Pretty Polly


h1 June 1st, 2006

On our way up to Oriental North Carolina for a concert, we stopped for “Carolina Bar-B-Que” at a place called “Prissy Polly’s” just south of Winston Salem. The name reminded me of a song we recorded in the Byrds on the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album called “Pretty Polly.” I’d known the song since my days at the Old Town School of Folk Music and had always loved the modal tuning on the banjo and guitar in spite of the morbid lyrics. This is a good example of a song used for spreading the news of the day, way back before radio, television or the Internet. The content of the news today is however strikingly similar.
Lyrics: [G modal tuning]

There used to be a gambler who courted all around
There used to be a gambler who courted all around
He courted Pretty Polly such beauty had never been found

Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly come go along with me
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly come go along with me
Before we get married some pleasures to see

She jumped up behind him and away they did go
She jumped up behind him and away they did go
Down into the valley that was far below

They went a little further and what did they spy?
They went a little further and what did they spy?
But a new dug grave with a spade lying by

Oh Willy dear Willy, I’m afraid of your way
Oh Willy dear Willy, I’m afraid of your way
I’m afraid you might lead my poor body astray

Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly you’ve guessed it just right
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly you’ve guessed it just right
I dug on your grave the better part of last night

He stabbed her in the heart til her heart’s blood did flow
He stabbed her in the heart til her heart’s blood did flow
Down into the grave Pretty Polly did go

Now a debt to the Devil that Willy must pay
Now a debt to the Devil that Willy must pay
For killing Pretty Polly and running away

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