Gospel Train rolls from Civil War to Civil Rights era

By David S. Lewis

NEW SCOTLAND – The Gospel Train, which performs old American spiritual music with songs dating from the Civil War era up through the Civil Rights era, will play in New Scotland next week.  Singer and guitarist Tom Lindsay performs with Michael Eck, who plays everything from banjo, mandolin, and dobro guitar to the autoharp, “just for spite,” said Lindsay. 

He was careful to point out the difference between the Gospel Train and other gospel acts.

“We sing very few hymns,” he said.  “Most of what we play are folk songs and popular songs of their times that have subject matter regarding heaven and hell, life and death, God and the Devil, sin and redemption…Those were popular topics that found their way into a lot of the music of that time.”

Lindsay said that many people have asked if they were Christians performing a ministry; he declared that wasn’t the case.

“We are musicians who are playing historic Christian music,” said Lindsay.  “One of us is a Christian, and one of us isn’t.”

“For that matter, one of us is a liberal, and one is a conservative,” he said, ignoring the advice of the late, great country singer Johnny Cash to keep politics out of folk music.

The Gospel Train counts among its influences the legendary Carter family, whose often-spiritual songs are considered some of the most important in American history.

“We play ‘Keep on the Sunnyside’, which is a Carter song, but it doesn’t even mention God until the last verse,” said Lindsay.

The group endorses the Loar, a company that crafts replicas of historic instruments.  The Gospel Train is featured on the front page of the Loar’s website.

“I had purchased one of their guitars at a fraction of the cost of an original from that era,” said Lindsay, who went on to say that the endorsement is especially exciting to Michael Eck, who has played music for years.  Eck has played with the likes of Patti Smith, Pete Seeger, and members of 10,000 Maniacs, but had never before been invited to endorse an instrument company before.

So, what is a “Gospel Train”?

“We find songs where devices and inventions are used as metaphors, and certainly the train is a popular metaphor used in song of all kinds, like the blues,” said Lindsay.  “Especially for slaves, the train was a metaphor for escape, and the ability to travel somewhere different.”


The New Scotland Historical Association will host a free concert by the Gospel Train on Tuesday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wyman Osterhout Community Center in New Salem.  The program, which will feature the two musicians performing and leading the audience in song, as well as telling the history of the music, will be free and open to the public.

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