This is one of Leadbelly’s greatest songs. Its origins are not clear. Leadbelly said he learned it as a child from his uncle who learned it from who knows who back in the 1800’s. Leadbelly first recorded it in 1933. The Weavers, had a #1 Billboard hit with this song in 1950. Interestingly the Weavers were a big nation-wide hit until they were discovered to be socialists, Lord forbid, and got blacklisted. Everybody, and I mean everybody, has recorded the song since then.

I vaguely recall my grandmother singing this one to me. I quoted it in my little illustrated book called The Phantom Speaks (it’s the sequel to my One Life novel and it should be available for purchase on this blog pretty soon). I have one of the characters mention the bit about the grandmother singing the song and then I throw in the lyrics for good measure.
It’s a great song to play and I hope you sing along. Bumba and Maybank were playing it last night and I recorded it. We didn’t get it perfect, but you get the idea. Click to play (and sing)

Here’s the excerpt from the book, where it is presented by the character Willie Miles as a transcript of a recorded conversation:

Howard: I guess you’re both right. But you know … Chester. I know Chester too. Chester saved my life… like fifteen years ago… back there when I was lost in Utah…. (Inaudible) ….But now for these notes to just appear… I tell you guys: whoever left these notes and observations for me to pick up on the beach was like… like….

Gene: Like a Phantom, eh Howard?

Willie: OK, enough. Let’s try that one in D again. That Leadbelly song. Remember how it starts, Howard?

Howard: Yeah sure. You know, my grandmother used to sing this one to me.

Irene Goodnight (by Hudie Ledbetter)

Irene Goodnight

Irene Goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dreams

Sometime I live in the country

Sometimes I live in town

Sometimes I take a notion

To jump in the river and drown


I asked your mother for your sweet hand

She told me that you were too young

I wish to Lord I’d never seen your face

Or that I never been born


Stop ramblin’. Stop gamblin’

Stop stayin’ out late at night

Go home to your wife and family

Sit down by the fireside bright

Irene Goodnight

Irene Goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dreams