Banks of the Ohio’

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • “‘Banks of the Ohio'” is a 19th century murder ballad, 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 girl. The song has been recorded countless times, including
    by Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, the Blue Sky Boys (whose version, performed in
    1936, appears in the soundtrack of the 1973 film Paper Moon), the Monroe Brothers,
    Joan Baez, Olivia Newton-John (with Mike Sammes, in 1971, her second commercial
    single in the United States), and Doc Watson, with slightly different lyrics when sung by
    a female. Also, the song and its title serve as the theme song for, and title of, a long-
    running radio series broadcast of bluegrass music on WAMUPBS and Bluegrass
    Country, hosted by Fred Bartenstein and produced for the International Bluegrass Music
    Museum, near the Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky.
    I asked my love to take a walk
    Just a little ways with me
    And as we walked and we would talk
    All about our wedding day
    (chorus)
    And only say that you’ll be mine
    In no others arms entwined
    Down beside where the waters flow
    On the banks of the Ohio
    I asked her if she’d marry me
    And my wife forever be
    She only turned her head away
    And had no other words to say
    (chorus)
    I plunged a knife into her breast
    And told her she was going to rest
    She cried “Oh Willy, don’t murder me
    I’m not prepared for eternity.”
    I took her by her golden curls
    I drug her down to the river-side
    An I there threw her into drown
    And I watched her as she floated down
    (chorus)
    And going home between twelve and one
     I cried “Lord, what have I’ve done?”
    I’ve killed the girl I love
    Because she would not marry me
    (chorus)