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Versions of “Jesus on the Mainline” by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Ry Cooder

There is something profound about the refrain of the song “Jesus is on the Mainline.” It is not going to church or synagogue to find god. It is picking up the phone and calling him.

Ry Cooder’s top three albums, according to the voters at Ranker, are “Paradise and Lunch” (which includes “Jesus is on the Mainline”), “Into the Valley” and Chicken Skin Music.” Here is Rolling Stones’ opinion of “I Do Not Play No Rock-n-Roll”: “McDowell may not have played no rock & roll, but the Rolling Stones covered his ‘You Gotta Move’ on Sticky Fingers anyway. The motor on this album is McDowell playing bottleneck slide on electric guitar: a relentless engine that powers him through hypnotic versions of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Jesus Is on the Mainline’ with bone-deep rhythm and the raw wounds of life.” Click here for “I Do Not Play No Rock-n-Roll” on iTunes and on the image for Cooder’s “Paradise and Lunch” at Amazon.
The power comes from the merger of everyday technology and religion. The song, which obviously dates from the early days of telephony, deals in part with the meeting of the old and the new. Getting well is a miracle. But so is a device that lets you talk to people (and deities) who are far away. There now is a way to reach the outside world from your home and ask for deliverance from your troubles. That’s a powerful, demystifying and empowering thing. You just call him up and tell him what you want.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s version above (on an album with the great title “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N’ Roll”) is the earliest that blogger Jim Owston could find:

If my time line of its writing is correct, it would have only been in the public domain had its copyright not been renewed 28 years after its initial publication – which may be a reasonable theory on this tune.

Owston also offers information on the great Ry Cooder. He points out that Rolling Stones called him a top ten guitarist, one spot ahead of Jimmy Page. Cooder, who also also is an ethnomusiologist, is a soulful as well as skillful musician.

The Daily Music Break previously posted a rendition by Cooder. Another, which is quite different, is below the Amazon ads. The singers are Eldridge King, Terry Evans and Bobby King.

Here is one version of the lyrics:

Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

You can call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
You can call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
Call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

Hey, Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

Hey, if you’re sick and you want to get well, tell Him what you want
Oh, if you’re sick and you want to get well, tell Him what you want
Oh, if you’re sick and you want to get well, tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

Hey, Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on teh main line, tell Him what you want
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

Hey, Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

Ranker and Rolling Stone were used in the blue box.

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