My wife and I bought a house in the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar a few years ago. The area doesn’t have much local history, having been olive orchards before WWII and suburbia ever since, but whatever items we find that are branded with Sylmar history are brought home and displayed. The best example would be bottles used for containing Sylmar olive oil. My neighborhood shares a boundary with the city of San Fernando. While we don’t have the same attachment to items branded with their name I have found a song with their name that I enjoy. Yesterday’s mail delivered to me a vinyl 45 of Last Train to San Fernando as performed by Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys.
The song was originally a calypso tune performed by Trinidadian artist Mighty Spitfire, aka Carlton Joseph Gumbs, throughout the 1940s. I knew when I bought the record that the song isn’t really about San Fernando, California but is instead about San Fernando, Spain. The narrator has met a girl in the Port of Spain but at the end of the night she needs to catch the train back to San Fernando. There aren’t any good places to hear Mighty Spitfire’s version, but it can be heard on YouTube at https://youtu.be/sdkz-rZs3s0. While the recording starts clear enough after a minute or so the music is covered with the added audio of steam trains.
There was a skiffle boom in late 1950s England. Johnny Duncan got placed as a guitarist within a notable skiffle group and was able to parley his way into making his own name. His producer had a Caribbean wife and she suggested that Johnny cover Last Train to San Fernando. The song was already being covered by other calypso artists and cabaret acts. Duncan’s bluegrass twist on the song was what it needed to get attention. In 1957 his version became a hit on the UK singles chart, rising as high as number seventeen. It went on to be recorded by other skiffle acts after its release and was even translated into German (https://youtu.be/DvHWhLfRpaU). It was Duncan’s only meeting with fame as skiffle would quickly be replaced by American rock and roll in England.