Silver Dagger (song)

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"Silver Dagger"
Song by Joan Baez from the album Joan Baez
Released 1960 (1960)
Genre Folk
Label Vanguard
Composer Traditional
Language English
Joan Baez track listing
"Silver Dagger"
East Virginia

"Silver Dagger", or "Katy Dear" or "Molly Dear" or "Drowsy Sleeper" (Laws M4, Roud 2260 & 2261), is an American folk ballad, whose origins lie possibly in Britain.[1]

Steve Roud observes

"A whole book could be written this song which involves its connections with other songs which involve young men at their sweethearts' windows at night, disapproving parents and silver daggers. Hugely popular with North American traditional singers, 'Drowsy Sleeper' was also collected regularly in Britain and appeared on broadsides there from at least the 1820s" [2]

Two strands became popular in commercial Country music and Folk music recordings of the late twentieth century: the "Silver Dagger" version popularised by Joan Baez and the "Katy Dear" versions popularised by close harmony brother duets such as The Callahan Brothers, The Blue Sky Boys and The Louvin Brothers.

In "Silver Dagger", the female narrator turns away a potential suitor, as her mother has warned her to avoid the advances of men in an attempt to spare her daughter the heartbreak that she herself has endured. The 1960 recording by Joan Baez features only a few of the many verses of a version collect and published in 1907. "Katy Dear" uses the same melody but different lyrics, telling a similar story from a male perspective.[3]


The song was recorded commercially as O! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother by Kelly Harrell in 1926 as Sleepy Desert by Wilmer Watts And The LoneLy Eagles in 1929 and as Wake Up You Drowsy Sleeper by The Oaks family in 1930. As Katie Dear (Silver Dagger) it was recorded by the Callahan Brothers in 1934, and as "Katie Dear" by the Blue Sky Boys in 1938. (Country music authority Bill C. Malone states that the Callahan Brothers learned traditional ballads like "Katie Dear" from their mother). In 1956 it was recorded by the Louvin Brothers. The song was part of the repertoire of the Country Gentlemen, who toured both the bluegrass and folk music circuits during the 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1960s, "Katie Dear" was recorded by folk revival musicians, including Joan Baez, and Ian & Sylvia. Today it is commonly performed and recorded by bluegrass musicians.

The disagreement of the title and some lyrics are a result of the song being handed down through the unwritten, oral tradition for several decades, where each performer would undoubtedly and sometimes unknowingly add their own nuances to the song. However, the melody and events depicted in the song are so similar that most musicologists believe that these two songs trace back to one original source.


Recordings and performances[edit]

The song has also been widely performed and recorded by bluegrass musicians, as many songs thought of as traditionally bluegrass songs actually trace back to what is now known as "old-time" music.

20th century[edit]

21st century[edit]

  • Old time revival string band Old Crow Medicine Show has a version of the song on their 2001 album Eutaw.
  • Roger Mcguinn, the lead singer and guitarist on many of The Byrds' hits, released a version of the song on the four-CD box set The Folk Den Project 1995-2005.
  • Silver Dagger was recorded for the 2005 live album Smugglers and Bounty Hunters by British band The Men They Couldn't Hang
  • Irish-American Celtic group Solas recorded it for their 2006 album Reunion: A Decade of Solas.
  • Bluegrass band The Gruff from Victoria, BC, Canada, recorded "Silver Dagger" on their 2006 self-titled album on Goat Tea Records.
  • In 2007 it was recorded by Scottish singer Maeve MacKinnon and appeared on her album Don't Sing Love Songs.
  • The song has been recorded by White Antelope aka Robin Pecknold of the Seattle band Fleet Foxes.
  • The traditional singer Mary Lomax was recorded by Art Rosenbaum in 2007 singing The Drowsy Sleeper. The recording was issued by Dust-to-Digital Records on Art of Field Recording Volume I.
  • This song has also been recorded by Lac La Belle, on their first album, called Lac La Belle, in 2009 (Detroit, USA).
  • Jim Moray has recorded a version of this song which is available on his 2010 album In Modern History.
  • The song is sung by Marideth Sisco in the 2010 film Winter's Bone.
  • English folk trio The Staves often perform the song live. It has been included in their Live at Cecil Sharp House EP (2011).
  • Birch Book has recorded his version of this song on his album Tomorrow's Sun Will Rise the Same (2010)
  • In season 5, episode 2 ("Gently with Class") of the British television series Inspector George Gently, the song is performed by Ebony Buckle, who plays the role of singer "Ellen Mallam" in that episode.
  • Seasick Steve has a version on his album Sonic Soul Surfer (2015)


  • Dame Darcy recorded a quite different version of the song, found on her Greatest Hits album.
  • British band Saint Etienne's song "Like a Motorway" is based on the ballad. It was featured on their album Tiger Bay (1994), an homage to folk music presented in a modern style. The melody follows the original closely, but new lyrics paint a darker picture of the suitor's fate.
  • Hey Rosetta gave us their own take on this song, which found on her Red Songs EP. The song however, is entitled, "Who Is At My Window Weeping" rather than "Silver Dagger".
  • William Gibson in the second book of his Sprawl Trilogy, Count Zero, uses the third stanza of this song to hint at the past of the heroine, Angie Mitchell.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roud 711 Vaughan Williams Memorial Library entry
  2. ^ Roud, Steve, 2015, Song notes to My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean: British Songs in the USA (CD boxset), Nehi Records NEH3X1.
  3. ^ Lyle Lofgren. "Remembering The Old Songs: KATIE DEAR (Laws G21)." 2002-03. Inside Bluegrass. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  4. ^ O! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother. Victor Vi 20280.
  5. ^ Reissued on Worried Blues, The Complete Commercial Output of Frank Hutchison and Kerry Harrell JSP Records JSP7743 (2005), My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean: British Songs in the USA Nehi Records NEH3X1 (2015).
  6. ^ Sleepy Desert. Paramount Pm 3282
  7. ^ Reissued on Gastonia Gallop, Cotton Mill Songs & Hillbilly Blues Old Hat Records CD-1007 (2009), My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean: British Songs in the USA Nehi Records NEH3X1 (2015).
  8. ^ Wake up You Drowsy Sleeper. Victor Vi 23795
  9. ^ Reissued on My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean: British Songs in the USA Nehi Records NEH3X1 (2015).
  10. ^ Katie Dear (Silver Dagger). Banner Ba 33103, Melotone Me 13071, Oriole Or 8353, Perfect 13017, Romeo Ro 5353
  11. ^ Reissued on The Dixon Brothers with The Callahan Brothers JSP Records JSP77113 (2011)
  12. ^ Katie Dear. Bluebird BB B-7661, Montgomery Ward Records MW M-7468
  13. ^ Reissued on The Blue Sky Boys, The Very Best of Classic Country Remastered JSP Records JSP7782 (2007)
  14. ^ Who's The Knockin' On My Window. Decca De 5612, Montgomery Ward Records MW M-8071, Melotone (Canada) MeC 45275
  15. ^ Reissued on The Carter Family, Volume 2, 1935-1941 JSP Records JSP7708 (2003)

External links[edit] - Words and chords to Silver Dagger