The Chattanooga Choo Choo
photo by Andrew Jameson
In 1972 – 73 I hosted a program on the American Forces Network, Europe called “Town and Country.” My theme song was “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Floyd Cramer.
When selected to do the early morning country music show on the network I was told to pick a theme song. One of the program directors, Bud Miller and I had a conversation about my opening theme and Mr. Miller liked the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” since Chattanooga was my home town. He especially liked Mr. Cramer’s version.
Floyd Cramer told me the song was one of his most requested while traveling around the country doing concerts (Festival of Music) with Chet Atkins and Boots Randolph. During the spring 1966 concert at the Memorial Auditorium, Mr. Cramer played the song several times as the crowd gave him a standing ovation and they remained on their feet for several minutes.
Mr. Cramer said, “RCA decided to release the song as a single because of its popularity while I was traveling from town to town with Chet and Boots.”
During my time stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany locals would see my uniform and name. Many who didn’t speak a lot of English but would say to me, “Choo Choo, Chattanooga Choo Choo, AFN in the morning, Choo Choo.”
I walked through a German department store one day and a sales clerk saw my name and immediately said, “Choo Choo train, you are on AFN every morning, I like your theme.”
I don’t know of a song that has the name recognition as Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The song was written during war time and when Glenn Miller’s orchestra recorded the tune in 1941 it became an instant hit.
A year later Mr. Miller’s version was the first certified million seller. Listen and watch as Mr. Miller conducts the band. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHqd5p0tcpA
In 1967 there was a revival of the song when the popular singing group Harper’s Bizarre recorded Chattanooga Choo Choo for Warner Brothers and it was a single release.
WDEF’s Jolly Cholly Krause called the new recording, “a breath of fresh musical air.” Krause played it for years to come. The song caught on and was played on stations like WSM in Nashville and WSB in Atlanta.
Entertainer Gene Rayburn hosted a weekend segment of the NBC’s monitor radio show. Mr. Rayburn said, “For several weeks it was one of our most requested selections, the people loved it.”
Dozens of artists have recorded Chattanooga Choo Choo. I don’t know how many concerts I’ve attended at the Memorial Auditorium – Tivoli Theater where the artists sang the familiar tune bringing a thunderous applause from the audience.
Watch this 1985 video by the German singer TACO https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNqxAdY9oV0
Chattanooga Choo Choo Owners plans to spend $19 million on a modernization program and that is a good thing, but I can’t figure out why they would want to change the name that is so recognized around the world.
The late Bob Elmore who headed up the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau for several decades said, “The song was the best piece of free advertising - every time the song is played the listener is reminded of our city.”
The 1941 recording by Glenn Miller and his orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996.
I would think those hotel executives and consultants would give serious consideration to the historical significance of the name before any changes are made. Terminal Station in my mind will always be the “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”