First recorded by Jimmy Forrest & His All Star Combo (R&B #1 1951).
Inspired by Johnny Hodges “That’s the Blues, Old Man” (1940) & Duke Ellington “Happy Go Lucky Local” (1941).
Other hit versions by Buddy Morrow (US #27/UK #12 1952), Rusty Bryant (as “All Nite Long” 1952), James Brown & the Famous Flames (US #35/R&B #5 1962).
From the wiki: “‘Night Train’ was written by Jimmy Forrest but the song has a long and complicated history. The piece’s opening riff was first recorded in 1940 by a small group led by Duke Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges under the title ‘That’s the Blues, Old Man’. Ellington used the same riff as the opening and closing theme of a longer-form composition, “Happy-Go-Lucky Local”, that was itself one of four parts of his Deep South Suite.
“Forrest was part of Ellington’s band when it performed this composition, which has a long tenor saxophone break in the middle. After leaving Ellington, Forrest and his All Star Combo recorded ‘Night Train’ for United Records and, in 1951, had a major R&Bs hit. While ‘Night Train’ employs the same riff as the earlier recordings, it is used in a much earthier R&B setting.
“Forrest inserted his own solo over a stop-time rhythm not used in the Ellington composition. He put his own stamp on the tune, but its relation to the earlier compositions is obvious. Like Illinois Jacquet’s solo on ‘Flying Home’, Forrest’s original saxophone solo on ‘Night Train’ became a veritable part of the composition, and is usually recreated in cover versions by other performers.
“Buddy Morrow charted on the US and UK Pop music charts in 1952 with his Big Band recording of ‘Night Train’. Rusty Bryant also had an R&B hit in 1954 with his adaptation, titled ‘All Nite Long’, an uptempo version recorded live that also incorporated the ‘Night Train’ riff along with an audience chorus from Joe Houston’s ‘All Night Long’.
“James Brown recorded ‘Night Train’ with his band in 1961. His performance replaced the original lyrics of the song with a shouted list of cities on his East Coast touring itinerary (and hosts to black radio stations he hoped would play his music) along with many repetitions of the song’s name. He also played drums on the recording. Released as a single in 1962, Brown’s version charted on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B music charts.”
Johnny Hodges, “That’s the Blues, Old Man” (1940):
Duke Ellington, “Happy Go Lucky Local” (1941):
Buddy Morrow, “Night Train” (1952):
Rusty Bryant & the Carolyn Club Band, “All Nite Long” (1952:
James Brown & the Famous Flames, “Night Train” (1962):