Freight Train (folk song)
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|Single by The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group featuring Nancy Whiskey|
|B-side||"The Cotton Song"|
|Recorded||Levy’s Sound Studios, New Bond Street, London|
"Freight Train" is an American folk song written by Elizabeth Cotten in the early 20th century, and popularized during the American folk revival and British skiffle period of the 1950s and 1960s. By Cotten’s own account in the 1985 BBC series Down Home, she composed “Freight Train” as a teenager (sometime between 1906 and 1912), inspired by the sound of the trains rolling in on the tracks near her home in North Carolina.
Cotten was a one-time nanny for folk singer Peggy Seeger, who took this song with her to England, where it became popular in folk music circles. Unfortunately, British songwriters Paul James and Fred Williams subsequently misappropriated it as their own composition and copyrighted it. Under their credit, it was then recorded by British skiffle singer Chas McDevitt who recorded the song in December 1956. Under advice from his manager (Bill Varley), McDevitt then brought in folk-singer Nancy Whiskey and re-recorded the song with her doing the vocal, the result was a chart hit. McDevitt's version influenced many young skiffle groups of the day including one known as The Quarrymen. Fortunately, under the advocacy of the influential Seeger family, the copyright was eventually restored to Cotten. Nevertheless, it remains miscredited in many sources.
The Elizabeth Cotten recording for the Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar album was made by Mike Seeger in late 1957, early 1958, at Cotten’s home in Washington, D.C. Ramblin' Jack Elliott recorded this song in 1957. It is included on the CD, The Lost Topic Tapes: Cowes Harbour 1957.
Beatles cover versions
According to author Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicles (p. 362) the young Quarrymen-Beatles performed it live from 1957 till at least 1959 if not later, with John Lennon on lead vocal. No recorded version is known to survive. However, in January 1991, while doing recorded rehearsals in Sussex, England for the initial Unplugged TV show, Paul McCartney led his band through a small group of classic skiffle songs. The concluding number was "Freight Train", with McCartney and all getting off to great start, however then suddenly just a few seconds into the song McCartney mysteriously stopped it all (this recording is available on an unauthorized release called Paul McCartney Limelight. In 2009 Quarrymen member Rod Davis recorded a full version of the song and this was released on his album Under The Influence released by Scorpion.
Other recorded versions
Many artists have since recorded their own version of the song, including
- Charting versions
- Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group featuring Nancy Whiskey (No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart in 1957)
- Rusty Draper (charted to the US top ten, end of 1957) 
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- ""Elisabeth Cotten"". Retrieved 2017-07-17.
- ""Chas McDevitt"". Retrieved 2017-07-17.
- "Elizabeth Cotten : Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes" (PDF). Media.smithsonianfolkways.org. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
- "Rusty Draper | Biography, Albums, & Streaming Radio". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
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