Created on 26/09/2001
Latest update on 14/02/2018

Artist: G.B. Grayson & Henry Whitter
Author: traditional
Label: Victor
Year: 1929

Old mountain murder ballad from North Carolina. Reissued on the Appalachian Stomp Down box set (JSP), on Fremeaux double-cd Rock 'n Roll 1927-1938 and on the disaster songs box set People Take Warning. Blind fiddler G.B. Grayson was possibly related to the James Grayson from Tennessee where the real Tom Dula was arrested (see footnote). Along with Frank Hutchinson, Henry Whitter was by far the first to play guitar and harmonica simultaneously, long before Woody Guthrie, let alone Bob Dylan.



Bascom Lamar Lunsford


Myra Barnett Miller [as Tom Dula]


J. Frank Bare & Mrs. Lena Bare Turbyfill


Cleophas Franklin


Frank Proffitt [credits his grandmother who witnessed the hanging of Tom Dula; she claims she heard Tom sing this song in his own Statesville cell; version the Kingston Trio knew; Anne & Frank Warner recording; both Proffitt and Warner sued the Kingston Trio and eventually received a portion of the royalties]


Frank Warner [as Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley; John & Alan Lomax helped arrange it; this is the version The Kingston Trio knew through Eric Darling]


Alan Lomax [learned the song from Frank Warner and went to the Appalachians in search of the same people Frank had found]


Folksay Singers [with Erik Darling]


City Ramblers Skiffle Group




Kingston Trio [n°1 US & B; with spoken intro and in another key; first pushed by a Salt Lake City DJ on KLUB Radio; The Kingston Trio's hit version triggered a chain reaction; lots of similar saga songs surfaced: The Battle Of New Orleans, Long Black Veil, Soldier's Joy, The Great El Tigre (see there), cultivating every historical character mentioned; The Kingston Trio hit also triggered a legal battle, launched by Ralph Peer soon as he learned the hit credited Alan Lomax and Frank Warner who both seemed unaware of the Grayson & Whitter original, recorded by Peer and credited to these guys; Lomax & Warner assumed the song to be public domain]


Lonnie Donegan


Philippe Clay [as Fais ta prière]


Bob Davidse [as Jan Breydel]


Bobbejaan Schoepen [as Tom Doely]


Compagnons De La Chanson


Nielsen Brothers [n°1 GER]


Line Renaud


New Lost City Ramblers


Troubadour Van Het Heilig Hart [alias Pater Mestdagh; in Dutch]


Burl Ives


Smothers Brothers [as a stand-up comedy routine]


Doc Watson


Sweeney's Men


Snakefarm [with Anna Domino]


Steve Earle & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts


Carolina Chocolate Drops [as Tom Dula]


Neil Young & Crazy Horse


Johnny Dowd

The facts: the real Thomas C. Dula was a Confederate army veteran from Wilkes County, North Carolina, hanged in 1868 in nearby Statesville. He was also a womanizer. Before the war he was with a girl named Ann Melton, who married another man while Tom survived Gettysburg. At his return he started frequenting other ladies, one of them was Ann's cousin Laura Foster from Caldwell Co. But he kept frequenting Ann Melton on the side. One day Laura took her father's horse and dissapeared. A witness later reported she confessed him she'd left home to marry Tom Dula. Two days later that horse returned without Laura Foster. Months went by before her body was found deep in a Wilkes Co. wood. By then Tom had left the state to go and work for a James Grayson in Tennessee (name mentioned in the song lyrics). That's where Tom was arrested by Wilkes Co. deputies. he was charged for murder and was first trialed in Wilkesboro (the county seat) before the whole case was moved to nearby Statesville for objectivity reasons. That's where Ann Melton was jailed for the same facts. The night before he was hanged, Tom wrote a note declining all guilt from Ann Melton's shoulders. Rumour goes he was sitting on top of his own casked on his way to the scaffold and since he was a fiddler, that he was playing his instrument during that final trip. That's the stuff legends are made off. According to Alan Lomax, Tom even wrote his own ballad while in prison. Under severe pressure of public opinion, authorities of the North Carolina town where the real Tom Dula lay buried, were requested to pardon him posthumously but in 2009 that request was denied.


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Arnold Rypens
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