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REUBAN('S TRAIN). AKA - "Old Reuban," "Ruben (2)." Old-Time, Song and Breakdown. USA, North Carolina. D Major/Mixolydian. One part. "Reuban" or "Reuban's Train" is a widespread American banjo song/tune recorded often in the 78 RPM era, although versions can vary greatly. Frank Proffitt pronounced it as "one of the oldest simple banjo was the first tune generally learned...There are about fifty different verses to this, as everybody added them all along" [Warner]. It was the first tune that Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler and banjo player Tommy Jarrell learned, from a hired-hand named Cockerham on his father's farm. In 1982 he told interviewer Peter Anick that Cockerham played the tune, handed Jarrell the banjo and invited him to play it. Jarrell at first demurred saying he couldn't play the instrument, upon which the hand replied, "Well, it ain't but one string to note and I'll show you that." Jarrell, familiar with the song from the singing of other family members, worked it out in a few minutes. Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, fiddler Gilliam Banmon Grayson's 1927 tune "Train Forty-Five" (Victor 21189, 1928) derived from “Reuban’s Train.” Grayson (1887-1930) was originally from Ashe County, North Carolina. Similarly, Piedmont musician John Vestal started playing banjo at the age of seven or eight (before taking up the fiddle), and remembered the "first tune I ever played was 'Old Reuban.' My mother learnt me to play that" (around 1920) [Carlin, String Bands in the North Carolina Piedmont, 2004, p. 24).

The old-time song/tune "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy" is also a related melody, as is "Vestapol," "900 Miles" and bluegrass musicians Flatt & Scrugg's "One Hundred Miles" or "Hundred Miles (A)."
Frank Proffitt sings and plays for Anne Warner in 1941. Pick Britches Valley, North Carolina. (Photo by Frank Warner

Old Reuban's comin' down the track,
He has got the throttle back,
The rails are a-carryin' me from home. ....(Frank Proffitt)

Additional notes

Source for notated version: - North Carolina banjoist Frank Proffitt [Warner].

Printed sources : - Warner (Traditional American Folk Songs), 1984; pp. 309-310.

Recorded sources: - Folk Legacy FSA-001, "Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina" (1962). Folkways FA 2355, Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton - "Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, Part 1" (1961). Folkways FA 2363, "Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward" (1962). Folkways FS 3811, Vester Jones - "Traditional Music from Grayson and Carroll Counties" (1962). Global Village C-302, Chicken Chokers - "New York City's 1st Annual String Band Contest - November 1984." Marimac 9038, Dan Gellert & Brad Leftwich - "A Moment in Time" (as "Ruben"). Rounder 0129, Gaither Carlton – “The Watson Family Tradition” (1977). Rounder 02327, Osey and Ernest Helton (1941) - "The Library of Congress Banjo Collection."

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
See discussion of "Reuban's Train" on Mudcat [2]

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