He lives with a computer and says it talks to God. Oh, Lord, I think I must be going crazy!”
Slow Train's words were more folky-friendly and the tune readily adapted to our new train-chuffing sound, so the Hangin' Out in Portland song never got developed further. The funky “chops” went into the new song. We continued to work on the tune and it found its way into our repertoire as practically a signature song for us-- especially since we replaced “guitar” with “taking down that ol' dulcimer”.
Five years later Al and I were co-billing with Norman Blake at McCabe's in LA. Norman was a key element in getting younger “countrified” players recognized by the older generation of performers. His participation in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band double album Will the Circle Be Unbroken on which he played, along with established Country Music greats, helped to create a landmark in American music.
We were all three of us in the backstage “green room” tuning up. We had been zig-zagging each others' performances down the West Coast and this was our third show together. By now I figured I knew him well enough to chit-chat a little. “Hey Norman,” I asked, “We've been playing this song for the last five years and don't know where it came from. We thought you might know.”
We launched into a few verses. Norman is a very polite, soft-spoken, Southern boy of few words. He got this funny look on his face and said, “I wrote that song.” We said thank you and hope he didn't mind that we'd been playing it. That night he added it to his set. We finally got to hear the original.
With the new intellectual property rights issues I can't include the words to Slow Train (to Georgia) on these web pages. You'll have to look them up. Quintin Stephens did tab out the music since the tune variation is ours. It's like a thousand songs in G and D and A but the signature “train-lick” is ours.