Tunes: Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs


I love nothing more than a good murder ballad, especially the ones sung by the great harmonizing gospel groups like the incomprable Louvin Brothers. These songs pull no punches lyrically. Couples cheat. Men bludgeon their wives and lovers. Women do the same. Knoxville Girl, an old classic, is my favorite of these tunes and I love the Louvin's version most.

I met a liitle girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well,
And every Sunday evening, out in her home I'd dwell,
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town,
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down.

She fell down on her bended knees for mercy she did cry,
Oh Willy dear don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die,
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more,
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow.

I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around,
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town,
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes,
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride.

I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight,
My Mother she was worried and woke up in a fright,
Saying "Dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?"
I told my anxious Mother, I was bleeding at my nose.

I called for me a candle to light myself to bed,
I called for me a hankerchief to bind my aching head,
Rolled and tumbled the whole night throught, as troubles was for me,
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see.

They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell,
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail,
I'm here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail,
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well.

Talk about unbuckling the old Bible Belt! So, with the Knoxville girl in mind, I was thrilled to come across this wonderful 3-disc boxed set, "
PEOPLE TAKE WARNING! Murder Ballads & Songs of Disaster 1913-1938" from Tompkins Square Records. Besides all the ballads of murder and the Titanic, many of the folks featured sing the day's railroad tales, which always remind me of my Grandpa Pete, a Burlington Northern gandy dancer. (He spent hours playing Boxcar Willie and Hank Williams records for Porter and me when we were kids).

This collection features recordings from Charlie Patton, Ernest Stoneman, Furry Lewis, Charlie Poole and Uncle Dave Macon. Available for
$51.98 on Amazon.

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