Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Delia's Gone"

Blind Willie McTell
The True Story of Delia Green
by Robert A. Waters

Many folk songs are based on real events.  However, as in "Delia's Gone," the truth can get lost along the way.  Fortunately, Robert Winslow Gordon, who worked as a song collector for the Smithsonian Institute, tracked this murder ballad to Savannah, Georgia.  There he obtained records of the court case.  (Thanks to the website Murder by Gaslight for much of the information in this story.)

On Christmas Eve, 1900, two lovers, Delia Green and Moses "Cooney" Houston, both 14, attended a party at the Savannah, Georgia home of Willie and Emma West.  The lovers got into an argument, and Green called Houston a "son of a bitch."  This so enraged him that he took a gun from Willie West's night-stand and shot Green in the groin.   As Houston fled, West chased him down, captured him, and turned him over to the police.

Delia died the next day.

At his trial, Houston claimed he brought the gun to the West home and placed it under a napkin.  Another party-goer found it, Houston said, and picked it up.  As he attempted to get the gun back, Houston claimed it went off accidently.  Unfortunately for him, numerous people witnessed the crime.  Willie West testified that the shooting had been a cold-blooded killing.

The jury convicted Houston, but recommended mercy (probably because of his age).  The young killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Houston served twelve years of his sentence before being paroled.  His crime-filled life continued until he died in 1927 in New York.

Shortly after the murder, local musicians began singing about "poor Delia." The refrain, "Delia's gone, one more time, Delia's gone," became the one phrase that stuck in all the various renditions of the song.  Georgia blues singer Blind Willie McTell, who wrote the classic "Statesboro Blues," had a version called "Delia" which was sung from Houston's point of view--this version blamed Delia for consorting with gamblers.

Blind Blake (Alphonso Blake Higgs) also claimed to have written the song.  The title of his version is "Delia's Gone."

Many country and folk artists recorded the song, including Bob Dylan, Peete Seeger, and others.  The lyrics to Johnny Cash's classic version is printed below.  Click the link to hear the song.


Delia's Gone
(As recorded by Johnny Cash)

Delia, poor Delia, Delia all my life,
If I hadn't of shot poor Delia, I'd have had her for my wife,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

I went up to Memphis and found poor Delia there,
Found her in her parlor and tied her to a chair,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

She was low-down and triflin', she was cold and mean,
Kind of evil made me want to grab my sub-mo-chine,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

First time I shot her, shot her in the side,
Hard to see her suffer, but with the second shot she died,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

Jailer, oh Jailer, Jailer, I can't sleep,
Cause all around the bedside I hear the patter of Delia's feet,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

So if your woman's devilish, you can let her run,
Or you can bring her down and do her like Delia got done,
Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

NOTE: Of course, I don't condone domestic violence in any way, shape, or form. 

1 comment:

MitchRitterLay-LowStudiosOre-Wa said...

Chicago folksinger, awesome picker- raconteur and songwriter Steve Goodman wrote many songs delighting in and making music of legendary tales of Chicago corruption and the brand of losers known as Da Cubbies.

Before passing of leukemia (his nickname being "Cool Hand Leuk" to family & musical friends like John Prine who knew of his treatments and condition in the 1970's & 80's cuz he never went public with it til near the end) Cool Hand Leuk had written on one of his solo albums called SAY IT IN PRIVATE a deeply ambivalent yet somehow sentimental ode to the Mayor Richard Daley and his political machine that helped JFK count enough votes to beat Richard Nixon in 1960, then cracked hippie, yippie and anti-war protesting heads at the Democratic Convention later in the decade and only yielded power two decades later. The Song Stevie wrote is called "Daley's Gone" and is set to the Blind Blake melody of "Delia's Gone." One crucial addition to the folklore around this well-travelled tune and variations on a tragic tale.

For Sea Chantey and Pirate ballad fans check out Stevie Goodman's pirated trad tune to which he penned in early 1970's the song "Lincoln Park Pirates" on the towing company that struck a deal with Daley's machine to tow and hold for ransom (police ticket fines & violations real & imagined) cars "From Willamette to Gary\There's none that's so hairy\And they always collect their fee\So weigh-hay, tow me away\The Lincoln Park Pirates are we..." You Tube has cute montage film shot locally illustrating this concert sing-along cathartic fave...

Mitchito Ritter
Lay-Low Studios, Or-Wa