Murder Ballads - any other fans?

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Murder Ballads - any other fans?

Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Jun 05, 2006 10:19 am

My wife just bought a compilation of murder ballads with tunes like Tom Dooley, Cocaine Blues and Stagger Lee. Alot of interesting history behind some of the old tunes, Tom Dooley, for example was about a North Carolina womanizer named Tom Dula, who got caught up in a love triangle and killed his girlfriend (some accounts attribute the motive to the fact that she gave him a veneral disease).
Death is entertainment. A quick scan of history can easily support that statement. For example, human slaughter was sport in the Roman Empire, where millions flocked to coliseums to witness circus games: chariot races, public executions and gladiator battles. In modern times, violent action, suspense and horror movies fulfill the same primal craving. And the glut of violence in the news also helps scratch the itch of morbidity.

In the realm of music, the time-honored genre of the murder ballad also helps fill this void. Although the ranks of murder ballad composers have dwindled in recent decades, it remains a popular traditional form, with a vast repertoire of existent songs.

Although tales of death and murder have long been fodder for poets of probably every generation and culture, what we call the murder ballad came to its greatest level of development in two places: Victorian England and the hills of Appalachia. English songs such as "Oxford Tragedy" were printed quickly, and were intended as "reports" of current events. The songs were written according to a particular formulaic narrative structure, with detailed descriptions of shootings, stabbings and strangulations and the resulting judicial proceedings. These ballads were often attributed to the criminals themselves, although few scholars would testify to the accuracy of such sensationalism today.

Anybody who listens to country, folk or bluegrass music will be well acquainted with the story of handsome Tom Dula, a talented, fiddle-playing North Carolinian. The Wilkes County native was a known womanizer, and ended up being hanged for the 1866 stabbing death of girlfriend Laura Foster. A local poet, Thomas C. Land, immortalized Dula and the murder with a ballad called "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley," which proved to be very popular with the mountain people in the surrounding areas. The Kingston Trio helped bring the song to a broader audience in the late '50s with their version.

Like other songs in the folk tradition, murder ballads are constantly reworked and reinterpreted. Take "Stagger Lee," for instance. This grim tale of gambling and gunshots has been recorded no less than 200 times, with wildly varying lyrics and musical settings. Everyone from guitar-slinging poets Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie to improv-freaks The Grateful Dead to blues-man Mississippi John Hurt and R&B singers the Isley Brothers have made this song their own. But perhaps the strangest version of "Stagger Lee" is by Nick Cave. The Australian purveyor of Doom & Gloom humorously packs the piece with profanity in a play on the grandstanding and braggadocio of hip-hop.

That song was featured on Cave's 1996 album entitled, you guessed it, Murder Ballads. Although Cave frequently dismisses the work as a rushed project, the album combines new arrangements of traditional songs such as "Henry Lee," (a gorgeous duet with PJ Harvey) and originals like the 14-minute "O'Malley's Bar." In this song, Cave's protagonist waxes poetic as he mercilessly guns down all the patrons in the titular watering hole. Verse after verse, the tension builds. Cave's character seems to believe he's on a divine mission of some sort, backed by superhuman strength of will. But when the police finally arrive, ordering him to "come out with [his] hands above [his] head," the murderer "had one hard think about dying, and did exactly what they said."

As a songwriter and son of an English professor, Cave has a natural affinity for words. As such, he's sometimes admits that he looks up to such pillars of 20th century songwriting as Dylan and Johnny Cash. Cash, in particular, appears to be an influence. And the man who wrote "Folsom Prison Blues" knows a thing or two about songs of foul play. The Man in Black sings about shooting his woman in "Delia's Gone" and "Cocaine Blues." The famous case of John Wesley Hardin breathes new life with "Hardin Wouldn't Run." And when Cash tells us he "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," we believe him, such is the force of personality behind his rich baritone.

Did Johnny Cash actually spend time in prison for any such crimes? Of course not. "I never spent time behind bars except for a few overnight jail times back in the Sixties," he told Rolling Stone magazine before his death. But like other great artists, Cash possessed an innate sense of human nature. He had definite views on the appeal of the macabre in music. "It's always been an American theme to make heroes out of the criminals," Cash said. "Right or wrong, we've always done it. You know, it really is a crime in itself, but we do it. I think there's a little bit of a criminal in all of us. Everybody's done something they don't want anybody to know about. Maybe that's where it comes from."
http://www.metrobeat.net/gbase/Expedite ... oid%3A3249

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Re: Murder Ballads - any other fans?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jun 05, 2006 11:02 am

BWV 1080 wrote:My wife just bought a compilation of murder ballads with tunes like Tom Dooley, Cocaine Blues and Stagger Lee. Alot of interesting history behind some of the old tunes, Tom Dooley, for example was about a North Carolina womanizer named Tom Dula, who got caught up in a love triangle and killed his girlfriend (some accounts attribute the motive to the fact that she gave him a veneral disease).
He was her man, but he done her wrong.

I didn't know it was a genre. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Haydnseek » Mon Jun 05, 2006 1:06 pm

"The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be." - Raymond Chandler

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jun 05, 2006 1:57 pm

Yeah. I like Lazarus (from Brother, Where Art Thou) and Frankie and Johnnie.

I hear there's an entire genre of such songs for murdered drug dealers. Name escapes for a moment as I don't know many of those kinds of folks.
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Mon Jun 05, 2006 4:57 pm

I thought you were referring to the Nick Cave album Murder Ballads, an art-form he specializes in - including the best kick-butt version of Stagger Lee I've come across. But there's nothing in the world like Deep in the Woods by The Birthday Party, his first band. A song that should not have been written, and I should not enjoy. Pure evil.

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Post by Gary » Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:09 pm

Does this count?


The Long Black Veil
By: M. Wilkens & D. Dill
Originally recorded by J.R. Cash: 12/17/64



Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
Someone was killed, 'neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran, looked a lot like me

The judge said son, what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die
I spoke not a word, thou it meant my life
For I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife

Chorus
She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

Oh, the scaffold is high and eternity's near
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But late at night, when the north wind blows
In a long black veil, she cries ov're my bones

Repeat Chorus


http://www.toptown.com/hp/66/longblackveil.htm
"Your idea of a donut-shaped universe intrigues me, Homer; I may have to steal it."

--Stephen Hawking makes guest appearance on The Simpsons

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Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:13 pm

Gary,

perhaps not as the singer was innocent :)

Compared to this Johnny Cash song:

Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bed
I stuck that lovin' .44 beneath my head

Got up next mornin' and I grabbed that gun
Took a shot of cocaine and away I run
Made a good run but I ran too slow
They overtook me down in Juarez, Mexico

Late in the hot joints takin' the pills
In walked the sheriff from Jericho Hill
He said Willy Lee your name is not Jack Brown
You're the dirty heck that shot your woman down

Said yes, oh yes my name is Willy Lee
If you've got the warrant just a-read it to me
Shot her down because she made me sore
I thought I was her daddy but she had five more

When I was arrested I was dressed in black
They put me on a train and they took me back
Had no friend for to go my bail
They slapped my dried up carcass in that county jail

Early next mornin' bout a half past nine
I spied the sheriff coming down the line
Ah, and he coughed as he cleared his throat
He said come on you dirty heck into that district court

Into the courtroom my trial began
Where I was handled by twelve honest men
Just before the jury started out
I saw the little judge commence to look about

In about five minutes in walked the man
Holding the verdict in his right hand
The verdict read murder in the first degree
I hollered Lawdy Lawdy, have a mercy on me

The judge he smiled as he picked up his pen
99 years in the Folsom pen
99 years underneath that ground
I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down

Come on you've gotta listen unto me
Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be

Gary
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Post by Gary » Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:17 pm

I see the difference now. :)
"Your idea of a donut-shaped universe intrigues me, Homer; I may have to steal it."

--Stephen Hawking makes guest appearance on The Simpsons

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Post by miranda » Mon Jun 05, 2006 6:05 pm

I love both Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. Murder Ballads is one of my favorite Nick Cave albums. Thanks for posting that article, BMV.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Jun 05, 2006 10:20 pm

The Nick Cave CD looks interesting, I will have to get it

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Mon Jun 05, 2006 11:07 pm

That's the album he called Murder Ballads. Most of his best songs over the years and over many albums are also murder ballads. As Mr Cave says, he has a talent for writing songs about dead women - as, for a man, it cuts to the core of sex and violence all art is based upon. His theory, not mine, but he has recorded some classic murder ballads down the years and covers them well too. His version of Long Time Man still gets me (from his album Your Funeral. . . My Trial, probably my favourite post Birthday Party album of his).

Madame
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Re: Murder Ballads - any other fans?

Post by Madame » Tue Jun 06, 2006 2:35 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:My wife just bought a compilation of murder ballads with tunes like Tom Dooley, Cocaine Blues and Stagger Lee. Alot of interesting history behind some of the old tunes, Tom Dooley, for example was about a North Carolina womanizer named Tom Dula, who got caught up in a love triangle and killed his girlfriend (some accounts attribute the motive to the fact that she gave him a veneral disease).

Death is entertainment. A quick scan of history can easily support that statement. For example, human slaughter was sport in the Roman Empire, where millions flocked to coliseums to witness circus games: chariot races, public executions and gladiator battles. In modern times, violent action, suspense and horror movies fulfill the same primal craving. And the glut of violence in the news also helps scratch the itch of morbidity.

In the realm of music, the time-honored genre of the murder ballad also helps fill this void. Although the ranks of murder ballad composers have dwindled in recent decades, it remains a popular traditional form, with a vast repertoire of existent songs.
Excellent topic!!!

An old country favorite of mine:

Open Pit Mine -- George Jones

From Morenci, Arizona where the copper mines glow
I could see Clifton in the canyon below
In Clifton lived Rosie; we danced and we dined
On the money I made in the open pit mine
I loved my sweet Rosie and she loved me too
There was nothing for Rosie that I wouldn't do
Her hugs and her kisses, they were something divine
Gave me reason for working the open pit mine

While I was out walking with my Rosie one day
We passed a store window with rings on display
I bought the one she wanted; how they really did shine!
Spent the money I slaved from that open pit mine
Her love would bring hearthbreak that I would soon learn
Cause she would two-time me when my back was turned
Rosie would go dancing and drink the red wine
While I worked like a slave in that open pit mine

One night I caught Rosie on her rendezvous
She was huggin' and kissin' with somebody new
It was there that I shot her; how their arms where entwined!
Then I buried her deep in that open pit mine
I took a look at my future and what did I see?
There was nothing but trouble a-waiting for me
But on the sun's next risin', I'll be satisfied
Cause they'll find me there sleeping by my sweet Rosie's side

Madame
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Re: Murder Ballads - any other fans?

Post by Madame » Tue Jun 06, 2006 2:40 pm

Madame wrote:
An old country favorite of mine:

Open Pit Mine -- George Jones
And another!

El Paso -- Marty Robbins

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Night-time would find me in Rosa's cantina;
Music would play and Felina would whirl.

Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina,
Wicked and evil while casting a spell.
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden;
I was in love but in vain, I could tell.

One night a wild young cowboy came in,
Wild as the West Texas wind.
Dashing and daring,
A drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina,
The girl that I loved.

So in anger I

Challenged his right for the love of this maiden.
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore.
My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat;
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.

Just for a moment I stood there in silence,
Shocked by the FOUL EVIL deed I had done.
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there;
I had but one chance and that was to run.

Out through the back door of Rosa's I ran,
Out where the horses were tied.
I caught a good one.
It looked like it could run.
Up on its back
And away I did ride,

Just as fast as I

Could from the West Texas town of El Paso
Out to the bad-lands of New Mexico.

Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
Everything's gone in life; nothing is left.
It's been so long since I've seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death.

I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing's worse than this
Pain in my heart.

And at last here I

Am on the hill overlooking El Paso;
I can see Rosa's cantina below.
My love is strong and it pushes me onward.
Down off the hill to Felina I go.

Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys;
Off to my left ride a dozen or more.
Shouting and shooting I can't let them catch me.
I have to make it to Rosa's back door.

Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side.
Though I am trying
To stay in the saddle,
I'm getting weary,
Unable to ride.

But my love for

Felina is strong and I rise where I've fallen,
Though I am weary I can't stop to rest.
I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle.
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest.

From out of nowhere Felina has found me,
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.
Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for,
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Tue Jun 06, 2006 3:44 pm

Jack Straw is a great original MB from the Grateful Dead:

We can share the women
We can share the wine
We can share what we got of yours
'Cause we done shared all of mine

Keep a rolling
Just a mile to go
Keep on rolling, my old buddy
You're moving much too slow


I just jumped the watchman
Right outside the fence
Took his ring, four bucks in change
Now ain't that heaven sent?


Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon
Burns my eyes to see
Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon
Might as well be me


We used to play for silver
Now we play for life
One's for sport and one's for blood
At the point of a knife
Now the die is shaken
Now the die must fall
There ain't a winner in this game
Who don't go home with all
Not with all...


Leaving Texas
Fourth day of July
Sun so hot, clouds so low
The eagles filled the sky


Catch the Detroit Lightning
Out of Santa Fe
Great Northern out of Cheyenne
From sea to shining sea


Gotta get to Tulsa
First train we can ride
Got to settle one old score
And one small point of pride...


Ain't no place a man can hide, Shannon
Keep him from the sun
Ain't no bed will give us rest, man,
You keep us on the run


Jack Straw from Wichita
Cut his buddy down
Dug for him a shallow grave
And layed his body down


Half a mile from Tucson
By the morning light
One man gone and another to go
My old buddy you're moving much too slow


We can share the women
we can share the wine...

miranda
Posts: 355
Joined: Tue Sep 13, 2005 5:13 pm

Post by miranda » Tue Jun 06, 2006 4:01 pm

Johnny Cash has a whole album of songs about murder, called, appropriately enough, Murder. I need to pick it up at some point.

Here's an interesting lyric from it that caught my eye....

Joe Bean

Last time we were here at Folsom Prison, they were hanging Joe Bean. Is Joe still here...Joe Bean? Hang the son of a bitch anyways, right?

Well, they're hanging Joe Bean this morning, for killing a man in Arkansas. Funny thing about it, Joe Bean has never been to Arkansas. On top of that, Joe Bean never heard of the man. In fact, today is Joe Bean's twentieth birthday.

See through the prison bars, Joe Bean, see where the gallows stand. Just twenty short years from the day you were born, you died by the hangman's hand.

Yes, they're hanging Joe Bean this morning, for a shooting that he never did. He killed 20 men, by the time he was 10, he was an unruly kid.

Yes, they're hanging Joe Bean for the one shooting that Joe Bean never did.

Well, Joe - your mother is at the Capitol, asking the governor for a stay. And it's hard on her, 'cause she knows where you were, on that particular day. You were working Joe Bean, hard working, robbing the Santa Fe.

Well, the telegraph wires are humming. Here, the governor's words come through. He said, "I can't set you free, it's not up to me, but there's much, Joe Bean, I'll do. I'll join your mother in extending Birthday greetings to you. Happy Birthday, Joe Bean."

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