In late 1953, ‘Mystery Train’ was recorded by a band led by Herman Parker. Herman better known as ‘Little Junior’ grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi during the 1930s. After working with Howlin’ Wolf’s band he formed his own group, the Blues Flames in 1952, ‘Mystery Train’ was the follow up to ‘Feelin’ Good’ his Sun debut. The song itself has its roots in an old folk song called ‘Worried Man Blues’ that the Carter Family recorded in 1930, it was covered by Woody Guthrie in 1944 and by Lonnie Donegan in the 1950s.
“When I first heard ‘Mystery Train’, Little Junior Parker hadn’t quite worked it out. Back then it wasn’t aeroplanes so much as trains, and when you went and put somebody on a train, it was like ‘Oh man, I may never see them again’. We just messed round and it just fell into that groove, it is a perfect groove.
When Elvis came in I found out that Mystery Train was so embedded in Elvis’ mind that when he started to sing it, it was a natural as breathing. If it’s natural it’s awfully hard to beat, like you’re just rolling off of a log. That’s the feeling you get with Mystery Train.” – Sam Phillips
Elvis cut ‘Mystery Train’ on 11 July, 1955, a year and a few days after his first session at 706 Union Avenue. You can hear Elvis laugh at the end of the record, a sure sign that he did not think it was a take.
“Elvis cut it in one take, you heard this one take stuff before, but it was, and I said ‘Elvis, this is it.” – Sam Phillips
‘Mystery Train’/’I Forgot To Remember to Forget’ became Presley’s last Sun single but failed to make either the Billboard chart or the R&B chart, it did, however, make No.11 on the Country chart in September of 1955. Neither did Junior Parker’s version of the song he co-wrote with Sam Phillips make the chart.
The Grateful Dead performed the song at a live concert in 1970. For some reason, best known to themselves, they reduced the number of carriages to 15. Over the years there have been numerous versions of the song, many with differing amounts of carriages!
Follow our Mystery Train playlist to hear all the different versions.