About The Song

Background

“Desperados Waiting for a Train” is a country song written by Guy Clark and originally released in 1975 on his album Old Leather Saddle. The song quickly became a favorite among country music fans and critics, known for its dark, atmospheric storytelling and its evocative lyrics. In 1985, the country supergroup The Highwaymen, consisting of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, recorded their own version of the song for their debut album. This version became even more popular than Clark’s original, reaching number 11 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

Musical Style

“Desperados Waiting for a Train” is a slow, moody ballad with a sparse acoustic guitar arrangement. The song’s dark atmosphere is enhanced by its use of minor chords and its haunting melody. The Highwaymen’s vocals are each distinct and expressive, perfectly capturing the song’s gritty, outlaw spirit.

Lyrics

The lyrics of “Desperados Waiting for a Train” tell the story of a group of outlaws who are holed up in a train station, waiting for an inevitable showdown with the law. The song is full of vivid imagery and poetic language, painting a picture of desperation, danger, and the inevitability of fate.

The song’s opening lines set the scene: “In the town of Desperation, where the trains all pull through/There’s a gathering of outlaws, a desperate crew.” The narrator goes on to describe the outlaws’ past crimes and their grim prospects for the future. They are trapped, both physically and metaphorically, with no way out but to face their fate.

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The chorus of the song is a chilling reminder of the outlaws’ predicament: “Like desperados waiting for a train/Like desperados waiting for a train.” The repetition of the phrase “desperados waiting for a train” creates a sense of foreboding and inevitability.

The song’s final verse takes a more introspective turn, with the narrator reflecting on the meaning of life and death. He sings, “We’re all just desperados waiting for our time/To ride that train to the other side.” This line suggests that the outlaws’ fate is not unique, but rather a reflection of the human condition.

Cultural Impact

“Desperados Waiting for a Train” has become a classic of country music, thanks to its popularity among fans and its enduring appeal. The song’s dark atmosphere and its gritty storytelling have made it a favorite among outlaw country fans, and its themes of desperation, fate, and the human condition have resonated with listeners of all ages.

The Highwaymen’s version of the song is particularly well-known and respected. The group’s four legendary voices and their impeccable musicianship brought a new dimension to Clark’s lyrics, creating a definitive recording that has stood the test of time.

The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris. It has also been featured in several films and television shows, including Dead Man Walking (1995) and Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014).

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Conclusion

“Desperados Waiting for a Train” is a timeless classic that has earned its place in the pantheon of country music. Its dark, atmospheric storytelling, its evocative lyrics, and its powerful performances have made it a favorite among fans for decades. The song’s themes of desperation, fate, and the human condition continue to resonate with listeners, making it a true classic that will endure for generations to come.

Additional Interesting Facts:

  • The song was inspired by a real-life train robbery that took place in 1903.
  • The song’s title was originally going to be “Outlaws Waiting for a Train,” but Clark changed it to “Desperados Waiting for a Train” at the suggestion of his friend, Townes Van Zandt.
  • The Highwaymen’s version of the song was recorded live at Willie Nelson’s ranch in Spicewood, Texas.
  • “Desperados Waiting for a Train” has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Video

Lyrics

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤 
[Kristofferson]
I played the Red River Valley
And he’d sit out in the kitchen and cry
An’ run his fingers through 70 years of livin’
An’ wonder Lord, as ever, will that drill run dry?
We were friends, me an this old man

[All]
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

[Jennings]
He’s a drifter, and a driller of oil wells
And an old-school man of the world
He’d let me drive his car when he’s too drunk to
And he’d wink, and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie

[All]
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

[Nelson]
From the time that I could walk, he’d take me with him
To a bar, called the Green Frog Cafe
And there were old men, with beer-guts and dominoes
Lying about their lives while they play
And I was just a kid, they called his sidekick

[All]
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

[Cash]
One day I looked up, and he’s pushing 80
And there’s brown tobacco stains all down his chin
To me he’s one of the heroes of this country
So why is he all dressed up like them old men?
Drinkin’ beer and playing Moon in 42

[All]
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

[Nelson]
The day before he died, I went to see him
I was grown, and he was almost gone
[Cash]
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed of supper kitchens
And sang another verse to that old song
[Jennings spoken]
Come on Jack, that son-of-a-gun’s a-comin’.

[All]
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

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