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Origins: Knoxville Girl - UK roots

GUEST 23 Jul 09 - 06:10 AM
GUEST 23 Jul 09 - 09:12 AM
Ruth Archer 23 Jul 09 - 01:58 PM
GUEST,Paul Slade 23 Jul 09 - 04:49 PM
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Subject: Knoxville Girl's UK roots
Date: 23 Jul 09 - 06:10 AM

Knoxville Girl

I've just added a new essay about Knoxville Girl to my Murder BaIlads website.

It traces the song's origins as a 17th Century English ballad, follows its journey across the Atlantic and tracks down the original 1683 parish records naming the killer and his victim.

If that sounds interesting to you, please click the link above. The same (non-profit) site contains my Stagger Lee and Frankie & Johnny essays, which people here were kind enough to say they enjoyed back in May.

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Subject: RE: Knoxville Girl's UK roots
Date: 23 Jul 09 - 09:12 AM

This was a big hit for the Louvin Brothers who said it was originally an Irish song called ' The Wexford Girl '

Dave H

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Subject: RE: Knoxville Girl's UK roots
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 23 Jul 09 - 01:58 PM

"The Berkshire Tragedy verse above has him holding this conversation with a servant, but that would hardly have been a credible circumstance for the early Scottish and Irish settlers who first brought this song across the Atlantic. Knoxville Girl sets the conversation in simple family surroundings, having the killer confronted by his worried mother: "Saying 'Son, what have you done,   
To bloody your clothes so?'      
I told my anxious mother,      
I was bleeding at my nose."

I don't think this verse can simply be explained by Irish and Scottish settlers who, not being familiar with keeping servants, transformed the servant into a mother. It bears too much resemblance to the floating verses found in Edward, also known as Son, Come Tell it Unto Me or Who Put the Blood (Child 13); Lucy Wan (Child 51); and The Twa Brothers (Child 49).

Interesting to possibly trace the song back to an historically verifiable incident. Thanks.

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Subject: RE: Knoxville Girl's UK roots
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 23 Jul 09 - 04:49 PM

I must admit, I'd never come across any of those songs until you mentioned them.

I've now had a chance to look up Lucy Wan and What Put the Blood elsewhere on Mudcat, however, and I see the crucial verses have a killer, confronted by his mother, who explains away the blood on his clothes by telling her it's an animal's blood. In fact, as his mother quickly guesses, it belongs to either his brother or his sister, who the man's just killed.

Mudcat dates Lucy Wan back to 1827. Knoxville Girl's American predecessor, The Lexington Miller, was still using the miller's servant rather than his mother at around that time, so it's perfectly possible that whoever rewrote it to introduce the mother already knew the floating verses you mention. Even so, part of his motivation could still have been to make the song more identifiable for his American listeners.

There's no mention of a nosebleed in any of the songs you mention – or, at least, not in any version I've seen – and that element of Knoxville Girl can be traced directly back to The Bloody Miller in 1683 or so.

I'm glad you enjoyed my piece, and thanks very much for raising this interesting point about it.

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