Other people’s songs: Little Sadie

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: Little Sadie tells the story of a man, who is apprehended after shooting his wife/girlfriend. He is then sentenced by a judge.

Tony: It is strange that such a horrific set of events is set to such a jolly, bouncy tune, but somehow it seems to work; maybe it is because we don’t actually take any note of the reality – the music just takes over and we enjoy the piece because of that, not because of the content of the lyrics.  And of course at the time of its composition, attitudes were different.

Aaron: It is thought that Bob took his version from the March 1930 recording by Clarence Ashley

Tony: The extra speed and the exciting banjo playing means that I now hardly even hear the lyrics as a set of words with any sort of meaning.  I’m just listening to that banjo.

Aaron: Hedy West performs Little Sadie on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest

Tony: Now that is invaluable – brilliant Aaron.  To see how the right-hand works to get that sound is terrific.  OK that is me getting carried away because I always want to know how the music works mechanically as well as how it works as work, but hopefully I am not the only one fascinated by mechanics.

Aaron: Bob’s version appeared on Self Portrait

Tony: I am thinking this is a different recording from the one I slipped in at the start of this piece, rather than a re-mix – the accompaniment is different.   I’ve not played each one over and over to work out the level of differences, but there are some – either in the mixing or in the actual performance.  But they are not that great.

Aaron: The song has been covered over 90 times. Here are just a couple modern versions I liked.

Tony: Ah well, if it is Old Crowe, then it must be worth listening to.  And of course they find something new to include – violin and harmonies and some extra guitar work.   The wonderful thing about these guys is that the arrangements like this never feel over-crowded.  It seems they can throw everything into the mix and it still works.  Wonderful.

Aaron: Crooked Still

Tony: It’s actually a shock to come to this version with its modern accompaniment.  And what a brilliant version it is – 100% for the arranger.  This approach makes the song of interest and worth hearing all over again.  I love it.


If you, dear reader, have slipped through to the end just to see what the selections are, and haven’t played this final version all the way through while giving it your most fulsome attention please do play it through.  It is two and a half minutes of absolute genius.

Footnote: Aside from this blog, Untold Dylan also has a very active (and excellently moderated) Facebook page.  If you don’t know it just go to your search engine and type in Facebook Untold Dylan.

Previously in this series…


  1. Little Sadie:
    Hedy West sings ‘Baltimore’; Johnny Cash sings ‘Juarez’; Dylan ‘Jericho'(Ashley).
    That is, Dylan sings the traditional version of the murder ballad that mentions the southern American town where the killer is overtaken.

  2. Michael Gray makes note that Dylan chooses to use ‘Jericho’, not ‘Juarez’, because of its ‘mythical’ significance.

    However, Dylan keeps to the original song lyrics of “Little Sadie” that includes a real town in the USA.

    That is, he didn’t come up with the name by himself in that the town name comes from the Bible.

  3. You never know what you will find when you go down a rabbit hole related to Bob. I’ve liked jug band music since I was introduced to the music of Jim Kweskin in the late 60’s and then saw the Holy Model Rounders play in a bar in Boston in the 70’s. 

    The “Little Sadie” music made me think of the Holy Modal Rounders which took me to an interesting article with several surprising (foor me) Dylan connections and references in the article and interview below, e.g. Peter Stamfel, Sam Shepherd (surprised he was in the Rounders), Jim Kweskin, Von Ronk, etc. 


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