Railroad Bill

As sung by Bob Dylan on the “Minnesota Party Tape” (May 1961), and during the recording sessions for Self Portrait (1970), released on Bootleg Series 10: Another Self Portrait (2013)
Tabbed by Eyolf Østrem

Minnesota Party Tape version

The accompainment here is fingerpicking, but not in its more common, steady-thumbed version. The alternating thumb is there, but played quite irregularly: lots of thumbstrokes are left out, and the accent pattern is reversed, so that the accented strokes are placed on usually unaccented beats, which gives the syncopated feel to the piece. The ground pattern is what is found in the second and third C-major chords in the first line. It's a very neat way of combining a melody in the upper voice, with a syncopated rhythm in the lower (including the index-finger stroke on the 3rd string in the bass line).

Anoter unusual feature is the mixture of fingerpicking and strumming, especially in the F chord parts. The tab here is just an approximation.

  .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
  E                                   F
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
  C                 G                 C
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
  E                                   F
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
  C                 G                 C
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .
Railroad Bill, he ain't so bad,
E                         F
killed his mommy, shot a [round] in his dad [/around with?]
C        G        C
Ride old Railroad Bill.
[2 instr. verses, 2nd with harp]
Railroad Bill took my wife.
If I'd said a word, he'd have taken my life
Ride old Railroad Bill.
[harp verse]
Railroad Bill he was comin' down the hill
Lightin' cigars with a ten-dollar bill
Ride old Railroad Bill
[guitar verse + harp verse]
Ten policemen, all dressed in black,
coming out of nowhere, walking down the tracks,
and they're looking for Railroad Bill
[guitar verse]
Railroad Bill, [comin' round the bend][/fence?]
Robbin' a passenger train for 16 cents
I'm gonna ride old Railroad Bill
[guitar verse]
Railroad Bill got in a gamblin' game
shot a man down, though he was to blame
when you lose your mind, let it [turn?] loose
[harp verse]
He's down in a jailhouse singin' railer's blues
Same old pants on your passenger shoes
When you lose your mind, let it loose
[wicked harp verse + guitar verse]
Railroad Bill he's a mighty bad man
Shot the lantern from a brakeman's hand
Just to see that man suffer pain.
[two lines of instrumental, then:]
ride, ride, ride, ride.

Additional verses from other versions

Early one morning, standing in the rain
'round the curb come a long freight train

Railroad Bill, a-comin' on soon
Killed McMillen by the light of the moon

Kill me a chicken, send me the wing,
They think I'm working, lord, I ain't doin' a thing

Kill me a chicken, send me the hip
Think I'm workin', Lord, I'm laying in [deep]

Got a great long pistol, 'bout as long as your arm,
I'm gonna shoot everybody ever done me harm

Got a .38 special on a .45 frame.
How can I miss when I got dead aim

Gonna drink my whisky, gonna drink it in the wind
the doctor said it'd cure me, but he didn't say when

Going up on the mountain, going out west.
Thirty eight special sticking out of my vest.

Honey honey, think I'm a fool.
Think I would quit you when the weather is cool.

Self Portrait version

Basically the same song as in 1961, only with a different set of lyrics and a simpler accompaniment.

Both the arrangement and – especially – the harp solo reveal that this song has indeed been on his radar since the beginning of his carreer.

Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill
E                        F
 He never worked, and he never will,
         C     G     C
and it's ride, ride, ride.
Railroad Bill he was a mighty mean man
He shot the midnight lantern out of the brakeman's hand
and it's ride, ride, ride.
Railroad Bill, you know he took a wife
Said, if I didn't like it, he would take my life, 
I'm gonna ride, ride, ride.
Goin' up the mountain, goin' out west
.38 special stickin' out of my vest,
I'm gonna ride, ride, ride.
Find me a pistol just as long as my arm,
and shoot anybody who does me any harm,
I'm gonna ride, ride, ride.
Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill
He never worked, and he never will,
Ride, ride, ride.
Honey, honey, honey, think that I'm a fool?
Think I would quit you when the weather is cool?
Ride, ride, ride.