Johnny Cash rocked the whole world with his American Recordings series of albums. He proved that he has his finger on the pulse of the nation as well as its roots.
Another murder ballad that came from a true story, this one relates the story of Delia Green, who was murdered by her lover on Christmas Eve 1900.
Technically more of a “negligent homicide” ballad than a murder ballad. First-person perspective from the Man in Black himself. The perils of playing with guns without the proper training, I suppose. “I drew a bead on him to practice my aim. My brother’s rifle went off in my hand.”
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head
This week’s murder ballad is the Red-Headed Stranger by Eugene Chadbourne and Shockabilly. Yes, I know it’s originally a Willie Nelson song, and maybe I’ll post Willie’s version later in the year. Shockabilly’s version is the first I was exposed to, due to my unusual musical adolescence. And admit it, it’s fucking great.
Nice attempt at side-stepping the law there. “You can’t hang a man for shooting a woman who’s trying to steal his horse.”
Shockabilly – The Red Headed Stranger
A beautifully nasty ballad about the famed Scottish cannibal family of Sawney Bean. As with most events of folklore in the distant past, nobody knows if it ever really happened. But it’s a ghastly story even if it didn’t.
Another murder ballad with lots of oral tradition behind it, linked below the video as usual.
The story involves ax murder and dismemberment of Charlie (Johnny) Silver by his wife Frankie, and subsequent burning of the body parts to destroy the evidence.
Frankie was hanged for her alleged crime.
Bobby McMillon’s interview: The Uncut Story of Frankie Silver
Epilogue to the Ballad of Frankie Silver
More about the Legend of Frankie Silver pt 1
More about the Legend of Frankie Silver pt 2
There’s a movement to have Frankie pardoned: Frankie & Charlie (Put a Stop to it)
In consideration of the fact that today is 4/20, I decided to include a less traditional murder ballad. “Twelve Heads” is about Mexican drug gangs dropping off a bag of human heads near a mall in Southern Mexico.
Wikipedia states that this is part of a broader genre of “sweetheart” murder ballads. I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with that there. In no culture do we murder our sweethearts. Murdering a love interest is a sure sign of pathological narcissism. NOT LOVE.
Here’s Doc Watson’s version. The oldest recorded version is by Grayson & Whittier in 1929.
There’s also a couple of video documentaries that discuss the story at the root of the song, linked below:
1. The Story of Tom Dooley
2. Terry Helton’s documentary, part 1
Terry Helton’s documentary, part 2
Moral of the story: Be very careful when talking to women in bars…
What would YOU do?
Accused of murder, but your only alibi is that you were sleeping with the spouse of your best friend. Do you use the alibi, lose your honor as well as that of your lover, and lose your best friend? Or do you keep quiet, suffer the punishment of execution and lose your lover?