The Story behind the Song – Just to Hear the Whistle Blow

stafford_whistleJust to Hear the Whistle Blow was written by Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley in late 2012 or early 2013.

They wrote their first tune together in 2003 and have written around 75 songs, not all of which have seen the light of day.

Train songs have been a big part of American vernacular music for the better part of a century. These are just a few samples: Engine 143, The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore, The Engineer Waved from the Train, In the Pines, Big Black Train, Wreck of The Old 97, Old Train, Last Train from Poor Valley, Train 45 and Fireball Mail.

Some were ballads, in the old meaning of the word, relating events, usually tragic accidents. Others are nostalgic and then there are those, like Just to Hear the Whistle Blow, that look in a different way at the railroad industry and the romance associated with it.

Tim Stafford had the initial idea for Just to Hear the Whistle Blow ………………..

“Steve Gulley and I wrote Just to Hear the Whistle Blow a few years ago at his house in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. We wanted to write a train song with a different twist. The title inspired a story of a man who always wanted to jump a freight train like his friends, but never did and later in life is re-thinking that decision.  I wanted the melody to be very train-like and wistful.

It can be any era I guess, but probably the Depression era kids were more likely to hop a train.”

Steve Gulley adds…..

Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford“As I recall, Tim and I got together at my home in east Tennessee for a writing session and started sharing ideas. As we began to mention lines, ideas and wade through our lists of mental and physical notes, Tim had the title line and brought it into the discussion, along with several others.

I remember saying how much I really liked it and thought it would be a great idea to write about. As we began creating the storyline and melody, we saw it lending itself to being a real story song in every sense.

Also, the melody was simple and uncluttered so as to allow the lyric to come to the forefront. We incorporated visual landmarks from our native area, and also thoughts and feelings from a bygone era that drew a clearer picture of what the song’s lead character was feeling and why. As I remember, it came together pretty quickly and I recall telling Tim that I thought it fit his voice perfectly.

I’m so glad he recorded it and allowed me to sing some harmony with him.”


Just to Hear the Whistle Blow
Tim Stafford / Steve Gulley

© Daniel House Music, 2014 © Gulley’s Curve Music, 2014

When I was just a school kid, we used to hear it going by
If you were gonna leave this holler, it was the only way to fly

So many hopped a freight train, addicted to the sound
But me I took the safe track and never left this town

No, I never jumped a boxcar, Never felt those big wheels roll
But I still come here every day Just to Hear the Whistle Blow

Well I heard the singing brakeman, and it made me want to go
And life here in Kentucky was moving way too slow
Sometimes the high way ain’t the right way, guess I’d do it all again

Still I can’t help but wonder bout the way things might have been
So each day I drive to Corbin, just to satisfy my mind
Park beside the station, out past the limit sign
I know they look at me and wonder why I even hang around
What makes an old man sit here and listen to the sound

Copyright reserved

The song Just to Hear the Whistle Blow is the title song of Tim Stafford’s recently released solo album, available from Tim Stafford.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.