Bill Kroger 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The Turning Point in Lead Belly’s Life In addition to being a fundamental influence on many American and English popular musicians of the 20th century, including Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Nirvana, Huddie Ledbetter, aka “Lead Belly,” was one of the finest blues and folk musicians ever recorded. He was an incredible guitarist — watch the color video online of his 12-string guitar pickings on “Pick a Bale of Cotton.” He was also a powerful singer. At a time when most male singers (such as Rudy Vallee or the early Frank Sinatra) were crooning, Lead Belly sang his songs in his raw and natural voice, sounding like the robust, powerful man that he was. He wrote and sang songs about real-life experiences, including prison, work, war, natural disasters, and current events. Lead Belly sang colorful, gut-bucket blues, such as “Pig Meat Papa” and “Take a Whiff on Me,” but he also sang children songs like “Blue Tail Fly.” Lead Belly’s musical life is intertwined with the stories of his colorful and violent past. He was born in Louisiana but grew up on a small farm in Bowie County. He left home as a child to try to make his way as a musician. But Lead Belly regularly had run-ins with the law, and in 1917, he shot and killed a man named Will Stafford. He was arrested and convicted in Bowie County under the name “Walter Boyd.” While in prison, he wrote and sang a song pleading for a pardon from Gov. Pat Neff who, in fact, pardoned him in one of his last acts as governor in 1924. Lead Belly was later convicted (again) for attempted homicide and sentenced to Angola Prison in Louisiana. While in Angola Prison, he was first recorded by John and Allan Lomax, who later promoted his career when he was released. Lead Belly served time in several prisons in Texas as part of his sentence, including one of the prison units in Sugar Land, where it is believed he coined his famous lines to the folk song, “The Midnight Special”: If you ever go to Houston, you better walk right You better not stagger, you better not fight Sheriff Benson will arrest you, he’ll carry you down And if the jury finds you guilty, penitentiary bound. Lead Belly’s Bowie County criminal file, if it ever existed, has long since disappeared. However, the Bowie District Court clerk found the judgments against “Walter Boyd,” on two different counts. In case file 4890, he was adjudged guilty of murder and sentenced to the Bowie County Penitentiary for “not less than five, nor more than 20 years.” In case file 4945, he was “adjudged guilty” of “assault to murder” and sentenced to “not less than two, nor more than ten” years in the Bowie County Penitentiary. The sentencing records confirm that Lead Belly had served most, if not all, of the minimum amount of his prison term at the time of Gov. Neff ’s pardon. By Bill Kroger
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Bowie+County+District+Court+%281918%29/993796/102719/article.html.