Fingerstyle From Hell.

Five versions guaranteed to make you burn your guitar.

Elizabeth Cotton wrote the song Freight Train before she was 13 years old. She finally got around to recording it when she was in her 60’s and it became an instant sensation, launching the unsuspecting housekeeper to fame.

The song is still incredibly popular and has become a standard amongst fingerstyle guitarists. In fact, any picker worth their salt has an interpretation. It’s become the Stairway to Heaven of the acoustic guitar. People who should never even hold a guitar are now playing this song in public, its beautiful melody is slowly being beaten into the ground by overuse, twisted by abuse, and tortured by repetition. If you don’t believe us, type Freight Train into YouTube and grab some earplugs.

We feel its time to put this song back in its rightful place; either in the hands of an expert, or in the privacy of your own home.

That’s right, we’re taking it back.

For those of you who haven’t heard the original, here’s the lovely lady playing her composition.

Elizabeth Cotten:

(Take note of her unique playing style, aka: Cotten Picking, she holds the guitar upside down, plays the melody with her thumb and the bass with her fingers)

Next up is the Guitar Man himself, Chet Atkins. Stand back.

This is Twang-master Duane Eddy, here to distract you from what’s to come next with his rockabilly rendition.

Okay, take a seat and give your attention to the great Lenny Breau. Seriously, if you fancy yourself a guitar player you’ll need to sit down when hearing this for the first time.

This comes from the sadly OOP album The Legendary Lenny Brea…Now! A full transcription is available in Lenny Breau Fingerstyle Jazz.

Finally, former pupil of Lenny Breau and the inventor of the 17 string guitarp, Philip DeGruy.  His version is a medley with I’ll See You In My Dreams. It owes a big tip of the hat not only to his former mentor, but also to whatever light bulb headed wino angels were perched on his shoulder while he was recording. If you’re already sitting down, you might want to lie on the floor. In the fetal position.

This comes from the mind bending Innuendo out the Other.

If you’ve gotten this far and still want to play the song, check back soon for a transcription and a new lesson based on it (we’ll even throw in a couple of Lenny’s tricks), as well as a full profiles on Elizabeth Cotten, Chet Aktins, Lenny Breau and Philip DeGruy.

For Further Listening:


Elizabeth Cotton

Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes


The Essential Chet Atkins


Philip DeGruy – Innuendo Out the Other


Lenny Breau