6 “The Butcher’s Boy” by Buell Kazee


December 17, 2008 by gadaya

Buell Kazee’s World

And here’s Brother Kazee, “part-time banjo picker, full time servant of Christ”, singing his traditionnal mountain songs, with his “trained” voice and accompanying himself on his rippling banjo. The music on his instrument goes twice as fast as his voice, which is not the usual rough and untraid one of his fellow mountaineers, but an “educated” one. His style of banjo picking is a very tight clawhammer sound, matching perfectly his precise diction of the words. At the end of the 1920’s, in the studio recording, he was told to “countrify” his voice when he sang his mountain songs… Buell H.Kazee, born in 1900 in Kentucky, was a baptist minister who loved to sing the old songs and play the banjo. He recorded 52 sides between 1926 and 1929, some, like “Little Mohee”, were pretty succesful but the depression put a stop to his recording career and he went back to preach and to teach the Bible in Kentucky. Thanks to the Anthology, he was rediscovered by the folk revival in the 60’s and cut an lp for Folkways and another one for June Apple (re-issued last year by Appalshop) before his death in 1976.

-For a more complete biography, go here.

-On “Root hog or die” an excellent radio program as well as a blog, you can read this article, which gives good insights also on the Harry Smith Anthology.

-I’ve compiled 15 sides which focus on his clawhammer banjo style. Some of his recordings features also guitar or banjo played in a different style and apart from mountain ballads he sang a lot of sentimental songs. Some are very good but i tend to prefer the ones i picked for you (The three sides that appears on the Anthology  will be featured elsewhere).

Track list:

1.John Hardy

2.Roll On John

3.Old Whisker Bill, The Moonshiner

4.Rock Island

5.Darling Cora

6.The Roving Cowboy

7.The Sporting Bachelors

8.Lady Gay

9.The Orphan Girl

10.Poor Boy Long Ways From Home

11.Little Bessie

12.The Dying Soldier (Brother Green)

13.Short Life Of Trouble

14.The Cowboy Trail

15.The Blind Man



-I’ve uploaded a clip of Buell Kazee where he explains his banjo playing. It’s from a dvd issued by Shanachie called “Traditionnal music classics” that features also Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb and Kilby Snow. Highly recommended!

The Butcher’s Boy Variations

The Bucher’s boy (or “The Railroad Boy” as it’s often called in America) is a british folk song that derived from an amalgam of  a couple of Broadside ballads. This ballads were printed on paper and sold and distibuted in the cities from the 16th up to the early 20th century. They were recasting the news of the day in song form and were very popular in the cities as well as in the country where many became folk songs. A lot of them were telling sad tales of murder and betrayed love, much like the traditionnal folk ballads, and this one ,”the butcher’s boy” is a particulary sad one. It tells of a poor girl that hang herself because of her lover who betrayed her with a whealthier girl. The girl’s father finds a note next to her dead body where she asks to be buried in a grave with a dove placed on it to “tell the world that i died for love”.

-You can go here to read more about Broadside ballads

-The lyrics of “The Railroad Boy” can be seen here

-The variations of the song i picked for you includes a couple of english versions (Martin Carthy,Jasper Smith,Geoff Ling), an irish one (Tommy Makem),and lots of american versions: from the 78rpm aera (Buell Kazee, Kelly Harrell, Ephraim Woodie, The Blue Sky Boys), the folk revival (Joan Baez, Bob Dylan,Shirley Collins,etc…), bluegrass (Lilly Brothers), appalachian (Roscoe Holcomb, Almeda Riddle, Jean Ritchie with Doc Watson) and contemporary versions (Tom Carter, Furnace Mountain, Damien Jurado).

-The painting below is from Daryl Waller and was part of an exhibition dedicated to the Harry Smith Anthology. In 2007, the alt.gallery in England asked 84 artists and musicians to give a visual response to each selection from the Anthology. Go and visit their website to see and read more about it.

Track list:

1.The Butcher’s Boy ,Buell Kazee, from “Anthology Of American Folk Music, Vol. 1A: Ballads”daryl_waller

2.Died For Love ,Shirley Collins, from “False True Lovers”

3.Go Dig My Grave (Railroad Boy), Tom Carter , “From the Great American Songbook”

4.Died For Love, Jasper Smith, from “Hidden English”

5.Butcher’s Boy, Kelly Harrell, from “Kelly Harrell Vol. 1 (1925-1926)”

6.Railroad Boy, Furnace Mountain, from “Fly The River”

7.Died for Love, Geoff Ling, from “Voice of the People 10: Who’s That at My Bed Window?”

8.Butcher Boy, Lilly Brothers, from “The Prestige / Folklore Years Volume 5 Have A Feast Here Tonight”

9.Butcher’s Boy, Damien Jurado, from “Holding His Breath”

10.The Butcher Boy ,Dave Van Ronk, from “The Mayor Of MacDougal Street: Rarities 1957-1969”

11.The Butcher Boy, The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem And Their Families, from “Irish Folk Songs And Airs”

12.Butcher Boy, Hank Schwartz, from “Notes Along The Way”

13.Butcher Boy, Steve Camacho, from “Folk and Other Songs”

14.Butcher Boy, Ginny Hawker, from “The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute to the Anthology”

15.Railroad Boy , Bob Dylan, from “the Minnesota Tapes 1″

16.Go Dig My Grave, Jean Ritchie, from “Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City”

17.The Butcher’s Boy,The Blue Sky Boys, from “Classic Country Remastered: Atlanta, GA – New York City 1940-1947”

18.Railroad Boy, Joan Baez, from “Joan Baez, Vol. 2”

19.Died for Love, Martin Carthy, from “Prince Heathen”

20.In London City, Roscoe Holcomb , from “Close To Home”

21.The Fatal Courtship, Ephraim Woodie, from “Music from the Lost Provinces”

22.Butcher Boy, Almeda Riddle, from “Ozark Folksongs”



-Here’s two other versions of the song that are worth hearing and seeing:

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during the “Rolling Thunder Revue Tour” in 1976

The Mammals live at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock N.Y in 2006 (first time i heard a banjo player sounds like Jimi Hendrix!)


2 thoughts on “6 “The Butcher’s Boy” by Buell Kazee

  1. forked tongue says:

    Thanks a lot for this, and for the blog, which I discovered just recently and look forward to following.

    Elvis Costello’s “Butcher’s Boy” on the Harry Smith Project Live album is also worth seeking out.

  2. paul8bee says:

    Thanks again too.
    Was looking for a blue grass version of That Butcher Boy.
    I heard it one time and have a half recording of it.
    I understand that that song is a old Irish Folk song.
    That Video from Buell Caza was good.

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