Lonesome Whistle
By: Hank Williams

Original Performance: Hank Williams
Written by: Hank Williams

Live Versions:
  1. Lonesome Whistle (3:03)
    Available on Sounds Eclectic.
Lonesome Whistle [Live version (a)]:

[from Sounds Eclectic / KCRW version]

I was riding number 9, heading south from Caroline
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

I got in trouble, had to roam, left my gal and left my home
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

Just a kid acting smart, I went and broke my darlin's heart
I guess I was too young to know

They took me off the Georgia main, locked me to a ball and chain
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

All alone I bear the shame, I'm a number not a name
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

All I do is sit and cry when that evening train goes by
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

All be locked here in this cell till my body's just a shell
And my hair turns whiter than snow

I'll never see that gal of mine, Lord I'm in Georgia doin' time
I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'

I heard that lonesome whistle blowin'
The Song:

"Lonesome Whistle" is a Hank Williams classic, and one of Beck's favorite songs to sing. His covers of this song are frequent, and always beautiful. In late 2000, at a number of solo shows/appearances, Beck began to perform the song on stage regularly. He continues to turn to it on occasion. Before singing the song on August 28 2002, Beck admitted that when he was younger, he played a lot of Hank Williams songs, which were a huge inspiration. But "Lonesome Whistle," in particular, really stuck with him.

The version he did on KCRW in particular was mesmerizing. This was released legitimately on a KCRW compilation album, Sounds Eclectic.

At one point, it was also reported that Beck would be doing a studio recording of "Lonesome Whistle" for a tribute to Hank Williams cd. These plans changed when he decided spur-of-the-moment to instead do "Your Cheatin' Heart."

One reference to the song is in "Diamond Bollocks," where Beck uses the chorus: "hear that lonesome whistle blow / no direction to be known." This is a similar usage to the meaning of the original, a man in prison longing for the escape a train symbolizes. It doesn't matter the direction, just that it goes somewhere far away.

Played live 61 times:
Earliest known live version: October 1, 2000
Latest known live version: July 30, 2019

As said, there are many live versions of "Lonesome Whistle," perhaps Beck's most-performed cover song.

2000-2001 post-Vultures tours

The earliest live performance I know of is from the last show Beck did opening for Neil Young on October 1 2000. It was an interesting, mellow tour, a sort of winding down after the long madness of the Vultures tour. Beck did the song 8 times through that fall, at various appearances.

Then in the summer of 2001, Beck went back out for some Europe gigs/festivals, and did "Lonesome Whistle" a couple more times.

2002-2003 Sea Change tours

Beck did a solo tour around the US in August 2002, and he played very flexible setlists. There were 20 shows, and he basically took to doing one Hank Williams song each night; "Lonesome Whistle" was the main one, doing it 10 times.

Beck then went on tour with The Flaming Lips for the fall of 2002, and he did "Lonesome Whistle" ten more times. It was always in his short acoustic set that opened the shows though, and never actually with The Flaming Lips.

Next up was a solo tour of Europe, and 4 more "Lonesome Whistles."

2005-2007 Guero / Info tours

Beck continued to play short acoustic sets in the middle of his shows while touring behind Guero and The Information. We only have 3 "Lonesome Whistle"s in 2005, 6 in 2006, and 2 in 2007, but it does sort of show: this is a song right there in Beck's memory and he can always turn to it.

2008-2009 Guilt tours

Beck drifted away from "Lonesome Whistle" a bit in these years, only playing it twice.

2012-2013 pre-Morning Phase tours

The song stays rare, but did show up at a show in Australia and a mostly solo acoustic show in England.

2014 Morning Phase tour

Somewhat surprisingly, Beck did not really fit solo acoustic songs into his Morning Phase tour, so there were no real covers of "Lonesome Whistle" this year. At one show he sang a few lines of "Lonesome Whistle" as an intro to "E-Pro."

2015-2016 post-Morning Phase tours

At a show in Missouri in 2015, Beck co-headlined a concert with Willie Nelson. During his set, Willie came out for a duet, and while Beck talked/waited for Willie to be found, he started to sing "Lonesome Whistle." His band actually joined in, but it only lasted a minute. This led to a couple more half-covers in the following week as well.