Another golden Oldie. Written by Bill Dooley in 1899, the song recounts a murder that occured in St. Louis, Mo. that same year. It was re-written and copyrighted by Hughie Cannon in 1904. There are many versions of this song. Johnny’s real name was apparently Allen, then it got changed to Albert. But then Johnny must have had a better ring to it because that’s the title (Frankie and Johnny) that’s inspired dozens of pizza parlours, hair salons, several movies, and a ton of recordings over the years. The song describes a crime of some passion committed by Frankie on her lover Johnny, who was cheating on her with a gal called Nelly Bly. It’s been recorded by over 256 artisis according to Wikipedia, including all the greats: Armstrong, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Dylan, Elvis, Leadbelly, Johnny Cash. The lyrics I’m singing here are based mostly on Armstrong’s and also Mae West’s versions, but it’ll be a bit of a mix.
I think the saga of Frankie and Johnny ranks as a true American folk classic, as it remains vivid and alive even after several generations. Everyone knows the story and everybody knows “he was her man but he was doin’ her wrong”.
There are quite a number of these universally known songs. All of the nursery rhymes: Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Old McDonald Had a Farm. Then there’s I Been Working on the Railroad, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Irene Goodnight. God Bless America, You Are My Sunshine. It’s hard to tell which of today’s songs will achieve such status. Not many ever do.