There are numerous American folk tunes that have their roots in true stories. There is Stagger Lee, Tom Dooley, Charles Guiteau, John Hardy, Pretty Boy Floyd and many more, a fascinating and bloody history. Most of these are about men, and most of them involve some kind of dramatic death. The American songbook is littered with bodies. I wonder sometimes if this is a testament to the American obsession with firearms. Tonight I’d like to feature a song always named after the victim of the crime, a woman named Delia.
Delia Green was purportedly shot and killed by a 15 year old kid in Savannah Georgia on Christmas day in 1900. I suppose many of the details have been lost. Even the spelling of Delia or Dehlia has various forms. Over time, songs about this particular murder sprang up and evolved and took on a life of their own. Many versions have been recorded. I’m going to share my faves.
Here’s how David Bromberg tells it…
Johnny Cash had a very haunting take on the story. “If I hadn’t shot poor Delia, I’d have had her for my wife.” Chilling.
The first version I ever heard was by Blind Willie McTell, a performer himself from Georgia, who played a somewhat faster version with a rag feel, always on a 12-string guitar.