Choo choo, boys and girls, get down to the ol’ Diarrhea Island Station and come and listen to one of my favorite songs, “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” This is one of the great blues-based rock n’ roll songs and it always puts a smile on my face. It has been an important and influential tune in rock history, and it’s fun to hear it built upon from generation to generation of musicians.

My first introduction to this song was from 1965’s “Havin’ A Rave-Up With The Yardbirds.” One of THE coolest and totally underrated ‘60s beat groups, The Yardbirds are primarily known these days as a training ground for super-legend lead guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, but they were so much more than that. The reason Clapton, Beck, and Page were in the Yardbirds is because ALL the group members were AWESOME. No one could tear it up like the Yardbirds, that’s for sure, and they had a great run of perfect garage pop/blues songs, innovative and way cool, confident and hard-hitting. They made any early blues attempts by the Beatles, Stones, Who, and the Kinks sound wimpy by comparison. I love ‘em.

But “Train…” is not the Yardbirds’ song. It was written and performed by one Tiny Bradshaw. I cannot say how he came upon the nickname Tiny, but let’s assume there’s some understatement going on there, somewhere. ANYWAY, his version, recorded clean and sweet in 1951, is a light blues shuffle, a bridge from swing into R&B, with a call-and-response feature common in traditional black music.

A short five years later in 1956, rock ‘n roll had exploded all over America and was starting to infiltrate overseas as well. Listen to this very different version of the song by the crazy Johnny Burnett and the Rock n’ Roll Trio, recorded in fabulous gritty overdrive at Sam Phillips’ legendary Sun Studios in Memphis. Pretty exciting stuff, especially to a bunch of preteen and teen kids ready to shed Patti Page and “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” for something a bit nastier.

So nine years later, the kiddies are grown up and ready to rock, and hence we come to the Yardbirds’ version. This song for me, even after hearing it probably a few hundred times, still makes me want to MOVE and DANCE and RUN and ROCK. The harmonica, razor-sharp bees-on-fire guitar from Beck, and absolutely driving relentless rhythm section combine in the Yardbirds’ signature rave-up style to make something mighty powerful. The band also recorded this version at Sun Studios to try to capture some of that magic. They totally succeeded.

Totally unsuccessful is Screamin’ Lord Sutch and the Savage’s 1965 version, which manages to take the nuts off the song in one saxophone-drenched silly swoop.

Jump ahead a little bit, get Jimmy “Yes, I Wrote This Song, Sure I Did” Page in the mix and we now have the Yardbirds’ “Stroll On,” which of course is “Train…” with a new title and some different words, and now credited to Page, Beck, Relf, McCarty, and Dreja. No “Bradshaw” there, hmm. Anyway, “Stroll On” was prominently featured in the 1966’s mod movie classic “Blow Up.” Page took the song with him when he left to form obscure indie cult favorite, Led Zeppelin.

American hard rock band Aerosmith, in the early 1970s took “Train…” and brought more of the blues back into it with a liberal helping of headbanger esthetics. Their version is probably best-known now from being featured in the videogames Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Here’s a clip of Aerosmith performing live from 2002:

Ultimate headbangers Motorhead took Aerosmith’s version pretty much to heart, but I hear little flashes of the previous versions as well.

I say it is totally time for a refresh on “Train Kept A-Rollin’. Someone, surprise me! Jack White! You could do this in your sleep! Bjork! Hey! That would be very amusing! Iggy Pop! I bet you already have! Jeff Buckley! You could…oh, wait. Riiiight. Tiny Masters Of Today! Come on kids, do it! Someone! Keep the train a-rollin’! For mama!

Chugga chugga chug chug woooooo. Last stop, err buddy exit. See you tomorrow.