14: Desperados Waiting for a Train

14: Desperados Waiting for a Train

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Desperados Waiting for a Train

Story by Guy Clark

Song written by Guy Clark

Recorded by Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash)

I was born in a small West Texas town called Monahans, where my grandmother ran a hotel. There was a fellow who stayed at her hotel who was almost like a grandfather to me, except that he was my grandmother’s boyfriend.

When he died, I wrote “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” He was a wildcatter and worked in the oil fields in West Texas. He drilled the first oil wells in South America and the Middle East, back in the 1920s.

All those things in the song happened. It’s as accurate as I can remember it, nearly word for word. I used to play songs for him. I would tag along with him when I was little. As I got older, I would go along with him to a little bar in town where old guys would play cards. Sometimes he’d give me money, and he taught me how to drive. I’d drive his car sometimes if he got too drunk. He was just a crusty old bachelor who lived life on his own terms.

“Desperados” was one of those songs that I knew I had to write. Jerry Jeff Walker was the first one to record it. I recorded it later around 1975, and then Willie and Waylon and Kris and Johnny put it on their Highwayman album. It’s been covered by a lot of people. Believe it or not, one of my favorite recordings was by Slim Pickens, the old cowboy-actor. He read it as a poem over the music track. That’s probably my favorite version of any song of mine that’s been recorded.

Desperados Waiting for a Train

I played the Red River Valley

He’d sit out in the kitchen and cry

Run his fingers through seventy years of livin’

And wonder, “Lord, has every well I’ve drilled gone dry?”

We were friends, me and this old man

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Desperados waitin’ for a train.

He’s a drifter, a driller of oil wells

He’s an old school man of the world

He’d let me drive his car when he was too drunk to

And he’d wink and give me money for the girls

And our lives were like some old Western movie

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

From the time that I could walk he’d take me with him

To a bar called the Green Frog Café

There were old men with beer guts and dominos

Lying ’bout their lives while they played.

I was just a kid, they called his “Sidekick”

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Desperados waitin’ for a train.

One day I looked up and he’s pushin’ eighty

And there’s brown tobacco stains all down his chin

To me he was a hero of this country

So why’s he all dressed up like them old men

Drinkin’ beer and playin’ Moon and Forty-two?

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Desperados waitin’ for a train.

The day before he died I went to see him

I was grown and he was almost gone.

So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen

And sang another verse to that old song

Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Like desperados waitin’ for a train.

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