Songs of Love & Death

“Songs of Love & Death” was a concert we performed and recorded on February 23 2018, in Ottawa (in the Kitchissippi watershed, Algonquin territory) at the Log Drive Cafe.

The Log Drive Cafe is a concert series of traditional music, featuring local and visiting folk musicians in a coffeehouse setting, in which the audience is welcome to sing along.

You can listen to the whole show as a single track here:

By scrolling down, you can also listen to each song individually, see the lyrics and chords* we used, and generally learn a bit more about each song.

All the songs are traditional, and arranged by Wychwood (Tim Kitz and Chrissy Steinbock).

Feel free to steal our words and arrangements – or better yet, research and develop your own versions. Traditional songs are ultimately for singing and playing, not listening and studying.


Jump to a song:

1) Three Little Babes
2) Au chant de l’alouette
3) Silver Dagger
4) I never will marry
5) Sally Gardens
6) Cruel Mother
7) Dreadful Wind & Rain (Two Sisters)
8) Red River Valley
9) Who’s gonna be your man?

10) Mattie Groves
11) Lakes of Pontchartrain
12) Frankie & Johnny

(* A note on the chords)


1) Three Little Babes

The song’s lyrics, as we do it:

There was a knight and a lady bright
And three little babes had she
She sent them away to a far country
For to learn their grammarie

They hadn’t been gone but a very short while
About three months and a day
When the Lord spread over this whole, wide world
And taken those babes away

Illustration by Arthur Rackham for “Some British Ballads” (1919)

“I wish the wind would never cease
Nor trouble in the flood
‘Til my three little babes come home to me
In earthly flesh and blood”

‘Twas on a cold, Christmas day
When everything was still
She saw her three little babes come running
Come running down the hill

She set them a table with bread and wine
That they might drink and eat
She spread them a bed with a winding sheet
That they might sleep so deep

“Take it off, take it off,” cried the eldest one
“Take it off, take it off,” cried she
“I shan’t stay here in this wicked world
When there’s a better one for me”

“Cold clods, cold clay down at my feet
Green grass it grows o’er my head
The tears my dear mother shed for me
Would wet my winding sheet”

Texas Gladden

As we say in the recording, this song is an Appalachian reception of an earlier Scottish song, and largely based on the version of Texas Gladden, as recorded by Alan Lomax.

From the Scottish version, we’ve inserted the verse where the lady casts a spell on the sea (i.e. “the flood”) and the line about “Green grass grows over my head.”

Like many old songs, this one has many titles, melodies, and lyrics – Lyle Lofgren casually mentioned 58 melodies and seven titles in an article for Inside Bluegrass (October 1997), and the Traditional Ballad Index has an extensive set of references under it’s Child Ballad name  – “The Wife of Usher’s Well (Child 79).”

the wife at usher's well

As far as contemporary performers, we were particularly inspired by Elizabeth Laprelle’s stunning version, and first encountered the song on Joanna Newsom’s freak folk debut The Milk-Eyed Mender. (Apparently Texas Gladden’s singing was the key which allowed Joanna, who suffered under the weight of extensive classical music training,  to unleash her own wild and idiosyncratic caterwaul of a voice).

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2) Au chant de l’alouette

Chrissy played accordion on this recording. Tim played guitar.

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

Jules Breton, “Le chant de l’alouette” (1884)

Refrain: Am – C G / C G CG Am

Au chant de l’alouette je veille et je dors
J’écoute l’alouette et puis je m’en dors

Strophes: Am – G – / Am – G – / C G CG Am

1. On m’envoie au champs c’est pour y cueillir (x2)
    Je n’ai point cueilli, j’ai cherché des nids

2. Je n’ai point cueilli, j’ai cherché des nids (x2)
    J’ai trouvé la caille assise sur son nid

3. J’ai trouvé la caille assise sur son nid (etc.)
4. Je marchai sur l’aile et la lui rompit
5. Elle m’a dit “Pucelle, retires-toi d’ici”
6. “Je n’suis pas pucelle,” que j’lui répondit

For this song, we adopted the lyrics and chords that Suleyka Montpetit uses.

Marius Barbeau
Marius Barbeau

Because Québec’s remained rural and modernized less rapidly than France, folksongs that had died out in France remained alive in Québec. This is how Marius Barbeau, Canada’s first anthropologist and ethmusicologist, managed to (barely) justify collecting French-Canadien folksongs to his bosses at the Museum of Man (later Civilization and more recently History).

(In other words, songs from the Old Country were worthy of study but not the New  – fortunately Barbeau smartened up fairly quickly, even if his bosses didn’t. Barbeau also didn’t rate anything but an primitive wax cylinder recorder, while the Lomaxes got a modern tape recorder from the Smithsonian during a similar time period, leaving us with scratchy and hard-to-discern excerpts of Canadian folksongs when John and Alan Lomax were recording versions that modern ears can still find compelling and fall in love with.)

This song follows a classic french folksong structure – that of a “chanson à repondre” (an “answer song” or “response song”) – where the first line of each couplet is repeated and the second line is repeated to start the next couplet.

This is one way traditional folksongs welcome participation and foster/incarnate community – even if you’ve never heard the song before, you can join in and sing along almost instantly.

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3) Silver Dagger

Tim played guitar on this recording. (Chrissy was gonna play guitar too, but Tim put a capo on the wrong fret of his guitar, putting it in a different key.)

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother
She’s sleeping close to my side
And in her right hand, she holds a dagger
And says that I shan’t be a bride

Chords, 5th fret capo (in this recording):
(Intro – CG7 C)
G C / GG7 Am / – DmDm7 / Am GG7

All men are false, says my mother
They’ll tell you wicked, lovely lies
And the very next evening, court another
Leaving you alone, to pine and sigh

My father is a handsome devil
He’s got a chain that’s five miles long
Le Duelliste à l'Épée et au Poignard (France, Jacques Callot,1616))

From every link a heart does dangle
Of some poor maid, he’s love and wronged

I wish that I was a little sparrow
Yes one of those that flies so high
I’d fly away to my false true love
And when he’d speak, I would be nigh

On his breast, I’d light and flutter
With my little tender wings
I’d ask him who he meant to flatter
Or who he meant to deceive

Go court some other tender lady
And I hope that she will be your wife
Cause I’ve been warned and I’ve decided
To sleep alone all of my life

Our version hew’s closest to the version of Barbara Dane (though she called it “Don’t Sing Love Songs”), who was one of the few ’60s folk revivalists we like. (Her Anthology Of American Folk Songs, originally called When I Was a Young Girl is fantastic, though she also soon moved onto singing protests songs and jazz and blues.)

Callahan Brothers
The Callahan Brothers

The version sung from the male perspective is usually called “Katie Dear,” and seemed to be a particular favourite of brother duos, being recorded by the the Callahan Brothers (1934), the Blue Sky Boys (1938), and the Louvin Brothers (1956).

The earliest published versions of “Silver Dagger” showed up in 1849, and has some connection to an earlier British song, “Drowsy Sleeper.”

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4) I never will marry

Chrissy played tenor guitar on this recording. Tim played guitar, cardboard bassdrum, and footjingle.

1932 Martin tenor guitar
1932 Martin tenor guitar

Tenor guitar is a 4-string guitar, closely modeled on the 4-string banjo (AKA the tenor banjo), which allowed tenor banjo players to get a guitar sound without having to learn a new instrument and tuning. Tenor banjos were popular in the early 20th century, especially in early jazz. Today’s it’s going the other way, as people build 6-string banjos, so that guitar players to get a quick and dirty banjo sound.  

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

One day as I rambled down by the seashore
The wind it did whistle and the waters did roar
I heard a fair damsel make a pitiful sound
It sounded so lonesome in the waters nearby

Chords: A D G – / D A DG D / 1st / 2nd

I never will marry or be no man’s wife
I expect to live single all the days of my life
The shells in the ocean shall be my deathbed
The fish in deep water swim over my head

She plunged her fair body in the ocean so deep
She closed her blue eyes in the waters to sleep
My love’s gone and left me, he’s the one I adorewoman wandering the beach
He’s gone where I never will see him no more

I never will marry or be no man’s wife
I expect to live single all the days of my life
The shells in the ocean shall be my deathbed

We learnt this from the Rise Up Singing Project and Rise Up Singing songbook.

Besides Texas Gladden, the Carter Family also did a pretty stellar version.

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5) Down by the Sally Gardens

Tim played guitar on this recording. Chrissy played tin flute.

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

It was down by the Sally Gardens my love and I did meet
She passed the Sally Gardens on little snow-white feet
She bid me take love easy as the leaves grow on the tree
But I being young and foolish with her did not agree

Chords: C G F C F G C – / ” / Am F G C F G C G / 1st

In a field down by the river my love and I did stand
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand
She bid me take life easy as the grass grows on the weirs
But I was young and foolish and now am full of tears

W. B. Yeats

Despite what’s said in the song’s intro, the word are not by Keats but Yeats. (They’re both famous poets, but Keats was English and earlier, while Yeats was Irish and later.)

Yeats wrote it as an attempt to reconstruct and extend a song he heard a peasant woman singing, probably the “The Rambling Boys of Pleasure.” He published it in 1889, originally under the title “An Old Song Re-Sung.”

The tune is the traditional “The Maids of the Mourne Shore.” Herbert Hughes, an Irish composer and folksong collector was the first to set the poem to the tune, in 1909.

Andy Irvine (of Planxty, etc.) does a lovely version of “The Rambling Boys of Pleasure.” Likewise Helen Diamond does a lovely version of “The Maids of the Mourne Shore” that makes it sound like the melody had some real variation – or Herbert Hughes did some heavy arranging/composing.

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6) Cruel Mother

Chrissy played guitar on this recording. Tim played banjo.

Detail of Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s illustration for Ben Jonson’s poem “The Noble Nature”

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

There was a lady lived in York
All alone and alone-y-o
She proved a child by her own father’s clerk
Down by the green wood side-y-o

Chords:    Dm – / F C / Dm FC / FC BbDm

She’s set her back unto an oak / All alone…
First it bowed and then it broke / Down by the green…

She leaned her back against a thorn
And there she had her baby born

She pulled out her wee pen knife
And she took that sweet babe’s life

She washed her hands all in the stream
Thinking to turn a maid again

She hurried to her father’s hall
She was the meekest maid of them all

It fell that once upon a day
She saw three babies at their play

One dressed in red, the other in pall
The other clothed in no clothes at all

Oh little babe if you were mine
I’d dress you in silk and satin so fine

Oh mother oh dear I once was thine
And you neither dressed me coarse nor fine

The coldest clay it was my bed
The greenest grass was my coverlet

Oh my fine babe, will you tell me?
What is my fate for the killing of thee?

You’ll be seven long years a bird in a tree
Seven long years a fish in the floods

Seven long years the tongue of a bell
Seven long years a porter in hell

Frankie Armstrong

Young ladies all, of beauty bright
take warning of her last goodnight

Our text and melody is based on the way Frankie Armstrong does it, supplemented with a few couplets from various versions Child compiled. (“Cruel Mother” is Child Ballad 20. We came up with chords for Frankie’s melody ourselves.)

I (Tim) had loved and listened to Frankie Armstrong’s version of the song for years. But learning it was transformative – experiencing it from the inside instead of the outside, one might say. Singing that relentless refrain of “All alone and alone-y-o” in your own voice is deeply affecting, and drives home how abandoned and desperate this woman must have felt. .

Jeff Davis plays an Appalachian version, with some interesting comments on Cecil Sharp and the singer who Sharp collected it from.

“Cruel Mother” also relates to a whole complex of songs that involve women, water, and murder

There’s a children’s ring game based on “Cruel Mother,” astonishingly. Terry SoRelle quotes A.L. Lloyd, a British folksong collector who saw the game being played in a Lancashire orphanage in 1915:

The song describes how the lady kills her baby with a pen-knife, tries to wash off the blood, goes home to lie down, is aroused by three “bobbies” at the door, who extract a confession from her and rush her off to prison, and “That was the end of Mrs. Green”. It is a ring game. Two children in the middle impersonate Mrs. Green and the baby, following the action of the song. The children in the ring dance round, singing the refrains, until the “bobbies” rush in and seize the mother, when the ring breaks up.

Family of Irish Travellers en route to the Cahirmee Horse Fair (1954).

This sounds like a version that was close to “Weile Waile,” which was originally a children’s song, popular among Irish Traveller kids.

I suppose this proves that “Ring Around the Rosie” is no exception is no exception. (It’s refrain of “ashes to ashes, we all fall down,”  is often taken to be a reference to the Black Death).

Children can be awfully bloody-minded…

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7) Dreadful wind & rain (Two Sisters)

The lyrics as we sing them:

There were two sisters of county Clare
Oh the wind and the rain
One was dark and the other was fair
Oh the dreadful wind and rain

And they both had a love of the miller’s son
Oh the wind and the rain
But he was fond of the fairer one

Oh the dreadful wind and rain

Illustration by Arthur Rackham (c. 1909)

So she pushed her into the river to drown
Oh the wind…
And watched her as she floated down
Oh the dreadful…

And she floated ‘til she came to the miller’s pond
Dead on the water like a golden swan

Sketch by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

And her bones were washed by the rolling tide
And she came to rest on the riverside

Then along the road came a fiddler fair
And found her bones just a-lying there, cried

So he made a fiddle pig of her long fingerbone
& he strung his fiddle bow with her long yellow hair, crying

And he made a fiddle fiddle of her breastbone
He made a fiddle fiddle of her breastbone, crying

But the only tune that the fiddle would play was
The only tune the fiddle would play was

“Two Sisters” (which is Child 10), exists in seemingly endless variations, and some of its iterations are pretty revealing of national interests (or stereotypes?).

For example, the English version is quite gothic, and preocuppied with royalty. The Irish version sings the morbid story quite cheerfully, and has a non-sequitor of a refrain about being “true to my love/if he’ll be true to me.” The one from North America, that we sing, seems preoccupied with the weather, and just how dreadful it is.

Apparently there’s Scottish, Swedish, Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, and Hungarian versions of this song or tale, too. If anyone wants to figure out what more one song can say about national character…

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8) Red River Valley

Chrissy played guitar on this recording. Tim played banjo.

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

Come and sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
But remember the Red River Valley
And the one who has loved you so true

Chords: C G7 C – / – – G7 – / C C7 F – / C G7 C –

1. From this valley they say you are going
   We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
   For they say you are taking the sunshine
   Which has brightened our pathway a while

Métis Woman In 1886
Metis Woman In 1886. The photographer felt no need to record her name.

2. It’s a long time, you know, I’ve been waiting
   For the words that you never did say
   But alas! all my fond hopes have vanished
   For they say you are going away

3. As you go to your home by the ocean
   May you never forget those sweet hours
   That we spent in the Red River Valley
   And the love we exchanged ‘midst its bowers

The woman’s lover would have specifically been a member of the 1870 Wolseley expedition sent to put down the Riel-led Red River Rebellion. The folklorist Edith Fowke was the first one to show that “Red River Valley” came from Red River Métis.

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9) Who’s gonna be your man?

Chrissy played steel-string guitar on this recording. Tim played nylon-string guitar, cardboard bassdrum, and footjingle .

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

Chorus Chords: Em AmEm / Em B7 / 1st / EmB7 Em

Illustration by Arthur Rackham (c. 1909)

Oh lordy me and it’s oh lordy my
Who’s gonna be your man?

1. Who’s gonna shoe your pretty little foot
   Who’s gonna glove your hand?
   Who’s gonna kiss your red ruby lips?
   Who’s gonna be your man?

Verse Chords: Em Am / Em B7 / EmC AmEm / EmB7 Em

2. Poppa’s gonna shoe my pretty little foot
    Moma’s gonna glove my hand
    Sister’s gonna kiss my red ruby lips
    I don’t need no man

3. Let your poppa shoe your pretty little foot
    Let your moma glove my hand
    But I insist upon those red ruby lips
    ’Cause I wanna be your man

4. I don’t need no man, poor boy
    I don’t need no man
    Sister’s gonna kiss my red ruby lips
    I don’t need no man

Woody Guthrie, who we got the last verse from


Ella Jenkins
Ella Jenkins, who we got the chords from

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10) Mattie Groves

Tim played guitar on this recording. Chrissy played accordion.

Arthur Rackham illustration for ‘Some British Ballads’ (1919)

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

A holiday, a holy day, the first one of the year
Lord Arlen’s wife came into church, the gospel for to hear
And when the service it was done, she cast her eyes about
And there she saw little Mattie Groves, walking in the park

    5th fret capo chords:  { Em D Em – /  G D EmD Em }x2
    Open position chords: { Am G Am – /  C G AmG Am }x2

“Come home with me little Mattie Groves, come home with me tonight
Come home with me little Mattie Groves, and sleep with me tonight”
“Oh I can’t come home, I won’t come home, and sleep with you tonight
For by the rings on your fingers, you are my master’s wife”

“Tis true I am Lord Arlen’s wife, Lord Arlen’s not at home
He is out to the far corn fields, bringing the yearlings home”
So Mattie Groves, he lay down, and took a little sleep
When he awoke Lord Arlen was standing at his feet

Saying “how do you like my feather bed, and how do you like my sheets
And how do you like my lady fair, who lies in your arms asleep?”
“Oh well I like your feather bed, and well I like your sheets
But best I like your lady fair, who lies in my arms asleep”

“Well get up! Get up!” Lord Arlen cried, “get up as quick as you can
It’ll never be said in fair England, I slew a naked man!”
“Oh I won’t get up, I can’t get up, I won’t get up for my life
For you have two long beaten swords, and I but a pocket knife”

“Well it’s true I have two beaten swords, they cost me a pretty purse
But you will have the better of them, and I will have the worst
And you will strike the very first blow, and strike it like a man
I will strike the very next blow, and I’ll kill you if I can”

So Mattie struck the very first blow, and he hurt Lord Arlen sore
Lord Arlen struck the very next blow, and Mattie struck no more

Ah then Lord Arlen took his wife, he sat her on his knee
Saying “who do you like the best of us, little Mattie Groves or me?”
And then spoke up his own dear wife, never heard to speak so free
“I’d rather kiss dead Mattie’s lips, than you and your finery”

Then Lord Arlen he jumped up, and loudly he did bawl
He struck his wife right through the heart, & pinned her to the wall
“A grave, a grave,” Lord Arlen cried, “to put these lovers in
But bury my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin”

Mattie Groves is a variant of Child Ballad #81 – “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard.” It gave its melody to the Appalachian song “Shady Grove,” a much more ordinary song of unrequited love.

Another Arthur Rackham illustration for ‘Some British Ballads’ (1919)

This ballad was first published in Wit and Drollery (1658). It was quoted in several plays earlier than this, so it seems to go back to at least the late medieval period. It has been collected in southern Scotland, England, Canada (mostly Nova Scotia), and America.

Lord Arlen has to be one of the purest representatives of ‘the Man’ to ever appear in a folksong. He’s clearly most concerned with avenging his honour – he’ll only strike Mattie after Mattie hits him first, a courtesy he certainly won’t extend to his wife. Even when he does kill his wife, seemingly in a fit of rage, he has to maintain social hierarchy to the very last, even in death – insisting she be buried on top of Mattie.

Mattie, meanwhile, is the prototypical little guy, who gets to sleep with the lord’s wife and enjoy the luxuries of his bed.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, “Cophetua’s Lady”

Of course, the social order order reasserts itself violently and the lord kills him. Yet he wins a kind of symbolic victory – the lady prefers him even when he’s dead, and even the lord acknowledges their love by having them buried together.

Finally, the song might be named after Mattie, but he’s not the actual hero or protagonist. That’s Lady Arlen, even if she isn’t granted the dignity of her own name. The song begins with her action – with her taking the sexual initiative – and ends with her death.

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11) Lakes of Pontchartrain

Tim played guitar on this recording. Chrissy sang.

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

New Orleans in 1862
New Orleans in 1862, with Lake Ponchartrain in the background (and the Mississippi in the foreground)

It was on one fine March morning, I bid New Orleans adieu
& took the road to Jackson Town, me fortune to renew
I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain
Which filled my heart with longing for the lakes of Ponchartrain

Chords (with capo on fret 3):
G D C G Em D G / G D Em D G – C – / ” / 1st

I stepped onboard a railroad car beneath the morning sun
And I rode the rails ’til evening and I laid me down again
All strangers they’re no friends to me ’til a dark girl towards me came
And I fell in love with a Creole girl, on the lakes of Ponchartrain

I said, “Me pretty Creole girl, me money here’s no good
If it wasn’t for the alligators, I would sleep out in the wood”
“You’re welcome here kind stranger, our house is very plain
But we never turn a stranger out, on the lakes of Ponchartrain”

She took me to her mother’s house and treated me right well
The hair upon her shoulders in jet black ringlets fell
To try and paint her beauty, I’m sure would be in vain
So handsome was my Creole girl, on…

I asked her would she marry me, she said that never could be
For she had got a lover and he was far at sea
She said that she would wait for him and true she would remain
’Til he returned to his Creole girl, on…

So fare you well me bonnie girl, I never may see you no more
I’ll never forget your kindness in the cottage by the shore
And at every social gathering, a golden glass I’ll drain
And I’ll drink the health of the Creole girl, on…

This song can be dated fairly confidently to the American Civil War because it was during that time that there was a railway line from New Orleans to Jackson Town, that ran along Lake Pontchartrain. (The major bodies of the Pontchartrain Basin are the Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne for this keeping score at home.)

Also, the reference to “foreign currency” may refer to the mishmash of currencies issued by during the Civil War by both sides, numerous states, and hundreds of banks.

Creole Girls in Plaquemines, Louisiana, 1935

Louisiana in general and New Orleans specifically was famous for more relaxed and graduated racial distinctions, as a legacy of French and Spanish rule. This contributed to its vibrant musical culture (e.g. the dynamic potpourri that was jazz) and may have also contributed to the romantic dynamic underlying this song.

Some have suggested that “alligator” was originally “Atakapa,” the local Indigenous people. According to this reading, the narrator was afraid they were cannibals (which the Atakapa weren’t) and would eat him. After all, alligators “aren’t not usually found in the woods but rather near or in water” (so goes the unreferenced argument on wikipedia).

This strikes me (Tim) as pretty unlikely and rather silly, much as I’d be happy to find some hidden creepy political message. Would a stranger in those parts be particularly familiar with the habits of alligators? (Have you noticed how humans have been terrified of wolves for centuries, despite them posing almost no danger?) Our narrator is clearly just afraid of the dark and wants an excuse to go home with a pretty Creole girl!

The Be Good Tanyas

Oddly enough, this song today seems to be mostly played by Irish traditional musicians. A few scattered versions showed up in northern US and Canada , but they seem to have died out while Irish singers carried it home and grafted the words onto “Lily of the West,” a traditional Irish waltz. Christy Moore and Paul Brady of the band Planxty started playing it and just about all modern versions build off the way they played it. We first heard it from the Be Good Tanyas, a Canadian band who played lovely and gritty folk.

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12) Frankie & Johnny

Chrissy played guitar and harmonica on this recording. Tim played banjo.

Surely Bonnie Parker was inspired by Frankie

The lyrics and chords * as we do them:

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts –
O Lordie how they could love!
They swore to be true to each other,
just as true as the stars above

He was her man, he wouldn’t do her wrong

Frankie and Johnny went walking,
John in his brand new suit

“Then o good Lord,” says Frankie,
“don’t my Johnny look real cute!”

He was her man, he wouldn’t do her wrong

Chords: C – – C7 / F – – C / G7 – C –

Frankie was a good woman, and Johnny such a good man
And every last dime that she made went right into Johnny’s hand
But he was her man, he wouldn’t do her wrong

Frankie went down to the corner, just for a bucket of beer
She said to the fat bartender, “Has my lovingest man been here?
He is my man, he wouldn’t do me wrong”

“I don’t want to cause you no trouble, & I don’t want to tell you no lie
But I saw your man an hour ago with a gal named Alice Bly
If he’s your man, he’s a-doing you wrong”

Frankie looked over the transom, and found to her great surprise
That there on the cot sat Johnny, a-loving up Alice Bly
But he was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie drew back her kimono, took out her 44
“Root-a-toot-toot,” 3 times she shot, right through that hardwood door
She shot her man ’cause he was doing her wrong

Bonnie & Clyde

“Roll me over easy, roll me over slow
Roll me on the side, ’cause that bullet hurt me so
I was her man, but I done her wrong”

The judge said to the jury, “It’s as plain as plain can be”
This woman shot her lover, it’s murder in the second degree
He was her man, though he done her wrong”

This story has no moral, this story has no end
This story only goes to show that there ain’t no good in men

Jimmie Rodgers
Hundreds of musicians have recorded “Frankie & Johnny,” but Jimmie Rodgers’ version has probably been the most influential.

They’ll do you wrong, just as sure as you’re born

This song seems to have been inspired by the murder of Allen or Albert Britt by Frankie Baker in St. Louis in 1899. (Some versions of the song are “Frankie and Albert”). Allen had been spending time with Nelly Bly, also known as Alice Prior. Frankie said he beat her regularly and had attacked her first with a knife; she was acquitted.

It’s possible that some of these details got mixed into a earlier version of the ballad, inspired by the murder of Charles Silver by Frances “Frankie” Stewart Silver, in 1832 in North Carolina. At least that was the story Hollywood lawyers used to deny Frankie Baker any money from the two 1930s films they made based on the song.

Frankie Baker

This earlier Frankie was executed by hanging. (Legend has it that when she was asked on the gallows for her last words, her father yelled our “”Die with it in you, Frankie!”)

The later Frankie may have escaped conviction – despite what the songs says – but she died in a mental institution in Portland in 1952.


Thanks to anyone who’s made it through this dense net of information. You should probably reward yourself with a cookie or tasty beverage. That and learning a song or three. There is a magic in having a song come and live inside you, and sing itself through you.

We’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, questions, corrections, or just want to tell us a story. Give us a holler at info(a)

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* A Note on the Chords

We use the system for notating chords from Rise Up Singing, a wonderful songbook for group singing and generally learning traditional (and nontraditional) songs – alongside its sequel Rise Again, its online database of songs, and the unofficial (and incomplete but still lovely) youtube channel for the Rise Up Singing Project, an attempt to get all its songs up on youtube.

Anyways, we use the RUS chord system because it’s so damn useful.

It’s a concise, simple system that shows how the chords fit over the lines of a song (which brings you one step closer to memorizing the chords), without getting bogged down in formatting and placing chords exactly over the “right” word (which will change for any singer who varies the song’s phrasing), like your average chord sheet in rock/folk/pop.

/        Slashes show line divisions in the lyrics.

–        Dashes mean repeat the last chord.

”         A quotation mark means play the chords from the previous line.

1st      This would mean play the chords from the 1st line.

C FG   This would mean play F & G for the same length of time you play C.

We promise, it’s easier than it looks. Just try it out with a song you know and you should pick it up in no time. So, for example suppose we wrote this next to the lyrics for the first verse of “Silent Night”:

A – / E A / D A / ” / 2nd / AE A

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

It is concisely and easily saying exactly the same thing as this:

Silent night, holy night
 E                     A
All is calm, all is bright
   D                                  A
Round yon virgin, mother and child
 D                            A
Holy infant so tender and mild
   E                                 A
Sleep in heavenly peace
   A              E                A
Sleep in heavenly peace

(I had to play all sorts of games with the page’s code to get the chords to show up “properly” over the lyrics, and depending on what browser or device you’re using, and what auto-updates happen to this site, it’s probably not properly at all. On the other hand, since the RUS chord notation just shows the rhythmic relation of the chord changes to each other, and indicates which line they fit over, it’s a cinch to format them and hard to mess it up.)

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Jump back to a song:

1) Three Little Babes
2) Au chant de l’alouette
3) Silver Dagger
4) I never will marry
5) Sally Gardens
6) Cruel Mother
7) Dreadful Wind & Rain (Two Sisters)
8) Red River Valley
9)Who’s gonna be your man?
10) Matie Groves
11) Lakes of Pontchartrain
12) Frankie & Johnny