Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Stewball

First recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1944), Lonnie Donegan (1956), The Weavers (1960), John Herald & The Greenbriar Boys (1961).
Hit version by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #35/MOR #17 1963).

From the wiki: “There are two major but different arrangements of the sporting ballad, generally titled either ‘Skewball’ or ‘Stewball’; the latter spelling is more popular in America. Versions date at least as far back as the 18th century. In most versions of ‘Stewball’ the winning horse triumphs due to the stumbling of the lead horse; ‘Skewball’ wins simply by being the faster horse in the end. The oldest broadside identified with the ballad is dated 1784 and is held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. The song spread to America by 1829 when it was published in a songbook in Hartford. American versions were sung and adapted by slaves in the Southern United States, and have ‘Stewball’ racing in California, Texas, or Kentucky.

“The American interpretations are a chain-gang song sung by Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie with an African-American-based ‘call and response’ style. Lead Belly recorded several versions of his interpretation; the music and lyrics from his version appear in American Ballads and Folk Songs by Lomax and Lomax. Lead Belly’s chain-gang version of Stewball was covered in the 1950s by The Weavers, and then by British skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan.

“The other notable, and more popular, recording and arrangement was made by Woody Guthrie. Guthrie’s ‘cowboy’ version of the British ballad, with the same lyrics but using a different arrangement, was recorded in 1961 on the Vanguard album New Folks by John Herald and the Greenbriar Boys. This arrangement was subsequently covered and popularized by Peter, Paul & Mary with chart success in 1963.

“Skewball (his name has also been variously recorded as ‘Squball’, ‘Sku-ball’, or ‘Stewball’) was the name of an 18th-century British racehorse, most famous as the subject of a broadsheet ballad and folk-song. The Irish turf calendar states that he won six races worth £508 in 1752, when he was eleven years old, and was the top-earning runner of that year in Ireland. Skewball’s most famous race took place on the plains of Kildare, Ireland, which is generally the subject of the song of the same name.”

Woody Guthrie, “Stewball” (1944):

Lonnie Donegan, “Stewball” (1956):

The Weavers, “Stewball” (1960):

The Greenbriar Boys, “Stewball” (1961):

Peter, Paul & Mary, “Stewball” (1963):

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