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"Little Sadie" is a 20th-century American folk ballad in D Dorian mode. It is also known variously as "Bad Lee Brown", "Cocaine Blues", "Transfusion Blues", "East St. Louis Blues", "Late One Night", "Penitentiary Blues" and other titles. It tells the story of a man who is apprehended after shooting his wife/girlfriend. He is then sentenced by a judge.
"Bad Lee Brown"
Last night I was a-makin' my rounds,
Met my old woman an' I blowed her down,
I went on home to go to bed,
Put my old cannon right under my head.
Jury says murder in the first degree,
I says oh Lord, have mercy on me!
Old Judge White picks up his pen,
Says you'll never kill no woman ag'in.
Carolina to Mexico
Some versions refer to the Sheriff of Thomasville, North Carolina apprehending the murderer "down in" Jericho, South Carolina (a large rice plantation in the lowlands). Other versions transpose Mexico (or Juarez, Mexico) for Jericho.
Clarence Ashley's recording
In the first sound recording (the 1930 recording by Clarence Ashley), Little Sadie may have been a prostitute:
I woke next morning 'bout half past nine,
The buggies and the hacks all (swarmed?) in line,
The gents and the gamblers all standing around,
They're gonna take Sadie to the burying ground.
This verse does not appear in Ashley's 1963 recording with Doc Watson.
The most common version in country and rock is attributed to T. J. 'Red' Arnall's 1947 Western Swing recording with W. A. Nichol's Western Aces. This version was covered by Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, Crooked Still, Doc Watson, and George Thorogood, among others. The 1970 Bob Dylan versions are taken from either of Clarence Ashley's recordings.
Selected list of recorded versions
- 1930 Little Sadie - Clarence Ashley (Columbia 15522-D)
- 1939 Bad Man Ballad - Willie Rayford, recorded at Cummins State Farm, near Varner, Arkansas by John Lomax and Ruby Lomax
- 1947 Cocaine Blues - W. A. Nichol's Western Aces, vocal by "Red" Arnall [S & G Records SG 011]
- 1947 Cocaine Blues - Billy Hughes
- 1946-1948 Whisky Blues - Slim Dusty - Regal Zonophone Collection - Slim Dusty (8142472) Very rare. Exact date is not known.
- 1948 Cocaine Blues - Roy Hogsed, US Country #15. Music/lyrics attributed to T. J. 'Red' Arnall
- 1940s Chain Gang Blues - Riley Puckett
- 1940s Bad Lee Brown - Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston
- 1959 Badman Ballad - Cisco Houston The Cisco Special! album
- 1960 Transfusion Blues - Johnny Cash Now, There Was A Song album
- 1960 Bad Man's Blunder - The Kingston Trio String Along album
- 1960 Whiskey Blues - Slim Dusty Songs for Rolling Stones album
- 1963 Little Sadie - Clarence Ashley Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, Part 2 (Folkways FA 2359)
- 1968 Cocaine Blues - Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison album
- 1970 In Search of Little Sadie - Bob Dylan Self Portrait album
- 1970 Little Sadie - Bob Dylan Self Portrait album
- 1970 Little Sadie - Doc Watson Doc Watson on Stage (Vanguard VSD 9/10)
- 1970 Little Sadie - Trees On the Shore album
- 1972 Little Sadie - John Renbourn Faro Annie (Reprise MS2082)
- 1972 Ode to Bad Bill - Peg Leg Sam (spoken word version)
- 1978 Cocaine Blues - George Thorogood & The Destroyers
- 1979 Little Sadie - Tony Rice Unit, Manzanita album
- 1993 Little Sadie - Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, The Pizza Tapes
- 1996 Little Sadie - Freight Hoppers Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go? album
- 1999 Little Sadie - Mark Lanegan I'll Take Care of You album
- 1999 Cocaine Blues - Hank Williams III
- 2001 Little Sadie - Old Crow Medicine Show - The Troubles Up and Down the Road EP
- 2002 Little Sadie - The Sadies- on the Bloodshot Records Sampler - Making Singles, Drinking Doubles
- 2004 Little Sadie - The Radiators - Earth vs. The Radiators: the First 25 Live DVD
- 2005 Little Sadie - Sankofa Strings - Colored Aristocracy album
- 2006 Little Sadie - Crooked Still Shaken by A Low Sound album
- 2006 Little Sadie - Greg Graffin Cold As The Clay album
- 2009 Little Sadie - Jack Rose, The Black Twig Pickers Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers album
- 2011 Little Sadie/White-Wheeled Limousine/Just One More - Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers "Bride of the Noisemakers" album
- 2011 Little Sadie - Norman Blake on the Deluxe Edition of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
- 2013 Little Sadie - Tim Timebomb and Friends
- 2013 Little Sadie - Moriarty
- 2015 Little Sadie - Sam Kelly (musician)
- Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle "Bad Lee Brown (Little Sadie) [Laws I8]]" Traditional Ballad Index
- Manfred Helfert (February 1996). "Creative ideosyncrasy - In Search of 'Little Sadie'". Bobdylanroots.com. Retrieved 2014-08-30.
- Kim Beissel. Liner notes to Original Seeds Vol. 2: Songs that inspired Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Rubber Records Australia, 2004.
- Roud Folk Song Index 780
- Laws Ballad Index I8
- The Traditional Ballad Index LI08
- Lyle Lofgren "Remembering The Old Songs: Little Sadie" Inside Bluegrass, January 2002
- Paul Castle Little Sadie
- Miller Jr., E. John; & Michael Cromie Folk Guitar, Quadrangle, (1968), p109
- Sing Out! Reprints, Sing Out, (196?), 9, p35
- Bailey, Hobart. Rosenbaum, Art Old-Time Mountain Banjo, Oak, (1968), p56