Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

  • Music:

Catfish John

I really love listening to WBRF (98.1 FM, broadcasting out of Galax, VA) in the middle of the night. They play some really cool music then. For example, it was in the middle of night years ago that I first heard the song Five Pounds Of Possum, a song that tells the sad story of a jobless man too poor to be able to buy food for his family who gets excited when he sees a a possum crossing the road and hopes to be able to bring the possum home as supper for his family:
There's five pounds of possum in my headlights tonight.
If I can run him over, everything will be all right.
We'll have some possum gravy, oh what a wonderful sight.
There's five pounds of possum in my headlights tonight.
That song, however, is not what this journal entry is about. This journal entry is about the wonderful song Catfish John.

On my way home from the last night's install, at about 4:30 in the morning, they played Catfish John on the radio. You may be familiar with that song because Jerry Garcia sang it with The Grateful Dead, with Old And In The Way, and with The Jerry Garcia Band.1 As is the case with many songs Garcia sang, this isn't a Garcia original, but instead is a song born out of the bluegrass or traditional or folk or country movement, depending on how you want to categorize it. Catfish John was written by Bob McDill and Alan Reynolds. I'm pretty sure the version I heard last night was the 1973 Johnny Russell version, which was the first country hit for Bob McDill.2

Anyway, I really love Catfish John and think I'm going to try to teach myself a break for it on the mandolin. I already found a web page with the chords, although I probably could have figured them out myself, too.

Catfish John
Lyrics: Bob McDill, Alan Reynolds
Music: Bob McDill, Alan Reynolds

Mama said, "Don't go near that river"
"Don't be hanging round old Catfish John"
Come the morning I'd always be there
Walking in his footsteps in the sweet Delta dawn

Bring me back to another morning,
To a time so long ago,
Where the sweet magnolia blossomed,
Cotton fields as white as snow.

Catfish John was a river hobo
Lived and died by the river's bend
Looking back I still remember
I was proud to be his friend


Born a slave in the town of Vicksburg
Traded for a chestnut mare
Lord, he never spoke in anger
Though his load was hard to bear


Walking in his footsteps in the sweet Delta dawn
1 Grateful Dead Lyric And Song Finder: Catfish John
2 Nashville Songwriters Foundation: Hall of Fame: Bob McDill

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