Train Kept A-Rollin'

“Train Kept A-Rollin’”  (or “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”) is a song first recorded by American jazz and rhythm and blues musician Tiny Bradshaw in 1951.  Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio made an important contribution in 1956 – they reworked it as a guitar riff-driven song, which features an early use of intentionally distorted guitar in rock music.  In 1965, the Yardbirds popularized the song as an early psychedelic blues rock song, due largely to Jeff Beck’s fuzz-toned guitar work.  After guitarist Jimmy Page joined the group, the Yardbirds recorded an updated version with new lyrics as “Stroll On” for the film Blow-Up in 1966.  With a highly charged rhythm section and a dual lead guitar attack by Beck and Page, it is seen as a forerunner to heavy metal.  The song also became an important part of Aerosmith’s early live repertoire, and in 1974, they recorded it for their second album; it remains one of their most popular tunes.  “Train Kept A-Rollin’” has been performed and recorded by numerous other artists.  (More from Wikipedia)
The only song on Magic Lantern not written by the bandmembers in Haymarket Square is one of my all-time favorite songs, “Train Kept A-Rollin’” – in a world filled with great train songs, this might the best of them all for my money.  The first time I encountered Train Kept A-Rollin’ was on the Pebbles, Volume 10 LP, one of the first Pebbles albums that I purchased.  This rapid fire rendition by the Bold (also known as Steve Walker and the Bold– which actually has some train sounds in the intro and at the end – is still the best I have heard; but like the Bo Diddley song “I’m a Man”, the Van Morrison song “Gloria”, and the timeless Louie Louie that was written by Richard Berry, I have never heard a version of Train Kept A-Rollin’ that wasn’t great.  
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Train Kept A-Rollin’ (often given as “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”) dates from the year of my birth (1951) and was originally recorded by R&B singer Tiny Bradshaw.  Bradshaw co-wrote the song with Syd Nathan (who used the pseudonym Lois Mann), a King Records executive who is credited with discovering many famous musicians, most notably James Brown
In 1956Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio released Train Kept A-Rollin’; a cool video showing them playing the song is available on YouTube.  Wikipedia reports:  “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.”  This record came out 2 years before Link Wray introduced power chords to rock music with his hit instrumental Rumble, where he also included considerable distorted guitar. 
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The Yardbirds recorded Train Kept A-Rollin’ while they were on their American tour in 1965.  In her biography of Jeff Beck, who was lead guitarist for the band at that time, Annette Carson notes (as quoted in Wikipedia) that their “propulsive, power-driven version, however, deviated radically from the original. . . .  [Their] recording plucked the old Rock and Roll Trio number from obscurity and turned it into a classic among classics”.  Cub Koda writing for Allmusic notes of the Yardbirds’ version that they made Train Kept A-Rollin’ a “classic guitar riff song for the ages”. 
The Yardbirds included Train Kept A-Rollin’ on their second American album, Having a Rave up with the Yardbirds that is absolutely chock full of classic songs; in addition to their major hits “I’m a Man and Heart Full of SoulHaving a Rave Up includes “Evil Hearted You” and “Still I’m Sad”, plus a full side of the Yardbirds in concert featuring Eric Clapton on lead (taken from their British debut album, Five Live Yardbirds) that includes I’m a Man again plus their devastating cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning that I first heard on their 1967 collection The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits.  Anyone who thinks that the British Invasion began and ended with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones needs to hear this music post haste. 
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Many people don't realize that Led Zeppelin is a successor band to the Yardbirds.  After Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left the Yardbirds in mid-1968, lead guitarist Jimmy Page was about the only bandmember left.  He set about finding new musicians for his next band that was sometimes called the New Yardbirds.  When the four bandmembers in Led Zeppelin started played together, the first song they did was “Train Kept A-Rollin’”.  Jimmy Page recalls of that session (as quoted in Wikipedia):  “We did ‘Train’ . . .  It was there immediately.  It was so powerful that I don’t remember what we played after that.  For me it was just like, ‘Crikey!’  I mean, I’d had moments of elation with groups before, but nothing as intense as that.  It was like a thunderbolt, a lightning flash – boosh!  Everyone sort of went ‘Wow’.” 
While Led Zeppelin opened their concerts with Train Kept A-Rollin’ throughout 1968 and 1969 (and later brought the song back to their shows in 1980), a studio version of the song was never recorded. 
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Probably the best known version of the song is by Aerosmith; “Train Kept A-Rollin’” is included on their second album, Get Your Wings (1974), but the band’s connection with the song dates back much further than that.  As quoted in WikipediaJoe Perry recalls of this song:  “‘Train Kept A-Rollin’’ was the only song we had in common when we first got together.  Steven [Tyler]’s band had played Train, and Tom [Hamilton] and I played it in our band. . . .  It’s a blues song, if you follow its roots all the way back. . . .  I always thought if I could just play one song, it would be that one because of what it does to me.” 
Steven Tyler was in a band that opened for the Yardbirds in 1966 and says of their performance (again from Wikipedia):  “I had seen the Yardbirds play somewhere the previous summer with both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in the band. . . .  In Westport [at their supporting gig on October 22, 1966] we found out that Jeff had left the band and Jimmy was playing lead guitar by himself.  I watched him from the edge of the stage, and all I can say is that he knocked my tits off.  They did ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ and it was just so heavy.  They were just an un-f--kin’-believable band.” 
Train Kept A-Rollin’ was featured in early concerts by Aerosmith, and they often closed their shows with the song, including at their first gig in 1970.  A live version of the song is included on three different concert albums by the band, and they have also performed the song with several other musicians over the years.  In 2012, they played Train Kept A-Rollin’ live in Hollywood with Johnny Depp; this performance is included on a bonus disc in the Deluxe Edition of Aerosmith’s most recent studio album, Music from Another Dimension!
(June 2015)
Last edited: April 3, 2021