“Gambler’s Blues” (Unfortunate Rake, Part Two)

This post on “Gambler’s Blues”/”St. James Infirmary” is the second installment on variants of the “Unfortunate Rake” ballads. The first installment was on an older, British “Rake” ballad, called “Pills of White Mercury,” in which the narrator comes across a military comrade wrapped in white linen and dying. Mercury was a … → read more

Poor boy, you’re bound to die

Neil Young This our fourth post so far on the familiar murder ballad “Tom Dooley.” –The first post discusses some of the history behind the song. –The second post discusses the history of the song itself, from regional to international popularity. –The third post picks out some performances from the … → read more

Frankie was a good woman

Glenna Bell For my final installment on “Frankie and Johnny,” I want to pick out two versions that, while not necessarily representing the kind of girl anthem (sardonic or otherwise) of Judy Henske’s “Love Henry,” still present a woman’s voice taking over the song in some new ways.  It’s in … → read more

Who writes “The Ballad of Nancy and Henry”?

Harry Smith’s Anthology incorporated his somewhat idiosyncratic, news-brief style summaries for the songs he included.  The brief on “Ommie Wise” reads as follows:   GREEDY GIRL GOES TO ADAMS SPRING WITH LIAR; LIVES JUST LONG ENOUGH TO REGRET IT   A Naomi Wise was drowned by her sweetheart Jonathan Lewis … → read more

Omie Wise

This week’s installment is a decidedly American contribution to the genre, and one not  completely shrouded in the mists of history, but only partly so. The events of “Omie Wise” can be pinned down to a known historical event—the drowning of Naomi Wise in Randolph County, North Carolina in 1808.  … → read more