50’s Instrumental Hits

November 9, 2007 at 5:18 pm 1 comment

The 1950’s saw the birth of Rock’n’Roll, evolving from Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Jazz, and Country, while simultaneously influencing all those genres as well. It should be no surprise that there were a large number of instrumental hits from the 50’s that reflect all of those styles. This post will look at three of them: Sleepwalk, Honky Tonk, and Night Train.

Possibly the most familiar of all 50’s instrumentals, Sleepwalk was written and performed by Santo and Johnny (Santo and Johnny Farina were brothers born in Brooklyn). It was a number one hit in 1959. It features the melody performed on steel guitar. The singing, sliding sound is the result of the strings being stopped not by the fingers of the left hand but by a steel bar.

Sleepwalk is one of the most covered instrumentals of all time, with versions by Brian Setzer, The Shadows, The Ventures, Jake Shimabukuro, Larry Carlton, The Deftones, Chet Atkins, Danny Gatton, and Joe Satriani. Many of these are available on YouTube.

My version is quite traditional. I use the Bigsby vibrato bar to simulate some of the sliding, pitch bend effects of the original version.

Sleepwalk Stream Mp3


Honky Tonk was a hit for Bill Doggett in 1956. He also wrote it. The original version featured tenor sax and piano (Doggett was a pianist) but this did not prevent the song from becoming a staple for guitarists and guitar bands. It was covered by Duane Eddy, the Ventures, Lonnie Mack, and the Beach Boys.

According to the Wikipedia article, the song Night Train has a complex history. An R&B/Jazz standard, the first charted version of Night Train was Jimmy Forrest’s in 1952. Like Honky Tonk and Sleepwalk, it was covered by many artists, including a noteworthy version by James Brown and the Famous Flames in 1962.

Both Honky Tonk and Night Train are 12-bar blues forms typically performed with a shuffle feel, so I have combined the two in one arrangement I call Honky Tonk Night Train. What else would I call it?

Honky Tonk Night Train Stream Mp3

Entry filed under: Guitar, Music, Oldies, Vintage Instrumentals.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ron  |  August 10, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Honky Tonk/Night Train – Just plain COOL


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