Michael learned this song when he learned Travis Picking method early in his classical guitar career and the song has become a versatile piece with very deep meaning and connection to his life. Folk blues tradition runs in the Witt family's history and Michael spent part of his musical academia career living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where Elizabeth Cotten was from. The lyrics have deep meaning...
The composer and original performer of Freight Train, Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (née Nevills) (January 5, 1893 – June 29, 1987) was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter.
A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. She played a guitar strung for a right-handed player, but played it upside down, as she was left-handed. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking".
The guitar, a Sears and Roebuck brand instrument, cost $3.75. Although self-taught, she became proficient at playing the instrument. By her early teens she was writing her own songs, one of which, "Freight Train", became one of her most recognized. She wrote the song in remembrance of a nearby train that she could hear from her childhood home. The 1956 UK recording of the song by Chas. McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey was a major hit and is credited as one of the main influences on the rise of skiffle in the UK. See GuitarWitt's repertoire page for more songs arranged for instrumental guitar that will work for your joyous event, or wedding.
Wedding performance at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (above).