The fiddle tune “Orange Blossom Special” is about the passenger train of the same name….which was written by Ervin T. Rouse in 1938….with the original recording being created by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. It is often called simply The Special…..and has been referred to as the fiddle player’s national anthem…..and for that matter, country music’s national anthem.
Rouse copyrighted the song before the Orange Blossom Special train ever came to Jacksonville. Other musicians, including Robert Russell “Chubby” Wise, have claimed authorship of the song. Wise did not write it although he claimed for years that he had. Rouse, a mild mannered man who lived deep in the Everglades never contested the matter. Years later, Johnny Cash learned of Rouse and brought him to Miami to play the song at one of his concerts. In a video on YouTube, Gene Christian, a fiddler for Bill Monroe who knew both men, confirms that Rouse wrote and copyrighted the song. Christian says in the interview that Chubby Wise popularized the song by playing it weekly on the Grand Ole Opry.
As Wise tells the story, he and Rouse decided to visit the Jacksonville Terminal in Florida to tour the Orange Blossom Special train….and saying “even though it was about three in the morning we went right into the Terminal and got on board and toured that train, and it was just about the most luxurious thing I had ever seen. Ervin was impressed, too. And when we got done lookin’ ‘er over he said, “Let’s write a song about it.” So we went over to my place … and that night she was born. Sitting on the side of my bed. We wrote the melody in less than an hour, and called it Orange Blossom Special”….when later Ervin and his brother put some words to it.
Rouse copyrighted the song in 1938 and recorded it in 1939….when Bill Monroe…..regarded by many as “the father of bluegrass music” recorded the song….with Art Wooten on fiddle….and made it a hit. Since then countless versions have been recorded, among them Wise’s own, as an instrumental in a 1969 album Chubby Wise and His Fiddle. And that version, said Wise, “is the way it was written and the way it’s supposed to be played”. The song became so popular that dang near every musical group that had a fiddle in the band recorded it…..and this video herewith provides evidence to that point.