"This Train", also known as "This Train Is Bound for Glory", is a traditional American gospel song first recorded in 1925. Although its origins are unknown, the song was relatively popular during the 1920s as a religious tune, and it became a gospel hit in the late 1930s for singer-guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. After switching from acoustic to electric guitar, Tharpe released a more secular version of the song in the early 1950s, a recording that is considered one of the precursors of rock 'n roll.
The song's popularity was also due in part to the influence of folklorists John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. The Lomaxes discovered the song while making field recordings in the South in the early 1930s and included it in folk song anthologies that were published in 1934 and 1960. These anthologies brought the song to the attention of an even broader audience during the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
The earliest known example of "This Train" is a recording made by Wood's Blind Jubilee Singers in August 1925 under the title "This Train Is Bound for Glory". Between 1926 and 1931, three other black religious groups recorded it. During a visit to the Parchman Farm state penitentiary in Mississippi in 1933, Smithsonian Institution musicologist John A. Lomax and his son Alan made a field recording of the song by black inmate Walter McDonald. The next year the song found its way into print for the first time in the Lomaxes' American Folk Songs and Ballads anthology and was subsequently included in Alan Lomax's 1960 anthology, Folk Songs of North America.
In 1935, the first hillbilly recording of the song was released by Tennessee Ramblers as "Dis Train" in reference to the song's black roots. Then in the late 1930s, after becoming the first black artist to sign with a major label, gospel singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded "This Train" as a hit for Decca. Her later version of the song, released by Decca in the early 1950s, featured Tharpe on electric guitar and is cited as one of several examples of her work that led to the emergence of rock 'n roll.
In 1955, the song, with altered lyrics, became a popular single for blues singer-harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs as "My Babe." This secular adaptation has since become a rock standard recorded by many artists, including Dale Hawkins, Bo Diddley, Cliff Richard (three times), and The Remains.
Over the years, "This Train" has been covered by artists specializing in numerous genres, including blues, folk, bluegrass, gospel, rock, post-punk, jazz, reggae, and zydeco. Among the solo artists and groups who have recorded it are Louis Armstrong, Big Bill Broonzy, Brothers Four, Hylo Brown, Alice Coltrane, Delmore Brothers, Sandy Denny, D.O.A., Lonnie Donegan, Jimmy Durante, Snooks Eaglin, Bob Gibson, Joe Glazer, John Hammond, Jr., Cisco Houston, Janis Ian, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Jenkins, Sleepy LaBeef, The Limeliters, Trini Lopez, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Ziggy Marley, Ricky Nelson, Peter, Paul & Mary, Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger, The Seekers, Roberta Sherwood, Hank Snow, David Soul, Staples Singers, Billy Strange, the Tarriers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Hank Thompson, Sublime, Randy Travis, The Verlaines, Bunny Wailer, Nina Hagen, Girls at Our Best!, Buckwheat Zydeco and Jools Holland.
The song provided the inspiration for the title of Woody Guthrie's autobiographical novel Bound for Glory. The book was subsequently used as the basis for director Hal Ashby's 1976 film Bound for Glory on Guthrie's life, which starred David Carradine in the lead role.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe's 1950s version of "This Train" was featured as a selection on Bob Dylan's XM Satellite Radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, during its first season in 2006–2007. The song, which was played on Show 46, More Trains, was later released on The Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, Volume 1 on the Chrome Dreams label.
Bruce Springsteen's 1999 song "Land of Hope and Dreams" used "This Train" as both a starting point and a departure point.
- Ankeny, Jason. "Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
- Cohen, Norm (2000). Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, 2nd Ed.. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 629–632. ISBN 0-252-06881-5. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- "This Train". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- Cohen, Norm (2000). Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, 2nd Ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06881-5.
- Lomax, Alan (2002). The Land Where the Blues Began. New York, New York: The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-739-3.