Little Sadie

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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.

Earliest transcription[edit]

The earliest written record of the song dates from 1922.[1] This lyric fragment, transcribed in Joplin, Missouri, is noted in the 1948 book Ozark Folksongs, Vol. II.

"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[edit]

Some versions refer to the Sheriff of Thomasville, North Carolina apprehending the murderer "down in" Jericho, South Carolina[2] (a large rice plantation in the lowlands).[3] Other versions transpose Mexico (or Juarez, Mexico) for Jericho.[4]

Clarence Ashley's recording[edit]

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.

Some researchers have suggested that "Little Sadie" may have been an influence on the 1960s song "Hey Joe".[5]

Selected list of recorded versions[edit]


  1. ^ Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle "Bad Lee Brown (Little Sadie) [Laws I8]]" Traditional Ballad Index
  2. ^ "lyrics: LITTLE SADIE". Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  3. ^ "Lowcountry Digital History Initiative | Jericho Plantation · Forgotten Fields: Inland Rice Plantations in the South Carolina Lowcountry". Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  4. ^ Manfred Helfert (February 1996). "Creative ideosyncrasy - In Search of 'Little Sadie'". Retrieved 2014-08-30. 
  5. ^ Kim Beissel. Liner notes to Original Seeds Vol. 2: Songs that inspired Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Rubber Records Australia, 2004.

Other sources[edit]