‘On the Banks of the Ohio’—an old murder ballad

Posted by | November 6, 2009

Rebecca Dart, a Vancouver comic book artist and animator, is turning heads this week with her fresh visualization of the old-time tune “On the Banks of the Ohio.” Click on each panel to see her wonderful linework enlarged.

Says Wikipedia of this tune: “Banks of the Ohio is a 19th century murder ballad, written by unknown authors, in which ‘Willie’ invites his young lover for a walk during which she rejects his marriage proposal. Once they are alone on the river bank, he murders the young woman.

“The first recording of the song was by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers on August 12, 1927. The song has since been recorded numerous times, by Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman, Clayton McMichen, The Carter Family, Blue Sky Boys (whose version, performed in 1936, appears in the soundtrack of the 1973 film Paper Moon), Johnny Cash, Monroe Brothers, Joan Baez, Olivia Newton-John (with Mike Sammes, in 1971, her second commercial single in the United States), Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers, and Doc Watson, with slightly different lyrics when sung by a female.

“The song is similar in subject to Pretty Polly, and likely tells the same story (Both songs date from approximately the same time, tell roughly the same story, and feature a villain named ‘Willie’).”

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