What's so special about this song is that there were so many hands that made it great. The opening riff of Night Train was created in 1940 by a small group led by Duke Ellington along with Johnny Hodges under the title "That's the Blues, Old Man." Forrest's long tenor solo in the middle of the song makes the song unmistakably recognizable. After Forrest departed from Ellington's band, he inserted his own solo over a stop-time rhythm while still using that familiar, earlier riff. Forrest recorded the song on United Records and had a major R&B hit.
Here's Jimmy Forrest's original
With so many bands and musicians covering this song, it's easy to see how "Night Train" gained its popularity. Here are notable recordings:
Louis Prima and Sam Butera
Oh, you got to love these guys! Such energy! Just listen to them wail! Notice their crazy, wild antics versus Keely Smith's cold, manikin persona. Made for a great show in Vegas!
James Brown gave the Night Train soul when he brought it to Motown. Got to love that sax!
Now this is a pretty cool cover. Pianist Oscar Peterson puts a mellow groove to the song by slowing it down, making it a smooth listen.
And for MY personal favorite...
Marvin Berry and the Starlighters - Back to the Future
OH! This has got to be one of the best covers of "Night"... period! Besides it being in probably one of the best and most classic movies of all time, this version of "Night Train" really shows off that tenor solo that made the song so unique. Awww.... love the "Night Train." Enjoy!
The Jazz Spazz