"Little Sadie" is a 20th-century American folk ballad. It is also known variously as "Bad Lee Brown", "Cocaine Blues", "Transfusion Blues", "East St. Louis Blues", "Late One Night", "Penitentiary Blues" and other titles.
It tells the story of a man who is apprehended after shooting his wife/girlfriend. He is then sentenced by a judge.
The early versions refer to the Sheriff of Thomasville, North Carolina (sometimes mentioned Bad Texas Bill) apprehending the murderer in Jericho, South Carolina (in Charleston County, near Hollywood, South Carolina).
Other versions (the "Cocaine Blues" versions) refer to the Sheriff of Jericho Hill apprehending the murderer in Juarez, Mexico
Before it was published (part of) the lyrics of "Little Sadie" / "Bad Lee Brown" was already present in the lyrics of older songs.
W.H. Thomas (Some current folk-songs of the negro, 1912, page 10) reports a similar piece: "I Dreamt Last Night":
W.H. Thomas's report is also mentioned in Dorothy Scarborough's On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs, 1925, page 243)
Dorothy Scarborough in On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs, 1925, pages 87-89) reports another similar piece, "The Coon-Can Game".
and Carl Sandburg (American Songbag, 1927, pages 310-311) found a related item (Coon Can (Poor Boy)) in Fort Smith, Ark.
See also the "Bad Man Ballad" which Lomax (American Ballads and Folk Songs, 1934, pages 89-91) "learned from a tongue-tied Negro convict at Parchman, Mississippi."
Ernest "Buddy" Baker was probably the first one to record a version of this ballad, using a different title "Penitentiary Blues"
(o) Buddy Baker (1928) ("Penitentiary Blues")
Recorded June 21, 1928 (Chicago, Illinois. 952 North Michigan Ave.
Released on Victor 21549-A
Here's the lyrics Buddy Baker sings:
(c) John Dilleshaw and the String Marvel 1929 ("Bad Lee Brown")
John Dilleshaw, g/v.; prob. Pink Lindsey, f-1.
Recorded in Atlanta, GA Friday, March 22, 1929 (Okeh unissued)
Matrix 402406-B -1, 4 :
Released in 1978 on LP: "Folk Music in America, Vol. 9, Songs of Death & Tragedy" (Library of Congress LBC9)
Read all about John Dilleshaw here: http://www.1001tunes.com/fiddlers/dilly1.html
Clarence Ashley was the first one to record a version, using the more familiar title "Little Sadie"
(c) Clarence Ashley (1930) ("Little Sadie")
Clarence Ashley, v; acc. own bj.
Recorded in Johnson City, TN Wednesday, October 23, 1929
Released on Columbia 15522-D
In the 1930 recording here above, "Little Sadie" may have been a prostitute:
I woke next morning 'bout half past nine,
The buggies and the hacks all (swarmed?) in line,
The gents and the gamblers all standing around,
They're gonna take Sadie to the burying ground.
This verse does not appear in Ashley's 1962 recording with Doc Watson.
(c) Negro convict (probably Joe "Seldom Seen" Baker) of the State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi 1933
Recorded by John A. Lomax in August 1933.
(c) Riley Puckett 1934 (as"Chain Gang Blues")
Recorded March 29, 1934
Released on Bluebird 5818
Riley Puckett - Chain Gang Blues / George Collins (Shellac, 10", 78 RPM) | Discogs
(c) Willie Rayford 1939 ("Bad Man Ballad")
On May 21, 1939 John and Ruby Lomax recorded a version by a convict of the Cummins State Farm, near Varner, Arkansas.
(c) Woody Guthrie 1944 ("Bad Lee Brown")
(alternate title "Cocaine Blues" or "East Texas Bill")
Recorded April 19, 1944
Previously unissued take; Smithsonian acetate 3767
Finally released in 1999 on the Asch Recordings vol 4
In 1947 T. J. "Red" Arnall adapted "Little Sadie" and retitled it "Cocaine Blues".
This version was originally recorded by W. A. Nichol's Western Aces (vocal by "Red" Arnall) on the S & G label, probably in 1947
Arnall is also sometimes credited with the version of "Cocaine Blues" written and recorded by Billy Hughes (also in 1947). The music is similar, bearing a marked resemblance to "Little Sadie", however the lyrics in Hughes' vary from Arnall's. For instance, Hughes has the Cocaine Kid, not Willy Lee, killing "his woman and a rounder, too" in Tulsa, being captured in El Paso, and sentenced to "ninety-nine years way down in Mac." It ends with:
For you'll become an addict and blow your lid.
Take a look at what it did to the Cocaine Kid.
(c) Billy Hughes 1947 (as "Cocaine Blues")
Billy Hughes (Everett Billy Hughes [vcl], Lloyd Roy Adams [gt], George Chumura [ld gt], Richgard K. Hamilton [ld gt], Johnny Tyler [rh gt], Alan H. Barker [bass])
Recorded February 14, 1947 Broadcast Recorders, 1537 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA -
Released on King 636
(c) Roy Hogsed 1947 (as "Cocaine Blues")
Roy Hogsed (Rusty Nitz [bass], Gene Dewez [accordion]. Producer: Charles Washburn)
Recorded May 20, 1947 [19:30-22:00] Universal Recorders, 6757 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA
Released on Coast 262 and Capitol 40120
(c) Dick Dyson & His Musical Texans 1948
Paul Blant: vocal
Recorded in Dallas, TX –
Released on Tri-State 113 and Coast 113
(c) Elmer Christian and The Bar X Cowboys 1948 ("Cocain Blues")
(c) Johnny Cash (1960) (as "Transfusion Blues")
Johnny Cash (Johnny Cash [vcl/ac gt], Luther Perkins [el gt], Johnny Western [gt], Don Helms [steel], Marshall Grant [bass], Buddy Harman [drums], Gordon Terry [fiddle], Floyd Cramer [piano]. Producer: Don Law)Recorded February 7, 1960 [14:00-19:00] Bradley Film and Recording Studio, 804 16th Ave. South, Nashville, TN –
Released on the album "Now, There Was a Song !"
Note that the song was renamed "Transfusion Blues", because cocaine was taboo.
The song was featured on Johnny Cash's Columbia album Now, There Was a Song! substituting the line "took a shot of cocaine" with "took a transfusion" along with some other minor lyrical changes.
In 1968 Johnny Cash released this song under the original title "Cocaine Blues" on Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison in 1968.
(c) Cisco Houston (1959) (Badman Ballad)
(c) Kingston Trio (1960) (Bad Man's Blunder)
Bad Man's Blunder, which also opens the #1 selling album String Along, became the original Kingston Trio's final Top 40 single. It was cut by the Trio and issued as a single as a favor to composer Cisco Houston who was in the hospital and terminally ill.
(c) Bob Dylan (1970) (as "Little Sadie") and (as "In Search of Little Sadie")
Al Kooper (organ or piano)
David Bromberg (guitar)
Emanuel Green (violin)
Recorded on March 3, 1970, Columbia Studios, NYC, NY,
Released on "Self Portrait"
(c) Hedy West 1967 (as "Little Sadie")
On the album "Ballads" (Topic Records 12T163)
Here's Hedy West performing Little Sadie on Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest:
(c) Paul Jones 1967 (as "Little Sadie")
On the album "Love Me, Love My Friends" (His Master's Voice CSD 3602)
(c) John Renbourn 1971 ( as "Little Sadie")
On the album: "Faro Annie" (Transatlantic Records TRA 247)
The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia versions of the song follow the Clarence Ashley version fairly closely. The Grateful Dead performed the song a handful of times in acoustic sets in 1969, 1970 and 1980.
Jerry Garcia also performed the song over 40 times, usually but not always, in an acoustic setting. "Litte Sadie", as performed by the Jerry Garcia/John Kahn duo, is included in the Jerry Garcia Songbook.
(c) George Thorogood & The Destroyers 1978
On the album "Move It On Over" (Rounder Records 3024)