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"Train Kept A-Rollin'", originally and sometimes later listed as "The Train Kept A-Rollin'", is a jump blues song recorded by Tiny Bradshaw in 1951. Called a "jump opus",[1] it has gone through several rock-oriented arrangements and has been performed and recorded by numerous artists.

Original song[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Bradshaw and his band first recorded "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" in 1951. It has been described as "a vibrant mid-tempo song with a boogie-woogie bass line and a shuffling drumbeat".[2] The song is Bradshaw's best-known recording and features Red Prysock on saxophone. The introductory section of the song features scat singing by Bradshaw answered by a chorus. His lyrics, with early jazz hipster references, are delivered in Bradshaw's "hearty, grainy" vocal:[2]

I caught the train I met a real dame, she was a hipster and a gone dame
She was pretty from New York City, and she trucked on down the ol' fair lane
With a heave and a ho, and I just couldn't let her go ...
The train kept a rollin' all night long, and I still wouldn't let her go

Bradshaw's song is based on "Cow-Cow Boogie", a 1942 song about a singing cowboy. Bradshaw rewrote lines such as "a ditty he learned in the city" and "get along, get hip little doggies, and he trucked 'em on down the old fairway" to meet his new scenario.[2] The song is credited to Bradshaw, Lois Mann (a pseudonym of King Records owner Syd Nathan), and Howard Kay. "Mann's name was plainly added to allow Syd Nathan to siphon off a share of the publishing royalties, as label owners routinely did in those days; as for Kay, his identity remains a mystery".[2] In subsequent recordings, new lyrics are often added to the original.

Johnny Burnette version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"The Train Kept A-Rollin'"
Single by Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio
B-side "Honey Hush"
Released September 1956
Format 10" 78 rpm and 7" 45 rpm records
Recorded July 2, 1956
Genre Rockabilly
Length 2:17
Label Coral(61719)

Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio recorded "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" in 1956 using a rockabilly/rock and roll arrangement. The Trio's version features guitar lines in what many historians consider to be the first recorded example of intentionally distorted guitar in rock music,[3] although blues guitarists, such as Willie Johnson and Pat Hare, had recorded with the same effect years earlier.

The Trio's guitarist, Paul Burlison, recounted that he noticed the sound after accidentally dropping his amplifier, which dislodged a power tube. Later, "Whenever I wanted to get that sound, I'd just reach back and loosen that tube".[4] "Another technique used on 'Train' is Paul's [Burlison's] use of octaves, plucking the high and low E string simultaneously ..."[4]

It has been argued that Nashville session guitarist Grady Martin provided the guitar parts for the Trio's recording and that the guitar sound is not that heavily distorted. Also questioned is Burlison's tube explanation: "only the low E string is distorted" with "pretty clean treble strings", whereas with a tube malfunction, all strings would be distorted; the sound could be created with "normal distortion for the time period" with the pole piece for the low E string raised "as much as possible without making the string unplayable", thereby allowing it to overload the amplifier more than the treble strings.[3] The attribution of the guitar work to Martin by authors Gordon and Dijkema[3] is also based on stylistic and technical qualities, since, at the time, Martin was a more accomplished player than Burlison, and these qualities are apparent in his work on other recordings.

The Yardbirds versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"The Train Kept A-Rollin'"
Song by The Yardbirds from the albumHaving a Rave Up
Released November 15, 1965
Recorded Sam Phillips Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee September 12, 1965 and

Columbia Recording Studios, New York City September 21–22, 1965

Genre Rock
Length 3:28
Label Epic(LN 24177/BN 26177)
Producer Giorgio Gomelsky

The Yardbirds recorded "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" during their first American tour in 1965. Their version is based on Johnny Burnette's version, but incorporates instrumental breaks and different guitar parts. The song opens with guitarist Jeff Beck simulating a train whistle on guitar, with Keith Relf's double-tracked vocal coming in after twelve-bars. The song was recorded bySam Phillips at his Phillips Recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee September 12, 1965, with further recording by Roy Halee at Columbia Recording Studio in New York City September 21 and 22, 1965.[5]

"The Train Kept A-Rollin'" was released on the Yardbirds' second American album Having a Rave Up November 15, 1965. The song had its first official UK release in 1977 on the Shapes of Things compilation. The song was a staple of the band's concerts and they recorded several live versions with Beck (BBC SessionsGlimpses 1963–1968).

On October 3–5, 1966, the Yardbirds recorded a hard rock version with Beck and Jimmy Page on dual lead guitars to be used for their appearance in the 1966 film Blowup. DirectorMichelangelo Antonioni requested that they perform the song, but permission from the song publisher was not forthcoming. So singer Keith Relf wrote new lyrics to the band's new arrangement and called it "Stroll On", with credits to the five band members.[6]

"Stroll On" opens with a new drum part by Jim McCarty and harmonized guitar feedback, before Beck's train whistle simulation. Unlike their earlier song, Relf's vocal is not double tracked and the second twelve-bar guitar solo section features two guitars playing complementary solos. "Stroll On" was released on the Blow-Up soundtrack album in 1967 and appears on the Yardbirds compilation albums Train Kept A-Rollin'/The Yardbirds Story and Ultimate!. For the film, the song is edited to increase its length for the story line.

After Jeff Beck's departure in late 1966, the Yardbirds continued to regularly perform the "The Train Kept A-Rollin'". The original lyrics were used, but the "Stroll On" arrangement was followed with Jimmy Page playing all the guitar parts. Live performances with Page were later released on Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy PageGlimpses 1963–1968, and Last Rave-Up in L.A..

Led Zeppelin performances[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Shortly after Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left the Yardbirds in mid-1968, Jimmy Page went about finding new musicians for a successor band. When the future members of Led Zeppelin rehearsed together for the first time in 1968, the first song they played was "Train Kept A-Rollin'". According to John Paul Jones, the room "exploded" when they kicked it off, and they knew they had something.[7] The song was included in their early performances as "the New Yardbirds" and during Led Zeppelin's 1968 and 1969 tours, usually being featured as their opening number and included on several bootleg albums[8] (see Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings). They later revived it for their final tour "Over Europe" in 1980. A studio version was never recorded by Led Zeppelin, but during his solo Outrider sessions in 1988 Page recorded a version similar to that performed by Led Zeppelin in 1980.

Aerosmith version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Train Kept A-Rollin'"
Single by Aerosmith
from the album Get Your Wings
B-side "Spaced"
Released October 24, 1974
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded Record Plant Studios, New York City December 17, 1973 – January 14, 1974
Genre Hard rock
Length 3:15 (single version)
Label Columbia(3–10034)
Producer Jack Douglas

Aerosmith covered the song on their second album Get Your Wings which was released in 1974 with the lead guitar parts being played by Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. A shorter, considerably different version was released as a single, and is mixed without the crowd noise found on the album version. The song has long been played on album-oriented rock and classic rock radio stations. Additionally, the song has long been a staple in the band's live shows, often closing their shows.

It is featured on three Aerosmith live compilations: Live! Bootleg (1978), Classics Live (1986), and Rockin' the Joint (2005). On the Rockin' the Joint version, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford can be heard doing a little bit of "The Star Spangled Banner" towards the end. Additionally, the band is known to play two different versions of the song, the regular version of the song, as well as a slowed-down version often called "Slow Train" in the setlists. On at least two occasions, lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry have performed the song with other artists; in 1992 with Guns N' Roses and in 1995 with Page and Plant. In 2002, the whole band performed the song live with the Japanese hard rock duo B'z. It also appears in the music video game Rock Band, and the master track appears in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith as the final encore in the game. In 2012, Aerosmith had a live concert performance in Hollywood with Johnny Depp performing the song.

Recognition and legacy[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Johnny Burnette Rock and Roll Trio rendition of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's exhibit of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll".[9] The song has been performed and/or recorded by numerous musicians during the last several decades. To illustrate their variety, some examples of notable artists include:[10] Jeff BeckBon JoviPaul BurlisonDread ZeppelinAlex ChiltonHanoi RocksColin James and the Little Big BandImelda MayMetallicaMotörheadThe NazzShakin' Stevens and the SunsetsSkid Row,Screaming Lord SutchSugarloafThe Tragically Hip, and Twisted Sister.

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