Banks Of The Ohio


Jon admits “I had forgotten about this song, but I finally managed to get back to FSC last month and was reminded of it there. It’s fascinating to see how some songs had evolved since I’d last camped (six years ago or so). This is a distant cousin of the The Prentice Boy, Cruel Knife, Worcester City, etc.”

It immediately made me think of Neil Young’s Down By The River, which I guess is part Neil, part Hey Joe and part this, but then I suppose it belongs in the long tradition of murder ballads. I was also somewhat amused to see a quest to link this to some historical event as surely Jon has this one right as an Americanised version of the title he mentions above to which I’ll add Banks Of red Roses. A worthy entrant into the murder ballad canon it is, however, with an intriguing couple of female variant also surfacing, albeit recent rewrites as you’ll see on this Mudcat thread.



14 Responses to “Banks Of The Ohio”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Beautifully sung, Jon.

    Apparantly, the singer Beck performed this creepy murder ballad at the Harry Smith tribute concerts saying, “There’s some disturbing music in this collection, and this is one of them. I was going to memorise it, but I don’t think I want it in my head.” Thus, he used a lyric sheet during his performance. (He was accompanied by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, with Steve Earle on guitar.) I concur with his assessment, as I always found this song chillingly sad as a child.

    Wiki says the first recording of this song was by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers on August 12, 1927 & also mentions the not-so-well-known version of the song entitled “On the Banks of the Old Pedee” that Mudcat refers to. I think Nick Cave might have done a version of that. It ought to be on his Murder Ballads album by rights, but it ain’t, and it’s not on YouTube either.

    There’s another version called THE OLD SHAWNEE from Louise Pound’s 1922 book, “American Ballads and Songs” too:

    “I ask my love to take a walk,
    To take a walk a little way;
    And as we walk we’ll sweetly talk
    Of when shall be the wedding day.

    Then only say that you’ll be mine,
    And your home shall happy be,
    Where the silent waters roll,
    On the banks of the old Shawnee.

    She said, “To that I’ll ne’er consent,”
    And he says, “Your life I’ll take.”
    “My life you’ll take instead of me,
    For I ne’er shall give away.”

    He drew a knife across her breast,
    And in anger she did cry,
    “O Willie dear, don’t murder me,
    For I am not fit to die.”

    He took her by her long black hair,
    And he threw her on the ground,
    And drew her to the river side,
    And left her alone to die.”

    Another mean old scene…

  2. Dick A says:

    This is one of the first folk songs that I remember from the singing of The Spinners in Liverpool in the 60’s. Jon’s version is a bit more pensive and thoughtful than their “full on” version. However it it was they who introduced me to folk.

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thank you, Dick A, for citing The Spinners. I was wondering which version would have been popularly played when I was a child.

  4. Mark says:

    Love how sweetly Jon sings this sinister song. A good one!

  5. Jan says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Spinners’ version – all I can think of is Olivia Newton John having a hit with it.

    By the way, has anyone else found AFSAD useful for practising harmony singing? I have!

  6. Nick Passmore says:

    Yes, Olivia Newton-John’s was the version I grew up hating! This is a much more sinister version, and very good too! I’d like to hear Nick Cave have a go at this one though…

  7. Diana says:

    I much prefer this version to O.N-J’s, I don’t think I ever appreciated the words until I first heard Jon sing it. Her voice was a little too sweet for my ears.

  8. Linda says:

    Sorry Jon to distract from todays song but have just been out in the car with Orfeo playing,What an absolutly suberb C.D. And theres a couple of those tunes that you spend the rest of the day humming. Fay I think youve hit on a super combination.[Colin was whistling round the garden centre as well!]

  9. Diana says:

    Hi Linda, you are right it is a marvellous CD, and such a wonderful mixture of songs. I wonder if Colin was whistling “The old ‘Arris Mill” cos that is really infectious, it has been going though my mind all day. The backing music throughout is so varied as well – really excellent.

    Don’t tell me that the garden centre was Gordon Riggs?

  10. Linda says:

    @Diana yes he was, and no it wasn.t It was the Windmill nursery Millhouse Green, Sheffield

  11. Diana says:

    @ Linda: It is a catchy tune isn’t? I just wondered if it was Gordon Riggs at Walsden, near Todmorden. Was there earlier this week and it was pretty crowded, the sunshine certainly brings people out intent on gardening. Got some geraniums and begonias, and a Phalaenopsis for indoors.

  12. Diana says:

    Lovely to hear this again.

  13. Diana says:

    A repeat comment of last year.

  14. Old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    It is a strange phenomenon, but many folk don’t actually listen to the words of a song. I hummed and sang along with ‘The Rose ‘for ages before the bit about razor blades tainted it for me(yes-of course I change the words when I sing it)

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