About Ken Bigger

Ken Bigger is a writer based in the Midwest. He co-founded Murder Ballad Monday in 2012.

There’s a train a-coming: “People Get Ready” – CwD10

Curtis Mayfield (uncredited image, source: official Mayfield Facebook page)

“I would think that a movement without music would crumble. Music picks up people’s spirits. Anytime you can get something that lifts your spirits and also speaks to the reality of your life, even the reality of oppression, and at the same time is talking about how you can really … → read more

Heaven, Hell, and Everyday Heroes: “Guns of Umpqua”

Drive-By Truckers (Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez) photo credit: Danny Clinch

“A stunningly beautiful autumn morning” Bob Boilen’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series introduced me to the Drive-By Truckers song “Guns of Umpqua.” The song grabbed me right away with the warm bounce of the acoustic guitar before the “lights came up” on the band. Lead singer Patterson Hood begins painting the scene … → read more

“Blue Wing” and the Legend of Little Willie John

"Blue Wing," original art by Tom Russell (used by permission)

Prelude On the road for work a few months ago, I was driving between Cheyenne and Denver. I had a chance to meet up with an old friend for coffee on the way. Early in our conversation, I noticed she had some new ink on her left forearm, a cluster of … → read more

Far too many of you dying: ‘What’s Going On’

Cover image for 'What's Going On' (Motown Records)

“Local draft board No. 4 in a district surrounding State and 35th streets, containing 30,000 persons, of whom 90 per cent are colored, registered upward of 9,000 and sent 1,850 colored men to cantonments. Of these 1,850 there were only 125 rejections. On Nov. 11, when the armistice was declared, … → read more

Murder and Mother Columbia: American Murder Song

"Mr. Tender" (Terrance Zdunich) and "Mr. Storm" (Saar Hendelman) (photo from American Murder Song, source: Facebook)

Murder ballads in sepia We heard from the folks at American Murder Song last month. Their touring production of original murder ballads, set in an mostly imagined early 19th century America, intrigued me enough to want to explore it here. I hoped I might find something provocative to add to … → read more

“Won’t You Come and Sing for Me?” – CwD 9

“I feel the shadows now upon me…” I remember driving to Mt. Greylock with Pat one time, telling him about a singer I had just discovered. I said she had the kind of voice I’d like to hear on my deathbed. This meant something to me more than just that … → read more

Seven Spanish Angels: Romance, Violence and Absolution in the West

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles (screencap of a live performance)

“Seven Spanish Angels” When I pick up the guitar to sing, I like to launch into the long ballads. The melody sinks in to me through repetition. The lyrics, many refined over time by unknown self-appointed editors, flow out. If I’m lucky, I discover something new inside them. I let … → read more

Shot Through Your Cheatin’ Heart: “Open Pit Mine” and Country’s Cuckolded Killers

Country Gothic In her oft-cited 1998 essay, “Bloody Daggers and Lonesome Graveyards: The Gothic and Country Music,” Teresa Goddu contrasts “bluegrass” and country. I put “bluegrass” in quotes because the term in the essay mostly means songs that carry the legacy of  what Goddu refers to as “the Gothic.” Bluegrass does … → read more

“When I Go” – Conversations with Death 8

Dave Carter (photo by Dan Betenbender, courtesy of Tracy Grammer)

“Sometimes you wake with the feeling tone of a dream. You stay with it. There’s something there for you if you keep listening. It’s a good idea to let your dream and waking world co-exist. From the dream you get affect and image, and then you try to learn what … → read more

“Streets of Laredo” (Unfortunate Rake, Part Three)

Cowboys shooting craps (Detroit Publishing Company Postcards; NY Public Library Digital Collection)

This is the third in a short series of posts on “The Unfortunate Rake.” Read the previous posts here and here. “So brave, young, and handsome” “When I got back to Wichita, I met one Zach Potter, a man with whom I had had some difficulty. He was on his … → read more