Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

Help support this site! Consider clicking an ad from time to time. Thanks!


Freight Train

First popular version recorded by The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group (US #40/UK #5 1957).
Other popular versions by Rusty Draper (US #3 1957), Elizabeth Cotten, writer (1958), Peter, Paul & Mary (1963).

From the wiki: “‘Freight Train’ is an American folk song written by Elizabeth Cotten in the early 20th century, and popularized during the American folk revival and British skiffle period of the 1950s and 1960s. By Cotten’s own account in the 1985 BBC series Down Home, she composed ‘Freight Train’ as a teenager (sometime between 1906 and 1912), inspired by the sound of the trains rolling in on the tracks near her home in North Carolina.

“Cotten was a one-time nanny for folk singer Peggy Seeger, who took this song with her to England where it became popular in folk music circles. British songwriters Paul James and Fred Williams subsequently misappropriated it as their own composition and copyrighted it. Under their credit, it was then recorded by British skiffle singer Chas McDevitt, who recorded the song in December, 1956. The record became a hit in the UK in 1957 at the height of the skiffle boom, reaching #5 in the UK Singles Chart.

“In the United States, the song was covered by Rusty Draper, who had the bigger hit. Nevertheless, McDevitt’s group appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, their record became a million seller, and their success led them to tour with acts such as Slim Whitman and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. They also replaced Jerry Lee Lewis on his ill-fated 1958 tour of the UK. The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group was the only British skiffle group, other than Lonnie Donegan’s, to achieve international success.

“It wasn’t until 1958 that Elizabeth Cotten recorded an arrangement of her own song, providing one for the Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar compilation put together by Mike Seeger at her home in Washington, D.C.

“The folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary recorded and released ‘Freight Train’ for their landmark 1963 album In the Wind, from which were released the hits ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, giving the proper composing credit for ‘Freight Train’ to Cotten.”

Rusty Draper, “Freight Train” (1957):

Elizabeth Cotten, “Freight Train” (1958):

Peter, Paul & Mary, “Freight Train” (1963):

Comments are closed.