“Wreck of the Old 97” is one of the all-time great train songs. In 2001, Wendy Star, who plays guitar and sings on the Great Smoky Mountain Railway, met Shirley Lewey Gibbs, the daughter of Fred Lewey, the original author of this great song! Wendy introduced me to Shirley through the Internet, and she shared her story with me. Shirley has a tape that was made from a cylinder recording, which is in the Library of Congress, of her dad singing the song in court when Victor Recording was sued by an imposter who was trying to collect royalties back in 1929. The words that I am singing on my MP3 recording are the first several verses of the original song, which has changed a bit over the years.
Click here to read more about Fred Lewey, the original author of “Wreck of the Old 97.”
Note that this arrangement is written in the key of G; however, it’s pretty hard for most people to sing in G (including me) so I recorded it in the key of C instead by using a capo on the 5th fret (and also capoed 5 frets up on the 5th string). During the verses I just played standard open chords with simple rolls as backup.