Train Songs

March 20, 2016

IMG_1036 (1)Train to New HavenMorning fog, very atmospheric

While waiting for the Shoreline Eastbound train to New Haven the other morning, I captured the sunlight as it broke through a feathery veil of fog. There's something so evocative about the atmosphere of trains and travel or the anticipation thereof. So I started thinking about some of my favorite train songs. The best of them were written and recorded decades ago such as Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten's Freight Train, Freight Train. A left-handed, self-taught guitarist who played bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb, Cotten wrote the song in 1904 when she was eleven. She later became part of the folk revival of the sixties and won a Grammy in 1984. I grew up on Peter, Paul and Mary's still perfect version.

Another great classic rail song, The Rock Island Line was recorded by John Lomax in 1934, after hearing prisoners on a chain gang in Arkansas sing it a capella. In the mid-1950's, Lonnie Donegan, a British folk/jazz singer sped up the tempo and made it a world-wide hit. Here's his original and jazzy version: