America’s greatest murder ballads and the true crime stories that inspired themUnpreparedToDieFC-72

by Paul Slade

  • Published: November 2015
  • Paperback and Kindle
  • ISBN: 9780992948078
  • 2×8 page plates sections
  • Price: £16.99

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (Paperback and Kindle)

Read an extract on Google Books


The Gory Stories Behind The Murder Ballads

Cheerfully vulgar, revelling in gore, and always with an eye on the main chance, murder ballads are tabloid newspapers set to music, carrying word of the latest ‘orrible murders to an insatiable public. Victims are bludgeoned, stabbed or shot in every verse and killers often hanged, but the songs themselves never die. Instead, they mutate – morphing to suit local place names as they criss cross the Atlantic and continue to fascinate each generation’s biggest musical stars. Paul Slade traces this fascinating genre’s history through eight of its greatest songs.

Stagger Lee’s “biographers” alone include Duke Ellington, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Dr John, The Clash and Nick Cave. No two tell his story in quite the same way. Covering eight classic murder ballads, including “Knoxville Girl”, “Tom Dooley” and “Frankie & Johnny”, Slade investigates the real-life murder which inspired each song and traces its musical development down the decades. Billy Bragg, The Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey, Laura Cantrell, Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family and a host of other leading musicians add their own insights.

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  • “A dauntingly complete and fascinating piece of work.” – Greil Marcus
  • “A brilliantly simple idea, and a simply brilliant book.” – Steve Hunt, fRoots
  • “Captivating cultural history. As entertaining as it is educational.” – Alan Clayson, Record Collector.
  • “Slade is a meticulous reporter. […] The pace of his narrative never falters.” – Nigel Williamson, Songlines
  • “A major contribution to the annals of folk.” – Dave Thompson, Goldmine
  • “Slade’s passion for the music and a grisly crime tale soaks every page.” – Spiral Earth.
  • “Pick it up once and you’re hooked.” – Tim Carroll, Folkwords
  • “A fascinating read from cover to cover.” – Neil King, Fatea
  • “Delivers an emotional wallop.” – Mike Segretto, Psychobabble
  • “Expertly researched” – Dai Jeffries, R2

More Reviews

About the author

Paul Slade is a London based journalist who has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent On Sunday, The Sunday Times, Mojo, Fortean Times, The Idler, Time Out and more. This is his first book.

For more information, contact Phil Godsell, phil@soundcheckbooks.co.uk