Chances are you know the song “My Babe”, made popular by Little Walter in 1955. Except for the lyrics, “My Babe” is nearly identical to the gospel song “This Train is Bound For Glory”, a song that reaches back to the 1920’s.
The earliest known recording of “This Train is Bound For Glory” dates from 1925, by a religious singing group, Wood’s Blind Jubilee Singers. Although the recording is full of scratches and hiss, the trance-like power of the singers is evident.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe probably did more than anyone to popularize the song with her 1939 hit recording “This Train”. She was a unique performer, a powerful singer and a virtuoso guitarist, a star in both religious and pop music. Musicians as diverse as Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin have cited her as a major inspiration, for both musicianship and showmanship. Though criticized by many conservatives in the church for playing secular music, she pushed gospel music into the mainstream, performing with Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman.
Willie Dixon was nothing if not a shrewd songwriter, able to tap into the sound of the moment. In 1955, just days after Ray Charles re-worked the gospel song “It Must Be Jesus” into the hit “I Got A Woman”, Dixon took Little Walter into the studio to make what would be one of their biggest successes. “My Babe” pushed “I Got a Woman” off the charts and stayed at #1 for 19 weeks, and went on to become a classic blues “standard”. Here’s a film about Little Walter that was shown at his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, singer Terry Evans got his musical start singing in church before becoming a successful soul singer. He worked with Bobby King in a Stax-style vocal group for many years and sang back-up on several Ry Cooder albums. With Cooder producing, Evans recorded “My Babe” on his 1997 album Come To The River, putting a bit of gospel feel back into the song.
Here are the complete versions of “This Train” and “My Babe”: