Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Train Kept A Rollin'

Time for a little Rock n Roll archaeology.  Until very recently, THC assumed The Train Kept A 'Rollin by The Yardbirds (1965) was a cover of an old blues tune (also later covered by Aerosmith in the 1970s.). The tune was originally written and performed by Tiny Bradshaw and his band in 1951 as a rhythm and blue songs but sounds much different than the version by The Yardbirds.  It turns out there is a missing link - a completely new and revolutionary, for its time, arrangement by Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n Roll Trio in 1956.

If you are not familiar with the history of rock it may be hard to appreciate just how different this recording sounded for its time.  With the aggressive vocal and, more importantly, the thundering bottom and the fuzz tone sounding guitar, there was simply nothing else like it with the combination of rockabilly and blues.  And just guessing here, but THC does not think the song was really about a train.

The song was released as a single from the Rock 'n Roll Trio's debut album to an unreceptive audience and failed to hit the pop charts.  Maybe it was just too far ahead of its time.

Let's do a little more archaeology and carry the story backwards and forwards.  Tiny Bradshaw had a long career as a bandleader until his death in 1958.  In 1934 he provided the young Ella Fitzgerald with her first big singing opportunity.

The trio consisted of Johnny Burnette and his brother, along with a friend whom they met when they were all amateur boxers.  The Burnettes were from Memphis, like so many of the pioneering rock musicians, living for awhile in the same housing project as Elvis Presley and his parents. The failure to generate any hit singles led to the breakup of the band in the fall of 1956 and Johnny went off to California to seek fortune and fame in the music business.

Burnette struggled, finding his only success, with the teen pop hit You're Sixteen in 1958, a song which became a hit for the second time when covered by Ringo Starr in the 1970s.  For years, he tried to find a follow up hit but his quest was cut short when he died, at the age of thirty, in a 1964 boating accident on a California lake.
You're Sixteen was not written by Burnette.  The composers were Robert and Richard Sherman, best known for their songwriting for Walt Disney as they created most of the songs for Mary Poppins, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and the Disney theme park tune which still triggers dread for many a parent, It's A Small World (After All).

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