Johnny Burnette

The Train Kept A Rollin'

Song Review by

Three different locomotives, all roaring down perpendicular sets of stylistic tracks to reach the same blazing destination a few years apart. That's the tale of "The Train Kept A-Rollin," a song introduced by jump blues bandleader Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, forever defined by the Johnny Burnette Trio's jackhammer 1956 rockabilly rendition, and perhaps best-known as a classic 1965 workout by the Yardbirds. The same full-speed-ahead diesel drive powered all three fiery renditions. Bradshaw was a veteran bandleader from Youngstown, OH, whose jivey original 1951 rendition for Syd Nathan's King Records (with Red Prysock tearing up his tenor sax on a two-chorus ride) somehow avoided the R&B charts but clearly made an indelible impression on Memphis rockabilly wildman Johnny Burnette, who comprised one-third of the battling Johnny Burnette Trio with brother Dorsey Burnette slapping the upright bass, and slashing lead guitarist Paul Burlison. Savage as the trio's sides for Coral were (it's inexplicable that they never pierced the hit parade), this was the absolute knockout of their all-too-brief career. Burlison's amp had taken a jolt en route to Owen Bradley's Nashville studio that July 2, 1956 day, loosening one of its tubes. That produced what amounted to a prehistoric fuzztone effect that when coupled with Burlison's vicious fret attack (consisting primarily of octave runs plucked on the top and bottom strings simultaneously) created one of the all-time classic rockabilly guitar solos. Burnette yelped like a scalded dog, his galvanic energy searing the mic as brother Dorsey assaulted his double bass and Nashville session drummer Buddy Harman kept romping time. Even though it didn't sell in the States, the trio's seminal performance found its way over to England, where the Yardbirds retained Burlison's steam drill rhythm guitar underpinnings. Fittingly, the British group journeyed to Memphis to lay down their cover, recruiting no less a behind-the-board icon than Sam Phillips to produce it at the second Sun Studios. Lead guitarist Jeff Beck announces the quintet's imminent blastoff with a mock train whistle intro and heads for parts unknown during his blistering solo passages; Keith Relf double-tracked his vocal (improvising a few lyrics that were apparently unintelligible to the Brits on Burnette's version) and blew some pungent harmonica. The pulverizing track was a highlight of the group's 1965 set Having a Rave Up, and they soon reworked it lyrically as "Stroll On" for their turbulent cameo in the English film Blow Up, Beck destroying his axe in the tumultuous club scene.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Guitar Player Presents Legends of Guitar - Rock: The '50s, Vol. 2 1991
Various Artists
Rhino 2:17
Rock This Town: Rockabilly Hits, Vol. 1 1991
Various Artists
Rhino 2:15
Zeppelin Classics 1992
Various Artists
Jasrac 2:15
Rock 'n' Roll Trio/Tear It Up 1996 Beat Goes On 2:17
Rockabilly: Life, Times & Music 1996
Various Artists
Life Times & Music 2:15
Rockabilly 1996
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:15
House of Blues: Essential Southern Rock 1997
Various Artists
A&M 2:14
Loud, Fast & Out of Control: The Wild Sounds of the '50s [Box] 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 2:16
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Train Kept A-Rollin' - Memphis to Hollywood: The Complete Recordings 1955-1964 2003 Bear Family Records 2:17
Rock and Roll 2003 Universal International 2:17
Freight Train
Various Artists
Not Now Music 2:14
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: Red-Hot Rockabilly
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:17