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The Lead Belly Songbook - Lead Belly, no stranger to the blues

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Rock Island Line

Click here to listen to Real Audio format recording of Standard Midi File 28.8 modem.

Click here to listen to RealAudio format of Lead Belly singing the transcribed version

The stories that are told about this song! Lead Belly and John and Alan Lomax supposedly first heard it from prison work gang during their travels in 1934/35. It was sung a cappela. Huddie sang and performed this song, finally settling on a format where he portrayed, in song, a train engineer asking the depot agent to let his train start out on the main line.

It was this format that inspired Lonnie Donegan, an Irish musician, to record the song. His recording in the late 1950's and early '60's started a music craze called "skiffle music". Skiffle was played by inexpensive instruments and was enormously popular. Lonnie did nothing to credit Lead Belly as the author, even though he simply copied Huddie's entire arrangement. When the skiffle craze started to influence American music, many young musicians re-discovered Lead Belly's music. Pete Seeger recorded a version of this song a cappela while he was chopping wood to demonstrate its origins.

Click here to listen to George Harrison describe skiffle music as an intro to Lonnie Donegan singing Rock Island Line.

Click here to listen to Lead Belly's nearly identical intro of the song, sung at least ten years before Lonnie's version.