Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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First recorded by Leadbelly (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: “Skewball was a racehorse born in England in 1741 (his name has also been variously recorded as ‘Squball’, ‘Sku-ball’, or ‘Stewball’) who went on to win many races in England and Ireland. His most famous race in Kildare inspired the folk ballad. There are two major but different arrangements of the sporting ballad, generally titled either ‘Skewball’ or (in the U.S.) ‘Stewball’. 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 Hartford, CT, songbook. American versions were sung and adapted by slaves in the Southern United States ‘Stewball’ horse racing also began in Kentucky, Texas and California.

“The American interpretations are a chain-gang song sung by Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie with an African-American-based ‘call and response’ style. Leadbelly recorded several versions of his interpretation; the music and lyrics from his version appear in American Ballads and Folk Songs by Lomax and Lomax. Leadbelly’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 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.”

Woody Guthrie, “Stewball” (1944):

Lonnie Donegan, “Stewball” (1956):

The Greenbriar Boys, “Stewball” (1961):

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

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