Why does Bob Dylan like Riding on that train 45 (and who sang it anyway?)

By Tony Attwood

Interview Magazine has a page online called “New Again Bob Dylan” which re-runs an interview they did with Bob in February 1986.

The piece opens with a section called “A dozen influential records” and we’ve been plundering the list for a while in the “Why does Dylan like” series.

The songs I’ve picked to review all make sense – they are ones where we have other references from Bob to his fondness either for the song or the singer or both.  But there is a problem later on because near the end of the list we hit ““Riding On Train 45,” by the Delmore Brothers.

Now that is interesting because “Train 45” is a Woodie Guthrie song, so we might expect Bob to pick up on it.  Here it is, complete with a long instrumental introduction…

Oh, that train I ride on is a hundred coaches long
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
If that train runs right I’ll be home tomorrow night
‘Cause I’m nine-hundred miles from my home
And I hate to hear that lonesome whistle blow

I’m a-walkin’ down that track
I’ve got tears in my eyes
Trying to read the letter from my home
If that train runs right, I’ll see my woman Saturday night
I’m nine-hundred miles from my home
And I hate to hear that lonesome whistle blow

So why is this called “Train 45” – that I don’t know.

I even found an album of train songs called “Train 45” – and hundreds of versions of the song played above song – often with variant lyrics.  Here’s a fun version to give you an idea of how it varied


Moving on I found the Delmore Brothers – the band Dylan cites – they certainly were popular musicians.  Wiki calls them pioneer singer-songwriters and musicians who were stars of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s.  Indeed it is reported that their recording “Freight Train Boogie” in 1946 is considered by some to be the first ever rock n roll record.

It’s not the song Dylan refers to, but it helps give a bit of context…

There is even a web page which lists all the Delmore’s songs, but no song with “45” in the title is listed.  A second page of Delmore recordings on the same site tells the same story – lots of train songs but nothing with “45” in the title.

So going back to the article to check, it is certainly possible that Bob didn’t say or imply “Riding on that Train 45” by the Delmore Brothers but rather was simply saying “Riding on that Train 45” and “Delmore Brothers” as two separate listings.

So if that were the case, let’s consider the two separately.   Here’s a typical Delmore song

and just to balance it up another version of the Train 45 song


After all of which let’s come back to Bob and ask why he likes the song.  Certainly the J E Mainer version is terrific fun – well played, well sung, utterly full of energy, and if nothing else in terms of this roundabout search, it has led me to this recording and for that I am grateful.   If this is the version Bob liked, then I’m with him all the way.   It is just so lively and inventive.

However curiously the Wiki page on Mainer (1898 to 1971) makes no mention of this song although it lists a vast number of recordings that he did make including a significant number of LPs.

And as a final point, I found a video of JE Mainer’s brother playing the song at a live gig.  Watch out for the guy walking straight in front of the camera.

And so to round it all off, another of JE Mainer’s songs.

Why does Dylan like the song even if we can’t find the recording he mentioned.  Well, because as I said above – it is such incredible fun.  If you got this far without playing the Mainer version, then shame on you, you are not paying attention.

Here it is again.  Just for you. Do play it – I suspect this is the version Bob was thinking of.  He just got the performer mixed up.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

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