The Knoxville Girl

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"The Knoxville Girl" is an Appalachian murder ballad.


It is derived from the 19th-century Irish ballad "The Wexford Girl", itself derived from the earlier English ballad "The Bloody Miller or Hanged I Shall Be" about a murder in 1683 at Hogstow Mill 12 miles south of Shrewsbury. This ballad was collected by Samuel Pepys who wrote about the murder of Anne Nichols by the Mill's apprentice Francis Cooper. Other versions are known as the "Waxweed Girl", "The Wexford Murder". These are in turn derived from Elizabethan era poem or broadside ballad, "The Cruel Miller".[1]

Possibly modelled on the 17th century broadside William Grismond's Downfall, or A Lamentable Murther by him Committed at Lainterdine in the county of Hereford on March 12, 1650: Together with his lamentation., sometimes known as The Bloody Miller.[citation needed]


I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out in her home, I'd dwell
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down

She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
"Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die"
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow

I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride

I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight
My mother, she was worried and woke up in a fright
Saying "dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?"
I told my anxious mother I was bleeding at my nose

I called for me a candle to light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head
Rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see

They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail
I'm here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well


Year Artist Release Notes
1924 Riley Puckett & Gid Tanner "Knoxville Girl" Earliest recording[2]
1937 The Carter Family "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You" [3]:4
1938 The Blue Sky Boys "In My Little Home In Tennessee/The Knoxville Girl" [4][5]:167
1956 The Louvin Brothers Tragic Songs of Life [6] (US Country #19)
1959 The Wilburn Brothers "The Knoxville Girl/Which One Is To Blame" [7] (US Country #18)
1961 Kevin Shegog ?
1963 John Duffey and the Country Gentlemen Hootenanny – A Bluegrass Special [8]
1969 Jim and Jesse Saluting The Louvin Brothers [9]
1972 Osborne Brothers Bobby and Sonny [10]
1974 Dave Loggins Apprentice (In A Musical Workshop) [11]
1980 Flatt And Scruggs Bluegrass Banjo [12]
1982 Jimmy Martin ?
1996 BR5-49 Live From Robert's
1996 The Lemonheads Car Button Cloth [13]
1996 DQE Move into the villa villakula
1996 Nick Cave "Henry Lee/Knoxville Girl" [14]
2002 Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/Brett Sparks The Executioner's Last Songs [15]
2003 The Handsome Family Smothered and Covered
2005 Okkervil River Black Sheep Boy [16]
2005 Sweetwater The Ballads [17]
2005 Roger Alan Wade All Likkered Up [18]
2006 The Singing Hall Sisters Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus [19]
2008 Rachel Brooke Rachel Brooke [20]
2008 The Boxmasters The Boxmasters [21]
2013 Vandaveer Oh, Willie, Please... [22]
2014 Beaches In Boise Autocantata [23]
2015 The Ghosts Of Johnson City Am I Born To Die?


  • Plan B in the bootleg mash-up "Paint It Blacker" (2007) as a reference to violent music existing before modern rap.


Uses in other media[edit]

The song features prominently in If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, the first book in the Ballad mystery series by Sharyn McCrumb.


  • Collin Escott. Roadkill on the Three-chord Highway: Art and Trash in American Popular Music. New York: Routledge, 2002.


  1. ^ Thomson, Graeme (2008). I Shot a Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease, and General. New York/London: A&C Black. p. 59. ISBN 0826428576.
  2. ^ "Gid Tanner – "Knoxville Girl"". Discography of American Historical Recordings. 1924. Retrieved March 1, 2017. Personnel from Brooks/Rust. Russell lists Riley Puckett as the vocalist and notes that Puckett played guitar and Gid Tanner may be playing fiddle.
  3. ^ "The Virginia Mountain Boys" (PDF). Smithsonian Folkways. 1977. Retrieved March 1, 2017. The song [Knoxville Girl] appears in many American folksong collections in widely variant forms. Some other recordings: Carter Family, "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You", recorded June 17, 1937, in New York, releases, DECCA 5479, Montgomery Ward M-8027, Melotone 45250 and other reissues.
  4. ^ "The Blue Sky Boys – "In My Little Home In Tennessee/The Knoxville Girl"". 1938. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  5. ^ Cohen, John; Seeger, Mike, eds. (1964). The New Lost City Ramblers Song Book (1st ed.). New York: Oak Publications. ISBN 0-825600464.
  6. ^ "The Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs of Life". 1956. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  7. ^ "The Wilburn Brothers – "The Knoxville Girl/Which One Is To Blame"". 1959. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  8. ^ "John Duffey and The Country Gentlemen – Hootenanny: A Bluegrass Special". 1963. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  9. ^ "Jim and Jesse – Saluting The Louvin Brothers". 1969. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  10. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Dave Loggins – Apprentice (In A Musical Workshop)". 1974. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  12. ^ "Flatt And Scruggs – Bluegrass Banjo". 1980. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  13. ^ "The Lemonheads Car – Button Cloth". 1996. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  14. ^ "Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds & PJ Harvey – "Henry Lee/Knoxville Girl"". 1996. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  15. ^ "Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/Brett Sparks – The Executioner's Last Songs". 1996. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  16. ^ "Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy". 2005. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  17. ^ "Sweetwater – The Ballads". 2005. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  18. ^ "Roger Alan Wade – All Likkered Up". 2005. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  19. ^ "The Singing Hall Sisters – "The Knoxville Girl"". 2006. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  20. ^ "Rachel Brooke – Rachel Brooke". 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  21. ^ "The Boxmasters – The Boxmasters". 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  22. ^ "Vandaveer – Oh, Willie, Please...". 2013. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  23. ^ "Beaches In Boise – Autocantata". March 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2017.

External links[edit]