I saw Bob in Sydney opening with Duncan and Brady in 2001. The night later he won the Oscar for ‘Things Have Changed‘. Dylan’s execution of this old ballad with the sync-rollicking guitars and intonation and timbre of voice as he builds the momentum for a brand-spanking new audience is masterclass. This song has been recorded numerous times by many greats including Lead Belly and Dave Van Ronk. I have heard other versions, but Dylan’s is my favourite – surprise, surprise! His version was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006.
Duncan and Brady is a traditional murder ballad and originally recorded by Wilmer Watts & his Lonely Eagles in 1929. It is likely Watts heard the story or the song after it had passed through many singers. The story is a recalling of an incident which occurred in October 6, 1890 in a bar-room shooting, St. Louis, Missouri. A patron by the name of Brady was shot and Harry Duncan claimed to be the shooter and was convicted and sentenced to hang. It was rumoured that Charles Starkes (the bar owner) later confessed to the murder on his deathbed. For more information about the incident I point you to this page in the Singout web site.
Well, it’s twinkle, twinkle little star
Along came Brady in his ‘lectric car
Got a mean look right in his eye
Gonna shoot somebody just to see him die
Well, he been on the job too long
Well, Duncan, Duncan was tending the bar
Along comes Brady with his shiny star
Brady says, Duncan, you are under arrest
And Duncan shot a hole right in Brady’s chest
Yes, he been on the job too long
Below Bob Dylan performs Duncan and Brady at Vicar Street, Dublin. What’s Tony (On standup bass) grinning so much about?
1. Wikipedia – Duncan and Brady