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Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads

09 Apr 01 - 01:14 AM (#436164)
Subject: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,

im looking for murder ballads any help at all would be appreciate

09 Apr 01 - 04:10 AM (#436192)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Joe Offer

Well, I suppose the best known one is probably "Tom Dooley" - we've got a thread somewhere that gives information about that one. I think the best way for you to start is to do a search for @murder in our blue Digital Tradition search box, which is on most Mudcat pages (or be lazy and click here). That should give you a good start. After that, it's probably better to aske more specific questions.
-Joe Offer (e-mail sent)-

09 Apr 01 - 07:41 AM (#436235)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: mkebenn

"Rose Connely(Willow Garden)", "Long Black Rifle" "Omie Wise" these will really cheer you up. Mike

09 Apr 01 - 07:51 AM (#436240)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,Bruce O.

'American Murder Ballads', by Olive Woolley Burt.

09 Apr 01 - 08:10 AM (#436248)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Irish sergeant

Banks of the Ohio although that isn't neccessarily Appalachian. Tom Dooley as mentioned above Poor Lazarus John Hardy Hope this helps, kindest reguards, Neil

09 Apr 01 - 08:11 AM (#436249)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Dharmabum

THE TRUE LOVERS FAREWELL,Appalacian Folk Ballads,by Custer La Rue. On the Dorian Recordings label. Although not primarily murder ballads,many of the songs on this album have the element of some type of wrong doing.


09 Apr 01 - 08:23 AM (#436260)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,Bruce O.

Old versions of "Banks of the Ohio" were called "Banks of the Old Pee Dee". Some of the rivers called Old Pee Dee are pretty close to being Appalachian. [The McPeake's in Ireland had it as O.B.D.]

09 Apr 01 - 08:53 AM (#436280)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: John P

Pretty Polly
Little Sadie
Frankie and Johnny
The Saint Alban's Murder
The Cruel Sister

09 Apr 01 - 09:04 AM (#436287)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,Roll&Go-C

Then there's "Poor Little Ellen", "Rain and Snow", "Wild Bill Jones", "Omie Wise" and if you'd like a more recent reconstruction "Murders on the Cumberland Plateau." That should make a jolly evening!

09 Apr 01 - 11:05 AM (#436379)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: LR Mole

Patrick Sky's "Yonkers Girl" is a pretty funny satire of the type. Like all good satires, it proves he must have been pretty completely versed in the originals. "Long Black Veil" is not as old as it sounds.

09 Apr 01 - 11:26 AM (#436398)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Wendy_

"Frankie Silvers" is in the DigiTrad here.

This page has info about the event, some recordings of the ballad, a novel, and other writing.

Link fixed. --JoeClone, 22-Apr-02.

09 Apr 01 - 01:12 PM (#436476)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Bluebelle

MARTIN CARTHY AND DAVE SWARBRICK, "LUCY WAN" incest, sister-cide, and the old it-never-works lie about that blood on your sleeve

MARTIN CARTHY BY HISSELF, "BILL NORRIE" secret illegitimate child, jealousy, beheading

KRISTIN HERSH, "POOR ELLEN SMITH" alas, I must hang, cos I shot my love

THE ARMSTRONG FAMILY, "THE WIND AND THE RAIN" sister-cide, construction of fiddle out of hapless victim's bones


WOODY GUTHRIE, "BUFFALO SKINNERS" drover hired us cowboys to hunt buffalo, then he went bankrupt and couldn't pay us, but we never heard of no bankrupt law, so we kilt him

JOHN JACKSON, "FRANKIE AND JOHNNY" she shot her man, cos he done her wrong

BURNETT & RUTHERFORD, "PEARL BRYAN" 2 dentistry students kill the pregnant lover of a friend in the course of a botched abortion and remove her head to prevent identification, but she has webbed toes so they get caught and hung anyway - true story!

WAYNE ERBSEN, "TOM DULA" he killed poor Laura Foster, you know he's bound to die

DAVID MILLER, "THAT BAD MAN STACKOLEE" Stackolee shot Billy Lyons through and through, all over his Stetson hat

BILL MONROE AND DOC WATSON, "BANKS OF THE OHIO" alas, I must hang, I drowned my love

LOUVIN BROTHERS, "KNOXVILLE GIRL" alas, I must hang, I beat my love to death

BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES FAMILY TRAVELING MEDICINE SHOW, "FATAL FLOWER GARDEN" sweet-seeming lady lures hapless schoolboy to his death

AMPS FOR CHRIST, "EDWARD" relative of "Lucy Wan" only this time it's fratricide

RUBE WADDELL, "JOE HILL" half murder ballad, half rabble-rousin song - Joe Hill was framed for a murder because he was a labor leader, and even then-pres. Woodrow Wilson believed Joe was innocent but he still hanged

BILLY CHILDISH AND THE BLACKHANDS, "JOHN HARDY" words unintelligible but I have it on good authority - Leadbelly, that John Hardy kills a man over 25c in a card game and gets himself hanged - true story, apparently

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD, "STACK-O-LEE" rockabilly version that makes it sound kinda funny - Stack-O-Lee goes to hell after he's hanged and takes over from the devil, he's so bad

BYRD MOORE, "FRANKIE SILVERS" shot her husband, wrote this about it in jail, took the poem and a piece of cake to the scaffold, et the cake and said the poem and was hanged

COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, "THE LONG BLACK VEIL" alas, I must hang, I didn't kill anybody but I did sleep with my best friend's wife

UNCLE TUPELO, "LILI SCHULL" alas, I must hang, I killed my love in an unspecified manner

FAIRPORT CONVENTION, "MATTY GROVES" Lady Donal sleeps with our Matty, Lord Donal kills them both eventually, after the priceless line "never let it be said in all England I slew a naked man"

SHIRLEY COLLINS AND THE ALBION COUNTRY BAND, "THE MURDER OF MARIA MARTEN" alas, I must hang, I killed my love in a way I forget -

GARMARNA, "BRUN" boy abducts girl, boy goes to sleep, girl ties up boy with her long hair, girl wakes boy and then kills him

TWO DOLLAR GUITAR, "WOMAN KILLING MAN" boy attempts to shoot girl, girl calls him weak for using a gun, stabs him with scissors and leaves him to die

09 Apr 01 - 01:31 PM (#436486)
Subject: Lyr Add: PEARL BRIAN
From: toadfrog


In Greencastle lived Pearl Bryan, who is known this wide world o'er,
Beheaded by Scott Jackson, whom she really did adore.

In a cab one rainy evening, before the close of day,
Up rode Walling and Jackson, and with Pearl they rode away.

Little did poor Pearl think, as she left her home so gay,
That the suitcase that she carried, would hide her head someday!

The driver tells the story, how little Pearl did moan,
All the way from Cincinatti to where the cruel deed was done.

Next morning the people were excited, and this is what they said.
"Here is a little girl's body, but where, or where is the head"?

They arrested Walling and Jackson and put them in a cell.
The policement gathered around, but nothing would they tell.

In came Pearl's little sister, and fell down on her knees,
Pleading to Scott Jackson, give me sister's head, oh please.

Scott Jackson was so stubborn, that this is what he said,
"If you meet your sister in Heaven, you will find the missing head!"

You girls who fall in love, don't ever be misled.
Don't take any hasty action. Oh, girls don't lose your head!

09 Apr 01 - 06:50 PM (#436853)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Diva

Love it..can I get the tune somewhere???

09 Apr 01 - 10:03 PM (#437008)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: raredance

There are 2 version of "Pearl Bryan" in the DT. One is called "Pearl Bryan" the other is called "Pearl Bryan (3)". What happened to "2"? Maybe Toadfrog's version above could become "2". There are overlaps in the three versions:

Toadfrog v 1 is PB(3) v 1
Toadfrog v 2 is PB (3) v 5
Toadfrog v 3 is PB v 5
Toadfrog v 7 is PB v 9
Toadfrog v 8 is PB v 10

There are 27 verses among the three version. Knock out the 5 duplicates and combine the others and you got yourself a 22 verse greatly detailed murder ballad.

rich r

09 Apr 01 - 10:18 PM (#437022)
Subject: Lyr Add: PEARL BRYAN
From: raredance

Here's a candidate for "Pearl Bryan (4)"

Deep deep down in the valley,
Where the flowers bloom and fade,
There lies our own Pearl Bryan
In a cold and silent grave.

She died not broken hearted,
Nor by disease she fell,
But in one moment parted
From those she loved so well.

One evening when the moon shone brightly,
And the stars were shining too,
Into her lighted cottage
Her jealous lover drew.

Saying, "Pearl, let's take a ramble.
INto the woods and meadows gay,
Where no one can disturb us,
We'll name our wedding day."

The night was cold and dreary,
She was afraid to stay.
Of wandering she grew wear,
And would have retraced her way.

"Retrace your way, no never.
The woods you'll roam no more.
Long long they'll wait you coming
At your own little cottage door.

No arms can take you from me.
Nor from me can you fly.
No earthly soul can hear you;
You instantly must die.

Down on her knees before him,
She pleaded for her life.
Into her snow white bosom,
He plunged his fatal knife.

"Oh, what have I done, Scott Jackson,
That you should take my life?
You know I've always loved you
And would have been your wife.

the birds sing in the morning,
And mournful were their tunes,
They found Pearl Bryan lying
In a cold and silent tomb.

She died away fromhome and friends,
OUt in that lonely spot.
Take heed, take heed, believe this girls.
Don't let this be your lot.

from: Southern Folk Ballads Vol II by W. K. McNeil

rich r

10 Apr 01 - 02:17 PM (#437479)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: RWilhelm

In her book _Poor Pearl, Poor Girl_ Anne B. Cohen counts 135 distinct songs about Pearl Bryan in 6 different categories.

10 Apr 01 - 02:28 PM (#437486)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,Fretless

Does Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billy Jo count? Depends, I guess, on what you think went off the bridge. :-)

10 Apr 01 - 02:59 PM (#437516)

THE BANKS OF THE OHIO never happened, KNOXVILLE GIRL did. Why does everyone sing the last two lines to Knoxville girl to where they don' rhyme when if you change the location of two words, it does rhyme. Fer Goodness sake, sing the last verse:

They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in the jail.
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail.

I'm doomed to spend my life away down in this dirty old cell
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well.

Then there's Leadbelly's ELLA SPEED:

Come (Bm7) on and pay (Em) heed,
Let’s re- (A7) member the death of old Ella Speed.
REPEAT. (Note repeat each line twice.)
Ella Speed was downtown. she was havin' her lovin' fun.
Let me tell you what Bill Martin done.
The deed that Bill Martin done,
It was first degree murder with a Colt .41.
Bill Martin he was tall and slender,
Better known for being a bartender.
They arrested Bill Martin and they took him down to the jail,
And the judge said, “Bill Martin, I'll never fail.”
“The deed, Bill Martin, that you done,
You sinner, you know your gonna be hung.”
When the women all heard that Ella Speed was dead,
All goin' back home and re-rag in red.
Come on and pay heed.
Let me tell you about the death of old Ella Speed.

And how about, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD AND CRY, POOR BOY. or does it only count when the murderee is a woman?

HTML line breaks & punctuation added. --JoeClone, 22-Apr-02.

10 Apr 01 - 10:22 PM (#437786)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Mudlark

Did I miss Polly Vaughn in this great pouring out of murder ballads? (For she'd wrap'd her shawl about her and he took her for a swan....) The Dillards made a great recording...


10 Apr 01 - 11:44 PM (#437827)

ELLA SPEED is in the key of D. I left out the last chord.

Here is a beaut. I believe it’s written by Tex Ritter, who does it too fast and only does it as a recitation. I recited the first and third verses and sing the second and fourth to the tune of “My Poor Nelly Grey” (Maggie Maggie May)


Oncet I knowed a git-tar picker,
Lived his life on wine and liquor,
Rode around in a Rolls Royce limousine.
He was just about the proudest-feeling,
Wheeling, dealing, sneaking, stealing,
Nothing but a midnight rambler,
Sometimes cheatin’ drunken gambler.
He’d try anything that wasn’t nice:
Hunting, golfing, fishing, swimming,
Playin’ dominoes, and shootin’ dice.

(D) Late one evening, he was dining,
(G) While the moon was brightly shining
(A7) With his secret love he was so (D) gay.
He would laugh and call her Honey,
(G) While she proudly spent his money,
And (A7) that’s the way they whiled the night a- (D) way.
(G) Huggin’, kissin’, dinin’, dancin’,
(D) Plannin’ parties, and roman- (B7) cin’,
(E7) Havin’ fun regardless of the (A7) price,
(D) Eatin’ caviar and chicken,
(G) Strummin’ his guitar and pickin’,
(A7) Playin’ dominoes, and shootin’ dice.

(Spoken again)
And then his wife came in and found him
With that pretty girl around him.
Towards that BUM she began to navigate.
WELL when he saw the crowd dividing,
He commenced some slippin’ and slidin’,
But deep down, ooooooooooooooh, he knew it was just too late.
Soon the crowd began getting thinner.
Folks got up and left their dinner.
No one seemed to have an appetite.
Not one person dared offend her.
One old gent jumped out the winder.
No one cared to stay and see the fight.

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 22-Apr-02.

10 Apr 01 - 11:53 PM (#437840)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads

(America on line was about to kick me out. I didn't want to lose what I'd already written. Here's the last verse, sung as the second verse was sung)
First she grabbed him by the collar
He commenced to squeal and holler,
So she plastered him right betwixt the eyes
Grabbed his old guitar and swung it
"Round his neck she proudly hung it,
Bruises cuts and bumps began to rise.
He jumped up and tried to squeeze her
So she rapped him 'crossed the beezer,
pulled a pistol, shot him oncet or twicet
When that awfull fight was over,
he was layed beneath the clover
No more playin' dominoes and no more shootin' dice.


11 Apr 01 - 12:01 AM (#437846)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads


"Eating caviar and chicken strumming his guitar and picking
Playing dominoes and shooting dice.

I had my head up my ass and it's hard to see that way.
Jody Gibson

11 Apr 01 - 09:05 PM (#438636)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: georgetownboy

The last time I looked at Frank and Ann Warners book of Folk music,"Knoxville Girl" was a derivation of " the Wexford Tragedy." It's been years since I've read the book, but I believe Ann states that there are over 1000 versions of this song. For my money Townes van Zandts suicide ballad,"Tecumseh Valley," fits right inthis category.

11 Apr 01 - 09:33 PM (#438650)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: GUEST,fox4zero

John Hardy Little Grave in Georgia and other Mary Phagan murder songs. In all of the variations of Wexford Girl, Oxford Girl, Banks of the Ohio, Omie Wise, etc...the reason for the murders never occurred to me until I heard one version of Omie Wise. I must have been the dumbest and/or most naive person on earth! It never occurred to me that the female victim was pregnant and the male "perp" or ("poip" as the cops say in NYC) did not wish to be encumbered with matrimony or child support. Henry Lee (Get down, get down little Henry Lee and stay all night with me....? Young Hunting in Britain. Railroad Bill (...he ain't so bad, he killed his momma, shot a round at his dad). Larry

11 Apr 01 - 10:28 PM (#438689)

Newport RI cops call their "bad guys", NITWITS'I do believe that "Polly Vaughn" is another version of "Molly Bawn", supposedly the oldest known European Ballad.
If you want a really gory one, where everyone of the principals die, try "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender" Note: The Brown girl was not African, she was just not Fair like here goes (if I can remember it all)

Father dear father come riddle me this
Come riddle it all as one.
Whether to marry Fair Ellender
Or to bring the brown girl home.

The Brown Girl she has house and land
Fair Ellender she has none
I charge you with my blessings, son
To bring the brown girl home

He rode 'till he came to Fair Ellender's door
So lightly taped at the ring
I've come to invite you to my wedding
said she 'tis a sorrowful thing

Fair Ellender dressed in silks so fine
Her maidens, all in green
Every town that they rode through
They took her to be some queen

She rode 'till she came to Lord Thomas's door
So lightly tapped at the ring
Warm was her welcome there
Lord Thomas' welcoming.

Then taking her by her lilly white hand
He led her her cross'd the hall.
Sitting her down at the table's head
Above his bride and all

The Brown girl took out a little Pen Knife
It was both keen and small
With it she pierced Fair Ellender's breast
"twixt the short ribs and the tall

Lord Thomas asked Fair Ellender
Why do you look sop pale?
You used to have such red rosy cheeks
As ever shone through a vail

Oh are you blind and cannot you see
Your bride has murdered me
I think I feel my own life's blood
come trickling down on me.

Lord Thomas's sword was by his side,
It was both keen and small.
With it he cut off the brown girls head
And stove it against the wall

then olkacing the sword all on the floor
The point against his breast
saying this is the end of three young loves
God send their souls to rest

Father dear father come dig my grave
dig it both loing and deep
Bury Fair Ellender in my arms
The brown girl at my feet.

12 Apr 01 - 02:41 AM (#438799)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Sourdough

I am partial to Appalachian murder ballads myself. Most of my favorites have been mentioned but I would add Butcher's Boy, Wild Goose Grasses, and my especial favorite, The Gypsy Lady.


16 Apr 01 - 08:47 AM (#441580)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: John P

A Maryland state agency reported that the No. 1 cause of death of pregnant women for the years 1993-98 was homicide. [Chicago Sun-Times, 3-21-01]

16 Apr 01 - 09:11 AM (#441591)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: LR Mole

Dave Alvin's new album, "Public Domain" has this feel to it, and a few good examples.

25 May 01 - 01:35 PM (#470401)
Subject: Lyr Add: OMIE WISE (Doc Watson version)^^
From: Jim Dixon

An unknown person posted this in a help thread, so I copied it here. There are other versions in DT, where it says the song is about a real murder in Randolph County, NC, 1908.


Oh, listen to my story. I'll tell you no lies,
How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise.

He told her to meet him at Adam's Springs.
He promised her money and other fine things.

So, fool-like she met him at Adam's Springs.
No money he brought her nor other fine things.

"Go with me, little Omie, and away we will go.
We'll go and get married and no one will know."

She climbed up behind him and away they did go,
But off to the river where deep waters flow.

"John Lewis, John Lewis, will you tell me your mind?
Do you intend to marry me, or leave me behind?"

"Little Omie, little Omie, I'll tell you my mind.
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind."

"Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life.
I'll go home as a beggar and never be your wife."

He kissed her and hugged her and turned her around,
Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown.

He got on his pony and away he did ride,
As the screams of little Omie went down by his side.

Was on a Thursday morning, the rain was pouring down,
When the people searched for Omie but she could not be found.

Two boys went a-fishin' one fine summer day,
And saw little Omie's body go floating away.

They threw their net around her and drew her to the bank.
Her clothes all wet and muddy, they laid her on a plank,

Then sent for John Lewis to come to that place,
And brought her out before him so that he might see her face.

He made no confessions, but they carried him to jail.
No friends nor relations would go on his bail.

[Laws F 4. Similar versions have been recorded as "Ommie Wise," "Naomi Wise," "Little Omie Wise," "Omie Wise's Tragic Romance," and "John Lewis." This version recorded by Doc Watson on "Doc Watson," 1964, and on several later albums. @murder]

25 May 01 - 01:41 PM (#470404)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Mrrzy

Little Sadie? Also I had at some point an album called Bloody Ballads, which was basically murder ballads on one side, ghost ballads on the other. Dean Gitter, I believe. GREAT album!

25 May 01 - 04:16 PM (#470517)
Subject: Lyr Add: TRAGEDY ON THE M&NA
From: GUEST,

As I recomember, (I was a mear chy-uld at the time), it was a man named Tex Williams who recorded "Playin' Dominoes and Shootin' Dice". I don't know was the author of it. Maybe Tex Ritter wrote it.

Jimmy Driftwood wrote a murder ballad. While it is not an Appalachian ballad, it IS an Ozark Ballad. Should be close enough for government work.

TRAGEDY ON THE M&NA (Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad)

I was born and raised in Arkansas in a pine log shack.
I fell in love with a pretty little girl in the land of the Rackensack.
I loved that girl so very much, it wasn't any fun.
Then one night I lost my head and I tell you what I done.

CHO: I asked her if she'd marry me. She said we'd have to part.
I took out my hunting knife and I stabbed her in the heart.
I tried all night to bring her back, but at the break of day;
I ran down to the railroad track and I caught the M&NA.

One night while I was yearning for my home in the Rackensack,
I heard a voice I knew and felt a six-gun in my back.
Her father said, “You're going home and face the music, son.”
I gave him my hunting knife and I told him what I done. (Chorus)

The night before my trial, Mother Nature cast her vote.
A rattlesnake got in my bed and bit me on the throat.
I know that I am dying, so goodbye to this old world.
Only God above can know how much I loved that girl. (Chorus)

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 22-Apr-02.

25 May 01 - 04:38 PM (#470533)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Wendy_

A picture of Dean Gitter's Ghost Ballads

25 May 01 - 07:48 PM (#470647)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: appalachian murder ballads
From: Mudlark

What about "The Cruel Mother" wot took out her reapin' knive and took her two babes' life....also, Tom Leher's sendup, Rikkity Tikkity Tin, to be sung with a broad and obviously fake oy-rish accent ("one mornin' in a fit of peak, sing rikkity tikkity tin, she drowned her father in the creek. The whater thasted bad for a weeeeeeeeek....and we had to make do w/gin...)_