1 “Henry Lee” by Dick Justice


November 20, 2008 by gadaya

“Get down, get down, little Henry Lee, and stay all night with me.
The very best lodging I can afford will be fare better’n thee.”
“I can’t get down, and I won’t get down, and stay all night with thee,
For the girl I have in that merry green land, I love far better’n thee.”

She leaned herself against a fence, just for a kiss or two;
With a little pen-knife held in her hand, she plugged him through and through.
“Come all you ladies in the town, a secret for me keep,
With a diamond ring held on my hand I never will forsake.”

“Some take him by his lily-white hand, some take him by his feet.
We’ll throw him in this deep, deep well, more than one hundred feet.
Lie there, lie there, loving Henry Lee, till the flesh drops from your bones.
The girl you have in that merry green land still waits for your return.”

“Fly down, fly down, you little bird, and alight on my right knee.
Your cage will be of purest gold, in deed of property.”
“I can’t fly down, or I won’t fly down, and alight on your right knee.
A girl would murder her own true love would kill a little bird like me.”

“If I had my bend and bow, my arrow and my string,
I’d pierce a dart so nigh your heart your warble would be in vain.”
“If you had your bend and bow, your arrow and your string,
I’d fly away to the merry green land and tell what I have seen.”

Some musical notes:

Dick Justice performed the song with his guitar in regular tuning, in the key of G. His playing style, on this song is the straightforward “hit bass, strum chord”, played in 3/4 time (waltz time). He sings it in the upper register, so characteristic of these early country artists. The melody is similar to the well-known Carter Family’s “Storms are on the ocean”. Singing ballads with guitar accompaniment was becoming more and more common in the early 20’s and 30’s and there are very few examples of solo ballad singing during the 78rpm records area. One has to go to field recordings made by folklorists all along the 20th century  to hear the unaccompanied singing of ballad singers. Due to the restricting nature of a chordal instruments like the guitar and the three minutes performance allowed but the 78rpm formats, these old ballads were often changed a lot for the new medium. The singer had to adapt his timing to the instrument and the story was shortened and cut down to only a few verses.

Some biographical notes:

Not much is known about Richard “Dick” Justice. Born in 1906 in West Virginia, he recorded only ten songs in 1929 for Brunswick Records in Chicago. From his recordings, we can tell he was very influenced by Blues singers, much like his fellow Frank Hutchison, whom he played music with and worked in the coal mines of Logan County. A big influence on Justice was guitar and singer Luke Jordan, from who he took his rendition of “Cocaine”.  He also sang British traditional ballads, like “One morning in May” (Child 85) and “Henry Lee” (Child 68) and mountain songs like “Little Lulie” and “Old Black Dog”. On four of the ten sides he recorded, he play back guitar with fiddler, Reese Jarvis. Jarvis was from Clendenin, West Virginia and was a local renown contest fiddler. According to Jarvis, the two men never played together before the session.

-Listen here to his solo recordings:

1.Old Black Dog Dick Justice

2.Little Lulie Dick Justice

3.Brown Skin Blues Dick Justice

4.Cocaine Dick Justice

5.One Cold December Day Dick Justice

And here, he plays back-up guitar for fiddler Reese Jarvis:

1.Guian Valley Waltz

2.Muskat Rag

3.Poca River Blues

4.Poor Girl’s Waltz

Dick Justice’s complete recordings are included in a Document Records cd called “Old-time Music From West Virginia” (featuring other Anthology artists Frank Hutchison and Williamson Brothers)


The Henry Lee Variations

The opening song of the Anthology, “Henry Lee” is an americanized version of an old ballad from the British Isles called “Young Hunting” (It goes with other names as well, like many aural folk songs). At the end of the 19th century, the american scholar and folklorist Francis J. Child published “The English and Scottisch popular ballads”, an enduring work that gathered and compiled songs transmitted orally from generation to generation, some dating back to the Middle-Ages. Most of the songs came to the United States via immigrants from the British Isles. A lot of them settled in the appalachian mountains and kept the memory of this songs alive.

The first selections in the Anthology, as Harry Smith wrote in the handbook, are all derived from Child Ballads, each one having a particular number, and with Smith’s obsession with numerical orders, he choosed the one with the lowest number in his list (Child 68) to open the set, even if he claimed that it was a bad record!. Like many other ballads of this type, the subject is betrayed love and murder. In fact, it’s now common to call them “Murder Ballads”.

-Go here to read an interesting article about this song

Here are my favorite versions of this old ballad:

1.Low Bonnie by Jimmy Tarlton and Tom Darby (recorded in 1930). One of the early darby-taritonrecorded version of the ballad, with guitar and slide guitar by this pioneer country duet.

2.Young Henrely by Maggy Hammons Parker, recorded in the early 70’s by Alan Jabbour for the Library of Congress. Maggy was part of the legendary Hammons family from West Virginia.










3.Love Henry by Banjo Bill Cornett, banjo player from Kentucky, home recording from the 50’s, available on the disc “The Lost recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett” on the Field Recorder’s Collective label.










4.Love Henry by Tom Paley. Great folk musician and founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, born in 1928 and still playing today. Recorded here on duet album with Peggy Seeger from the 1960’s.






5.The False True Love by Shirley Collins. One of the finest singer to emerge from the English folk revival (from the lp “False True Lovers)




15 thoughts on “1 “Henry Lee” by Dick Justice

  1. JScott says:

    Good stuff! Thank you.

  2. Jill Turner says:

    HI There

    Just to say you may have another track to add to your list form the Blue Blokes Three and their album Stubble, they have a track on it called Loving Henry.


  3. Bob Eagelston says:

    You might wish to add Judy Henske’s version, titled “Love Henry”, from her first (eponymous) LP, Elektra 7231

  4. Broken Link? says:

    This site is wonderful…thank you! Harry Smith would be proud, but I’m hoping you are not as addicted to speed as he was!

    One question: the link to DOWNLOAD THE HENRY LEE VARIATIONS ZIP FILE keeps giving me an error message: Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.

    Could be an issue on my end of things, but wanted to let you know in case there is a problem with the server or the link.

    Thanks! It’s really wonderful to read and listen to your interest in the Anthology.

    • gadaya says:

      Thanks for your kind words… I tried the download link and it works fine for me. Maybe try later… If someone else has problems downloading, tell me about it…

  5. […] Dig Gadaya on “Henry Lee.” […]

  6. loucollins says:

    Fantastic post, fantastic blog. I’ve added you to my blogroll. I stumbled upon you (not from the site, so-named) as I took it in my head to blog the Folkways Anthology as well. Post #1 is here:


    Keep up the great work. You’re in my google reader so I’ll be keeping up with you.

    Will you do the fourth volume as well? On the subject of John Fahey, the Pre-War Revenants anthology is brilliant, like an odd sibling of Harry Smith’s. I think I might tackle it after the Smith Anthology.

  7. […] Dig Gadaya on “Henry Lee.” […]

  8. […] Dig Gadaya on “Henry Lee.” […]

  9. Ruby Lee says:

    Your blog is the greatest thing EVER!!! so glad to have found it.

  10. jayhammond says:

    hey this blog is amazing!! i’m in the process of learning all of the ballads right now so this is invaluable!

    quick question, for some reason the download links that you posted aren’t working for me…i get the same mediafire “invalid or deleted file” message for all these early posts…any chance you can repost those or are they gone for good?

    keep the posts coming!


  11. Why visitors still make use of to read news papers when in this technological world the whole thing is accessible on web?

  12. Nick Cooper says:

    Yes – this is an amazing and informative site – but please, please repost. The links I tried were all ‘invalid or deleted’. Sob, sob.

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