Rock Island Line (6:58)

Cover of King Of Skiffle

From King Of Skiffle and 172 other releases

“Rock Island Line” is an American blues/folk song performed and first recorded by Lead Belly in the 1930s. Versions have been recorded by other artists. The song is ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

The chorus to the old song reads:
The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road
The Rock Island Line is the road to ride
The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road
If you want to ride you gotta ride it like you find it

Get your ticket at the station for the Rock Island Line
The verses tell a humorous story about a train operator who smuggled pig iron through a toll gate by claiming all he had on board was livestock.


According to Harry Lewman Music,
Lead Belly and John and Alan Lomax supposedly first heard it from (a) prison work gang during their travels in 1934/35. It was sung a cappella. Huddie sang and performed this song, finally settling on a format where he portrayed, in song, a train engineer asking the depot agent to let his train start out on the main line.

Lonnie Donegan’s recording, released in 1955, signalled the start of the UK “skiffle” craze. Donegan “did nothing to credit Lead Belly as the author, even though he simply copied Huddie’s entire arrangement”. However, although it only featured Donegan, Chris Barber on double bass and washboard player (Beryl Bryden), it was a band recording so he made no money from it beyond his original session fee.

Pete Seeger recorded a version a cappella while he was chopping wood, to demonstrate its origins.


Everyone’s tags

More tags

Play with Spotify

Albums featuring this track (173)

Similar Tracks

  Track   Duration Listeners
Lonnie Donegan - Cumberland Gap 1:56 6,280
Lonnie Donegan - Lost John 3:59 3,815
The Vipers Skiffle Group - Pick a Bale of Cotton 2:27 243
The Vipers Skiffle Group - Railroad Steamboat 2:36 351
The Kingston Trio - Tom Dooley 3:06 34,882
Anthony Newley - Strawberry Fair 2:21 815

Listening Trend

14,704listeners all time
42,825scrobbles all time
Recent listeners trend:

Explore more


Leave a comment. Log in to or sign up.
  • humtey

    this man is responsable for so many teens picking up guitars who went on to be legends in there own right .

    24 Aug 2013 Reply
  • steamboat58

    Thanks Ingetraud

    20 Apr 2012 Reply
  • Roy1968Wood

    Imagine that The Beatles started out making this ind of music,

    30 Nov 2011 Reply
  • headey

    search -NB check both pages for streamable LD versions ~~~~~~~~~~ & try the tag radio for more versions :

    11 Sep 2011 Reply


    10 Sep 2011 Reply
  • HorstKrannich

    +++ ist das klasse +++

    21 Aug 2011 Reply
  • whiteboy32386


    18 Aug 2010 Reply
  • KidSweden

    Thanks Elodave!! :)

    5 Mar 2010 Reply
  • Elodave

    To train buffs everywhere-this is for you!!!

    5 Mar 2010 Reply
  • Rowsell1985


    27 Nov 2009 Reply
  • luckylollyme

    Oh yeah skiffle.....

    26 Nov 2009 Reply
  • jecat

    Nice one London Louis. Your so right , Lonnie was the inspiration to us all. I was at his memorial concert at the Albert hall .There were top countless stars paying tribute, Van Morrison , Roger Daltrey . I rescued the 78 of this from my brother. The man who changed the face of modern music. He was greatly underrated . Someone should make a film about his life.

    7 Nov 2009 Reply
  • almagal

    I agree also. Leadbelly was the first to record this as far as I'm aware...

    9 Jul 2009 Reply
  • LondonLouis has brought me back to this. It really isn't a patch on the original Donegan hit version. Hearing this, you wouldn't realise that this song was an important step in a revolution in popular music. This was one of the biggest hits in the British skiffle boom in the 1950s. This boom got the kids reaching for guitars and six or seven years later you had the emergence of groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and all the other British invaders. Right at the end of this track, Lonnie's singing gets close to the hit version. Very fast and fun. .... but this is a disappointing version of such an important song.

    11 Feb 2009 Reply
  • LondonLouis

    Check out Stan Freberg's take on this hit. Lonnie was good. This track lacks the dynamism of the original hit.

    12 Dec 2008 Reply
  • brenjohn4

    skiffle king

    5 Sep 2008 Reply
  • ElectricSoul921

    Haha. I love it!

    12 May 2008 Reply
  • All 22 shouts

Top Listeners