"Grey dog" = "Greyhound bus"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jun 5 18:40:55 UTC 2014

There's a 1956 Louvin Brothers version, "Cash on the Barrelhead", that I've have on my iTunes as performed by them, by Dolly Parton, by Gram Parsons, and by Rhonda Vincent, all basically the same, in which the Greyhound driver reminds the unfortunate cash-strappee that "this old grey dog gets paid to run" (see last two verses):

I got in a little trouble at the county seat
Lord, they put me in the jailhouse
For loafing on the street
Well, the judge said guilty
He made his point
He said forty-five dollars
Or thirty days in the joint

That'll be cash on the barrelhead, hon'
You can take your choice
You're twenty-one
No money down
No credit plan
No time to chase you
Cause I'm a busy man

I found a telephone number on a laundry slip
I had a good-hearted jailer
With a six gun hip
He let me call long distance
She said, "Number, please"
And just as soon as I told her
She shouted back at me

Said that'll be cash on the barrelhead, hon'
Not part, not half
But the entire sum
No money down
No credit line
Cause a little bird tells me
You're the travelin' kind

Thirty days in the jailhouse
Four days on the road
I was feelin' mighty hungry
My feet, a heavy load
I saw a Greyhound comin'
Stuck out my thumb
As soon as I was seated
The driver caught my arm

Said that'll be cash on the barrelhead, hon'
This old, grey dog gets paid to run
When the engine starts
And the wheels will roll
Give me cash on the barrelhead
I take ya down the road
Ohh, cash on the barrelhead
I take you down the road

[This is Dolly's version; for the Louvin Bros.', "hon'" > "son"]


On Jun 5, 2014, at 1:00 PM, George Thompson wrote:

> Not a very clever bit of slang, but not in HDAS nor Greene's Dictionary.
> (Background: I've pointed out here before a radio station emanating from
> Poughkeepsie that by policy plays chiefly American popular and folk music
> recorded before 1970 -- WHVW.  It's an exceeding low-watt station with very
> limited broadcast range, perhaps 25 or 30 miles from Poughkeepsie.  About
> half of the week  it carries music with no-one on mike, using a
> proto-Shuffle known to its intimates as Murray the Machine.  These sessions
> are pleasurable but frustrating, since often hear familiar songs I can't
> recall, and more often interesting songs I'd like to have identified.)
> Yesterday evening I heard a song whose title might be "Restless", sung by a
> man, in white-country style, which contained the words "grey dog" in a
> context that referred to travel by bus.  This morning I heard a song whose
> title might be "Cash on the Barrel", sung by a man, in white-country
> style.  This song chronicles the misadventures of a travelling man who has
> no money and in each stanza is told he needs to put cash on the barrel.  In
> one stanza he flags a bus to get out of town, but the driver tells him he
> needs to put. . . .  The bus is called both a Greyhound and a Grey Dog.
> This station has been introducing me to white-country music, I listening
> otherwise mostly to jazz and black-country music -- and classical.  So, a
> not very well informed guess dates both these records to the late 1940s or
> early-mid 1950s.
> I had urged you all to look for this station if you should ever be in its
> broadcast range.  Since then, it has become accessible through its website.
> http://www.whvw.net/
> You will be likely to hear Joe Turner, Gid Tanner, Jimmie Rodgers, Al
> Jolson, Cecil Gant, Marion Harris, Bert Williams, Louie Jordan, the Mound
> City Blue Blowers, Erskine Hawkins, Bob Wills, among others.  I'll be
> forever grateful for having been introduced to Gant and Harris.  Check it
> out.
> --
> George A. Thompson
> The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998..
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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