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It is derived from the 19th-century Irish ballad "The Wexford Girl", itself derived from the earlier English ballad "The Bloody Miller or Hanged I Shall Be" about a murder in 1683 at Hogstow Mill 12 miles south of Shrewsbury. This ballad was collected by Samuel Pepys who wrote about the murder of Anne Nichols by the Mill's apprentice Francis Cooper. Other versions are known as the "Waxweed Girl", "The Wexford Murder". These are in turn derived from Elizabethan era poem or broadside ballad, "The Cruel Miller".
Possibly modelled on the 17th century broadside William Grismond's Downfall, or A Lamentable Murther by him Committed at Lainterdine in the county of Hereford on March 12, 1650: Together with his lamentation., sometimes known as The Bloody Miller.
I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out in her home, I'd dwell
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down
She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
"Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die"
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow
I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride
I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight
My mother, she was worried and woke up in a fright
Saying "dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?"
I told my anxious mother I was bleeding at my nose
I called for me a candle to light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head
Rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see
They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail
I'm here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well
|1924||Riley Puckett & Gid Tanner||"Knoxville Girl"||Earliest recording|
|1937||The Carter Family||"Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You"||:4|
|1938||The Blue Sky Boys||"In My Little Home In Tennessee/The Knoxville Girl"||:167|
|1956||The Louvin Brothers||Tragic Songs of Life|| (US Country #19)|
|1959||The Wilburn Brothers||"The Knoxville Girl/Which One Is To Blame"|| (US Country #18)|
|1963||John Duffey and the Country Gentlemen||Hootenanny – A Bluegrass Special|||
|1969||Jim and Jesse||Saluting The Louvin Brothers|||
|1972||Osborne Brothers||Bobby and Sonny|||
|1974||Dave Loggins||Apprentice (In A Musical Workshop)|||
|1980||Flatt And Scruggs||Bluegrass Banjo|||
|1996||BR5-49||Live From Robert's|
|1996||The Lemonheads||Car Button Cloth|||
|1996||DQE||Move into the villa villakula|
|1996||Nick Cave||"Henry Lee/Knoxville Girl"|||
|2002||Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/Brett Sparks||The Executioner's Last Songs|||
|2003||The Handsome Family||Smothered and Covered|
|2005||Okkervil River||Black Sheep Boy|||
|2005||Roger Alan Wade||All Likkered Up|||
|2006||The Singing Hall Sisters||Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus|||
|2008||Rachel Brooke||Rachel Brooke|||
|2008||The Boxmasters||The Boxmasters|||
|2013||Vandaveer||Oh, Willie, Please...|||
|2014||Beaches In Boise||Autocantata|||
|2015||The Ghosts Of Johnson City||Am I Born To Die?|
The song features prominently in If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, the first book in the Ballad mystery series by Sharyn McCrumb.
Personnel from Brooks/Rust. Russell lists Riley Puckett as the vocalist and notes that Puckett played guitar and Gid Tanner may be playing fiddle.
The song [Knoxville Girl] appears in many American folksong collections in widely variant forms. Some other recordings: Carter Family, "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You", recorded June 17, 1937, in New York, releases, DECCA 5479, Montgomery Ward M-8027, Melotone 45250 and other reissues.