Thursday, November 24, 1988

50 years ago: Roy Acuff charted with “Wabash Cannonball”

Wabash Cannonball

Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys

Writer(s): A.P. Carter (see lyrics here)


First Charted: November 24, 1938


Peak: 12 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 10.0 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 3.31 video, 1.97 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

This is “a genuine knight-of-the-road ballad with a touch of the Paul Bunyan flavor,” RA “perhaps the greatest of all train songs.” SS The song originated in the 1880s, In 1882, J.A. Roff wrote words and music for “The Great Rock Island Route!,” a song about a mythical train which traveled coast to coast. It became an anthem for hoboes. In Southern America in the late 19th century, the railroad offered a different form of work for those wishing to escape the farms and served up a touch of romanticism for those who wanted to live a less conventional life, riding the rails and going wherever the trains would take them.

William Kindt adapted Roff’s piece in 1905 under the title “Wabash Cannonball.” There were several Wabash Railroad passenger trains dating back to the 1880s while the term “cannonball” was used to reference a fast train. When the song entered the public domain in 1928, it was reworked and claimed by A.P. Carter whose group, the Carter Family, recorded the song the next year, but didn’t release it until 1932. In the meantime an unissued version was recorded by Clark & Edans in 1928 and Tennessee singer and guitarist recorded and released the song in 1929.

Roy Acuff, who was billed as “the King of Country Music,” SS recorded the song in 1936 with Dynamite Hatcher on vocals, but didn’t release it until 1938. NRR He didn’t record it with his vocal until 1947, although he performed it regularly on the Grand Ole Opry, SS where he first appeared in 1938 and was its top star by 1942. NRR His “voice was pure country and he was one of the first to carry the title ‘hillbilly’ proudly.” AC He embraced the plain and simple values of poor, rural Americans and gained an audience via his recordings, tours, and movie appearances. NRR In 1962, he was the first living artist elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. NRR


Resources:

  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Roy Acuff
  • AC Ace Collins (1996). The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs. New York, NY; The Berkley
  • NRR National Recording Registry Publishing Group.
  • RA Theodore Raph (1964). The Songs We Sang: A Treasury of American Popular Music. A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.: New York. Page 367.
  • SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 67-8.


First posted 11/24/2014; last updated 11/3/2021.

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