Appalachia Music

Down in the Willow Garden

Today’s post was written by Paul.


“Down in the Willow Garden” is an old murder ballad. Before I could play a guitar and could only listen to Pap play, there were three songs that I wanted to be able to pick, meaning play the notes of the melody: “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “Rock, Salt, & Nails,” and “Down in the Willow Garden.” You may notice that all of these songs feature minor chords at some point in the song. I think that appealed to me for some reason as a kid.

When Pap played these songs as instrumentals (for my entertainment more than for his own), he “hammered on” a lot of the notes. This is something else that I liked and later tried to emulate.

The first song that I could pick out was “Red River Valley,” but not long behind it was “Ghost Riders,” which made me quite happy. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m rambling again…

Pap told me that he first heard “Willow Garden” on an old 78 record that someone in his family owned, possibly his grandmother. The record was Charlie Monroe (Bill’s brother) singing and picking “Down in the Willow Garden.” On the B side was “Walking with You in My Dreams,” which has a very similar cadence but falls to D major out of G instead of to E minor.

The song is apparently a lot older than the Charlie Monroe recording. A quick google will turn up the history.

There are tons of versions of “Willow Garden” on YouTube. I like all the ones that I’ve listened to, and I was surprised to encounter different chord patterns than what I thought to be the standard. I really like Shaky Graves’ version of this song, which I heard for the first time just after filming my version.

A lot of the old murder ballads have interesting histories, and people speculate and research into the motives of the killers. The mention of the father in the last verse makes me wonder if the narrator was “courting” a girl of lower status or something like that… Anyway, the song is haunting and has managed to survive and reappear for a long, long time. Hope you enjoy it in spite of all the mistakes I made in the picking. I was distracted by a lot of birds and squirrels in the trees ๐Ÿ™‚

I hope you enjoyed the song and I hope you have a great Sunday!


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  • Reply
    Scott Colcord
    June 26, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    I describe this song with the phrase ‘Southern Gothic’.
    Like Johnny Case singing ‘I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.’
    Southern Gothic is being more comfortable with death and murder than with sex. High SG songs go on to glorify the woman’s beauty, but only after she has died. It tells how beautiful she is in her coffin. If the song talked about her beauty before she was murdered, then it wouldn’t be Southern Gothic.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Enjoyed listening to the song( though sad) ..loved watching how you played it… you can learn so much just watching… ๐Ÿ™‚ , also enjoy reading everyone’s comments, ”Sundays with Paul” sounds nice. Going on YouTube to listen is great , especially searching out songs mentioned in comments I haven’t heard growing up, and want to…

  • Reply
    June 24, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    I remember singing Rock Salt and Nails along with my Joan Baez album sometime in the late 60s. I’d say I learned a good few traditional ballads and songs from Joan Baez – and that was also the time when I saved up and bought my first guitar.

  • Reply
    ken hoffman
    June 24, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    tipper: one of my great grand fathers came from Holland in the late 1600s he changed his name for a reason only he would know. the name he took was terrwillegar. when translated. means Down in the willows. pobably no relation to the song im sure. but thats what us 80 year olds might do with our time regards k.o.h.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    All you who hadn’t heard Paul play and sing “Down in The Willow Garden” apparently don’t know about YouTube. He put it on there in July of last year. I have been enjoying it ever since. All you have to do is go down to the lower right corner of the video on this blog and click on YouTube. It will then open in Youtube. Then find the big red SUBSCRIBE button below the video on the right side and click on it. Click on the bell beside SUBSCRIBE and you will get notifications when anything new is posted on the Blind Pig & the Acorn YouTube channel. Now go up below the video and click the thumbs up button and you are done.

    One more thang! If you right click on the screen and then on “Loop” you can listen again and again.

    At least that how it works on my ‘puter!

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    June 24, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    I enjoyed the singing and picking, which made me think of one of the songs my Mother would sing in her beautiful Alto voice regarding a murder of a Knoxville Girl. It was a sad song but beautiful music. Plus, loved the sound of the creek in the background.

  • Reply
    aw griffgrowin
    June 24, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    One of my wife’s favorites. Couldn’t help getting my martin and playing along. I’m not a good player like you are. You did a great job. Really enjoyed. You probably knew this but I’m going to die ion the battle field, I’m going to die in the war sounds good played in this chord progression.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 24, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Sorry folks. My fotched on education is cropping out. We didn’t say “song ballad”. We said “song ballet”. And in just that difference lies a world of sad meaning.

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    June 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    great job thanks paul hi to all from a very cold christchurch in new zealand

  • Reply
    Jay A Clark
    June 24, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    You might be interested in the following: “On the sleeve-notes on the back of Sorrels’ album Rosalie’s Songbag, Rosalie says the following: ‘Rock Salt and Nails’ is another of Bruce Phillips’ songs. He taught it to me one night right after he thought it up.” – From Apparently the song only dates back to 1961.

  • Reply
    Neva [Wyatt} Slocum
    June 24, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Paul, This song reminds me of the song my Mother would sing to us. The Knoxville Girl. I did not realize that there were so many songs of murder. Another song that I cannot remember the name, was about a little girl on a train going to see her father in prison. Thank you for sharing ” Down in the Willow Garden. Neva

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 24, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    And Paul,
    Don’t recon I ever heard that one but I like the way you done it. I’ve said it before and I stand by it, you’re the Best guitar player I ever heard. I’ve heard of Charlie Monroe, but I couldn’t tell you a song that he sings. Love the sound of the creek. …Ken

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 24, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Sundays with Paul seems to be becoming a regular thing. If it’s not, it sure ought to be.

    I was not familiar with Down in the Willow Garden, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul’s point about minor chords struck….well, a chord. What is it about those of us with Scots-Irish roots who planted here in the Appalachians that draws us to minor chords? I don’t know; I reckon we are just poor, wayfaring strangers.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    June 24, 2018 at 10:23 am

    That was a good job, Paul. I’ve always liked that song, not particularly the words and theme, but the chord progression. I am partial to the minor chords, too, and I find us sticking minor chords in a lot of our songs that are not written with them, just because we like the sound they give. I really enjoy your posts!

  • Reply
    June 24, 2018 at 9:34 am

    Sad songs that make me happy! That’s what I call songs done in a minor key. They have a feeling of gloom and doom but there is always a bright spot to be found. Wayfaring Stranger is a perfect example. The journey is long and arduous with many hidden dangers but the end is worth the misery endured to get there.

    Who said, “If she is still alive at the end of the song, it ain’t Bluegrass?”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 24, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Well Paul you can’t prove missed chords by me. Maybe I have that ‘tin ear’. Sounded better than good to me.

    That music sounds very much like a gospel son my father-in-law sings sometimes. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone else sing it and I don’t even know the name.

    “One day while I was thinking of unseen things above,
    The Savior came unto me and filled my heart with love.”
    (Forget the next two lines)

    “So I’ll take this gospel trumpet and I’ll begin to blow
    And Lord if you will help me, I’ll blow it wherever I go.”

    I’ll have to try and remember to ask him where he got that ‘song ballad’ (which was what we called those handwritten and handed down versions.) I very much suspect the author is unknown.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 24, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Tipper–Although the musical details are beyond my ken (I wouldn’t know D major from Z minor (although I know the latter doesn’t exist), I’m nonetheless thoroughly enjoying Paul’s Sunday stories.

    In the setting for his rendition of “Down in the Willow Garden,” it looks like he’s down in the jewel weed patch.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    David Hilton
    June 24, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Sounds like the same tune as the Irish folk song, โ€œDown by the Salley Gardensโ€

    • Reply
      June 24, 2018 at 7:21 pm

      That makes sense, as sally is another word for willow ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Kimberly Rodriguez
    June 24, 2018 at 6:35 am

    Beautiful rendition Paul. You inspired me to do a little research into “ballads” this morning & I learned that ballads are reflective of our Irish roots here in North Carolina. I find that fascinating! Just like language, music genres can be used to trace the cultural influences of a particular region. Here’s the link to two of the articles I particularly liked: & Have a blessed day! & SING ON!

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