Charles Davis Tillman, a revivalist song leader, wrote most of “Life’s Railway to Heaven” – the only part not composed by Tillman was the refrain “Blessed Savior Thou will guide us . . .” which was authored by Baptist minister M.E. Abbey. Actually, Tillman borrowed from a Mormon hymn he composed for the lyrics written by Eliza R. Snow – “Truth Reflects upon Our Senses.” Tillman took Snow’s poem, added Abbey’s refrain and composed the tune – which is the same as “Life’s Railway To Heaven.”
While “Truth Reflects upon Our Senses” never was popular outside of the LDS church, of which he was not a member, his follow-up “Life’s Railway to Heaven” was. The original was written in 3/4 time but now is performed most often as a 4/4 number. “Life’s Railway to Heaven” was one of the early examples of a common theme being used for a spiritual song. Others in the genre include “Operator,” “Jesus on the Mainline,” and “Turn Your Radio On.” This was an early example of this type of lyrical theme.
It was one of Davis’ most popular tunes – although two songs he published under his own name, but did not write eclipse the popularity of this song. They are “Old Time Religion” and “Wayfaring Stranger.” He did, however, expose a wider audience to these two classic gospel numbers. So popular was “Life’s Railway to Heaven” that upon Tillman’s death, his family had they lyrics inscribed upon his tombstone.
I’ve been known to do this song, but in more of a rockabilly vein.