Twice Pardoned…

In 1917, Leadbelly was sent to prison for 30+ years for killing a man during an argument, presumably over a woman.  In 1925, Leadbelly earned himself a pardon by singing a plea for freedom to prison governor Pat Neff.  Five years later, Leadbelly ended up in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison Farm, after a conviction for attempted murder. In 1933, folk historians Alan and John Lomax found Leadbelly in Angola Prison, while on their first field trip to document and record Southern folklore and music. Through the influence of the Lomaxes, Leadbelly was freed again! (Source: The Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues by Keith Shadwick)  

Top Photo:  Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) with a twelve string acoustic guitar.  

Bottom Photo:  Huddie Ledbetter’s mugshots. Note the placard reads “NYC Police” and is dated 3/5/39, (after his two pardons).  These particular mugshots are from an arrest for assault when Leadbelly stabbed a man during a fight in Manhattan.    

Watch on daysofthedad.tumblr.com

I remember watching this performance when it first aired on MTV in 1993. I was only 13, but I remember how haunting I thought this was. 21 years later, I still get lost in the words and tone of Cobain’s voice here and it still give me chills at the end.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? - Nirvana

Album: MTV Unplugged In New York

Originally by: Traditional American Folk Song made famous by Blues Musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter.

This Week’s Theme: Covers

Black Betty
  • Black Betty
  • Lead Belly
  • Last Sessions

“Black Betty” by Lead Belly

“These new rock’n'roll kids should just throw away their guitars and listen to something with real soul, like Leadbelly.“  -William S. Burroughs, speaking to Kurt Cobain

You’ve probably heard at least a dozen bar band versions of this song, now take a moment to listen to the original.  Incidentally, Black Betty wasn’t a woman–it was a nickname given to many things long ago.  It was slang for a bottle of whiskey, or for the musket that soldiers carried into battle.  For Leadbelly, though, "Black Betty” was the name he and his fellow prisoners had for the whip that was used to beat them.

There’s an immediacy and a starkness that’s there. I think a lot of Leadbelly’s arrangements and his use of the 12-string guitar were atypical, especially the 12-string, which showed his individuality. I guess he approached it that way because the 12-string was louder. Leadbelly and the punk rock aesthetic - maybe there are some similarities there.

-Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt)


original version of “Where did you sleep last night”