First released by Lead Belly (1933).
Hit version by The Weavers (US #1 1950).
From the wiki: “Lead Belly was singing a version of the song from as early as 1908, which he claimed to have learned from his uncles Terell and Bob. An 1886 song by Gussie L. Davis has several lyrical and structural similarities to the latter song, however no information on its melody has survived. Some evidence suggests the 1886 song was itself based on an even earlier song which has not survived. Regardless of where he first heard it, by the 1930s Lead Belly had made the song his own, modifying the rhythm and rewriting most of the verses.
First recorded at Cumins State Prison farm, Gould, Arkansas, by John Lomax (1934).
Popular versions by Lead Belly (1937), Lonnie Donegan (UK #8 1955).
Also recorded by Bobby Darin & The Jaybirds (1956), The Beatles (1969, released as a bootleg 1994).
From the wiki: “‘Rock Island Line’ is an American Blues/Folk song first recorded by John Lomax in 1934 as sung by inmates in an Arkansas State Prison, and later popularized by Lead Belly. Many versions have been recorded by other artists, most significantly the world-wide hit version in the mid-1950s by Lonnie Donegan. The song is ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
“Donegan’s recording, released as a single in late 1955, signaled the start of the UK ‘skiffle’ craze. This recording featured Donegan, Chris Barber on double bass and washboard player (Beryl Bryden), but as it was part of a Chris Barber’s Jazz Band session for Decca Records, Donegan received no royalties from Decca for record sales, beyond his original session fee.
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