Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trains: Mystery Train

I'll always remember as a child waking in the middle of the night to the sound of trains in the distance. There seemed to be an endless stretch of cars that would clang on beat as they passed over the rails - it never really was a bother, my already fuzzy dreamlike state would enhance the mystery of where those trains were headed. Between that deep thought and the metronomic chugging of the locomotive, it wouldn't take long to fall back asleep. The Mystery Train has always been very real to me, the romantic notion of the great unknown that awaits ahead.

Little Junior's Blue Flames: Mystery Train


Mystery Train was written by vocalist/harmonicist Junior Parker and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. It was recorded at Sun studios in 1953 and had charted on Billboard's R&B charts.

Parker had been discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single, You're My Angel, which brought him to the attention of Phillips, who then took him to Sun, where he reached #5 on the R&B charts with Feelin' Good.

In 1974, Al Green dedicated Take Me To The River to Parker, whom he described as "a cousin of mine who's gone on, and we'd kinda like to carry on in his name."

Elvis Presley: Mystery Train


Elvis Presley's version of Mystery Train was released in 1955 as the B-side of I Forgot to Remember to Forget. Also produced by Phillips at Sun Studios, it featured the classic lineup of Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass. It reached #1 on the Billboard National Country charts, where it stayed for 5 weeks and continued to chart for another 39, cementing Elvis' star status.

Oddly, for Presley's cover, Moore used the guitar riff from Parker's Love My Baby, which can be found at my post, thanks to all the little people.

Mystery Train inspired a movie by director Jim Jarmusch and a brilliant tome by Greil Marcus that many refer to as the best book ever written about Rock. As long as there's still the sound of trains in the distance, there will be a Mystery Train entwined in our cultural lore.

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