The true story of Delia

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The true story of Delia

Post  pinhedz on Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:58 pm

pinhedz
Schrödinger's Hepcat
Fri May 02, 2008 1:30 pm

Willie McTell recorded the song "Delia" twice (I think his 2nd version is the best ever recorded). People often assume that the song is about a grown woman with many lovers, but the song is really based on an actual murder of a 14-year-old girl.

This is from a person who did the research:

Newspapers estimated the age of the killer, "Mose "Cooney" Houston, at 14-16. He claimed to be 14, so apparently he wasn't much older than Delia Green. The most precise time of the shooting given in the record is "about 11:20 pm" Christmas Eve night, 1900. Like the first newspaper reports, but not like those surrounding the trial, Delia's time of death is given as early Christmas morning, about 4 a.m. The testimony is conflicting - somebody was lying or had a poor memory, most likely both, it seems to me. Some say that there was a crowd in the house, drinking and carousing. Others say there was a small group, no drinking, everyone was sober, and the main activity was playing "Rock of Ages" on the organ while the group sang.

Cooney and Delia argued earlier in the evening. About 3 minutes before the shooting, Cooney was said to have been cursing and was told to leave. He promised to behave and was allowed to stay.


The conversation before Cooney was told leave went something like this:

Cooney: "My little wife is mad with me tonight. She does not hear me. She is not saying anything to me. (To Delia:) "You don't know how I love you."

This was followed by mutual cursing.

Delia: "You son of a bitch. You have been going with me for four months. You know I am a lady."

Cooney: "That is a damn lie. You know I have had you as many times as I have fingers and toes."

Delia: "You lie!"

This is when Cooney was warned. Cooney was said to have been "full," but not from drinking at the scene.

A few minutes went by and Cooney started out the door. As he approached the door, he pulled out a pistol and shot Delia in the stomach (left groin, according to newspapers).


The Lyrics to the song were recorded by the sociology researcher Howard Odem about 1907, and later published in his book "The Negro and His Songs." Many American folkies have played the song--including David Bromerg and Bob Dylan--and typically they play it sad and soulful (David Bromberg makes it a tear-jerker).

But the song was probably sung more cold-blooded 100 years ago. Odem's book has one line that shows the attitude of the blues singer: "I've got the blues, but I'm too damn mean to cry." Koerner, Ray and Glover capture that attitude in their rendition, which includes the line: "Delia, oh Delia, why didn't you run, when you saw that desperado with a 44 smokin' gun?"

Stan54
Uranus Member
Fri May 02, 2008 2:57 pm

Delia was a gambling girl, she gambled all around.
Yes, she was a gambling girl, she would lay her money down.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Curly was a proud man, as any fool could be.
He loved little Delia, that's all that he could see.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Delia's dear old father, he took a trip back East.
When he returned, little Delia had made her peace (alt. come to grief).
She's all I've got, is gone.

Delia's dear old mother, she took a trip out West.
When she returned, little Delia had gone to rest.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Delia's mother wept, and Delia's father mourned.
It wouldn't have been so bad, good people, if the poor girl had died at home.
She's all I've got, is gone.

High up on the house tops, as high as I could see,
Looking for those rounders, who were looking out for me.
She's all I've got, is gone.

The sheriff says to Curly, how did this come down?
Curly says to the sheriff, you know I'm judgement bound.
She's all I've got, is gone.

The judge says to Curly, what's this noise about?
It's all about them rounders, Judge, they're trying to cut me out.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Delia's in the gambling hall, eating from a silver spoon.
Curly's on the hilltop, staring up at the silver moon.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Delia's in the dance hall, drinking port and stout.
Curly's on the pavement, waiting for Delia come out.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly's looking high, and Curly's looking low.
He shot poor Delia down, good people, with a big bore forty four.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Curly says to the judge, what may be my fine?
The judge says "Poor boy, you've got ninety nine."
She's all I've got, is gone.

You can call out your rubber tired taxis, your double-seated hacks.
They took poor Delia to the graveyard, people, and they failed to
bring her back.
She's all I've got, is gone.

The people in their Sunday clothes, they come from miles around.
They come to see poor Delia slip down in the ground.
She's all I've got, is gone.

The preacher preached a sermon, the parson prayed a prayer
But all their preaching and praying, little Delia could not hear.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly's in the jailhouse, drinking from an old tin cup.
And Delia's in the graveyard, she won't never get back up.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly makes a break, and Curly tries to run.
The guard has got poor Curly in the sight of his gatling gun.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly's in the jailyard, beneath an old oak tree.
And Delia's down in hell, sitting on the Devil's knee.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly's in the jailyard, a-mouldering in the ground.
The parson and the preacher, they did not come around.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Curly's dear old mother, her head is old and gray.
She never taught poor Curly just how them women play.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now Delia's dear old mother, her face is drawn and sad.
She never taught her daughter about a man who's just plain bad.
She's all I've got, is gone.

You mamas and you papas, go teach your little sons
"Don't love no easy women, Don't ever play with guns."
She's all I've got, is gone.

You mothers and you fathers, teach your daughters fair
"Don't ever break the heart of a man with curly hair.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Now it says so in the Bible, and it's very widely known,
When it comes down to your judgement day, you'll reap just what you've sown.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Delia, Delia, how could it be?
You loved all those rounders, you never really did love me.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Oh, Delia, Delia, how could it be?
You loved all those gambling men, but you never did love me.
She's all I've got, is gone.

Stan54

In Greil Marcus' great book, Mystery Train, he does a very similar thing to the song Stacker Lee, he goes backinto the historical record looking for actual newspaper stories about the incident the song is based on. It may be his best book, the least unnecessarily bogged down with theory for theory's sake. Have you read it?

Stan54

And I forgot to add, I love Bromberg's version. It has a rich humor to it in lines like "Curly's in the jailhouse, drinking from an old tin cup / Delia's in the graveyard, she might not never get up."

Cook Pass Babtridge

A great song. Thanks for posting.

Hosni

Mr. McTell was lured into his final recording session with a jug of corn whiskey or so it is claimed. I don't believe I have heard those sessions. Any gud?

pinhedz

I had heard that he was drunk and past his prime during the last sessions in 1956, but he sounds like he's still in good form to me.

I think it's better than the 1940 recordings made by Alan Lomax (his guitar was out of tune during that session), but not as good as the 1949 session that Akhmet Ertegun recorded for Atlantic Records.

pinhedz

For the Library of Congress recordings in 1940, Alan Lomax paid him $1.00.

If Lomax had come up with $2.00, maybe McTell would have tuned his guitar.

Hosni

He probably recorded his best work under the name Hot Shot Barrelhouse Pig Whistle Sammie, the Blind Country Boy.

pinhedz

Without consulting any written notes, Blind Willie told Alan Lomax that he started recording on October 18th, 1927, for the Victor Record Company, with an exclusive recording contract, except for when he recorded starting in 1929 for Columbia Records, changing his name to Blind Samuel, and recording "Come Around to My House Mama," "Cigarette blues," and "Atlanta Strut," and "so on." Then, in 1933, he recorded for the Vocalion Record Company for $50.00 a week, "..but they were getting all the blues they could get." Then he recorded for Decca records, who paid "...a small sum of money, but they also paid expenses." And in June, 1936, they set up a recording machine in Augusta Georgia, and they recorded "...a gang of blues" there.

Still without any consulting any notes, Blind Willie reeled of the names and addresses of his managers: "Ralph S. Peer of 7619 Broadway in New york City, W.R. Calloway and A.E Salinger of 1776 East Broadway, and Dave Kapp, of 1666 Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, Illonois."

But who knows what he might have held back from divulging from to Lomax, just in case there might be some record executives that might be looking for evidence to take him to court for breach of his multiple exclusive recording contracts. We might never find out about everything he recorded.

John McLaughlin

Not unless he's got some other officious folklorist he feels irked about enough to hammer with his memory, typical of many "non-lettered" blues musicians, who in general are much cooler than they ever let on to be, John Jackson would smilingly repeat the same anecdotes from one interview to the next, in that pleasant Piedmont drawl that charmed the asses off his interviewers, who rarely noted that fact or much of anything else, so he could keep on keeping on doing what he pleased, and it warn't nobody's bidniss whether or not he could really read or write a word. Just tell him to be somewhere and he'd get there, get paid, and play the music. What more could anyone want of a musician - except of course keeping his Gibson in tune?

pinhedz
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Re: The true story of Delia

Post  pinhedz on Thu Feb 05, 2015 4:57 pm

This is probably the most authentic version of the song:


pinhedz
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Re: The true story of Delia

Post  pinhedz on Thu Feb 05, 2015 5:00 pm

Johnny Cash's rendition isn't authentic (Delia was nothing like he says here), but it's got that Johnny Cash feel:


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