Turner's first hit, he debuted the song at the Grand Ole Opry in 2001, and released it as a single from his debut album, Long Black Train, two years later. It reached #13 on the Billboard Country charts and achieved gold status. When asked what his inspiration for the song was, Turner said he had envisioned a long, black train that was running down a track with people standing around watching it. It occurred to him that the train was a metaphor for temptation, with the engineer symbolizing Satan, and the train and whistle representing how we are always tempted to do evil, but we must resist. At the time, Turner was trying to discover who he was as an individual; he believes it's a song God delivered to him.
This was inspired by the Hank Williams' song "The Devil's Train." Josh Turner was asked by USA Weekend magazine (November 4, 2007) how he came up with this song: "It's probably the most spiritual experience I've ever had writing a song. I've always been a fan of Hank Williams. I've been mystified by his life. Then a box set of his came out. I couldn't afford to buy it at the time, so I'd just go over to the library. Late at night, I'd be in a cubbyhole there, just listening to his songs. I loved how his guitar would be a little out of tune, and sometimes he'd mess up on a song, and he'd just start over instead of recording over it. I'd walk out of the library with my mind racing with images of a train running in the middle of nowhere, with all of these people just standing, watching it go by and trying to contemplate whether to get on or not. I went to my bedroom, shut the door and just started strumming that rhythm and writing the verses. It never occurred to me that it would be a hit. I didn't even have a record contract at the time."
This won the award for Song of the Year at the 2004 Inspirational Country Music Awards.
Josh Turner recalled to AOL Music the story behind this song: "'Long Black Train' was inspired by a vision that I had of a long, black train running down this track way out in the middle of nowhere. I could see people standing out to the sides of this track watching this train go by. As I was walking, experiencing this vision, I kept asking myself, 'What does this vision mean and what is this train?' It dawned on me that this train was a physical metaphor for temptation. These people are caught up in the decision of whether or not to go on this train. And this came about in a time of my life where I was trying to figure out who I was as an artist and as a person... I was trying to learn how to deal with the freedom that I had away from home for the first time. 'Long Black Train,' the song and the album, are very special to me. It was just one of those things that I felt like God gave to me for a purpose, and I've been out here promoting that purpose."
This aptly titled song made the longest journey into the Top 20 in the history of the Country chart. It traveled into the Top 20 in its 35th week in 2004 on its journey to a #13 peak. The record was broken by Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy
," which took 40 weeks to reach the Top 20 in 2009-10.