Pretty Polly

14 May

(click here for tab)

[gDGBbD tuning; aka “G minor” tuning]

This famous  murder ballad has its roots in a popular (during the 1700’s that is) British ballad called “The Gosport Tragedy” in which a young man murders his girlfriend to avoid marrying her when he discovers she is pregnant.  He tries to escape on a ship, but the winds won’t blow and he is torn apart by the ghosts of the victims who rise from the silent waters.  In the North American version, poor Polly gets no retribution having only “the wild birds to mourn’ her violent death.  Damn.

This song was first recorded  in 1925 by John Hammond Sr. (father of delta blues guitarist John Hammond Jr.) and was followed shortly after by B.F. Shelton (1927) and a seriously spooky 3-finger version by Dock Boggs (1928).  Perhaps the most famous recording was done by the Stanley Brothers in 1951.  This version is so popular that many mistakenly credit the brothers Stanley with the authorship of the ancient ballad.

The arrangement in the tablature is one I’ve been fooling around with for a while in the clawhammer style, but it seems to sit very well in the 2ftl style. Give it a shot!

(P.S. I’ll be posting a tab of B.F. Shelton’s Pretty Polly sometime in the near future.)

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One Response to “Pretty Polly”

  1. Bart Brush 03/21/2017 at 10:03 pm #

    This tuning also works well for Coal Tattoo, and the ballads Johnny Cock and Golden Vanity.

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