Duncan and Brady

The Electric Patrol Wagon. Akron, Ohio 1890

Here's another "bad man murder ballad" in the mold of Staggolee, Frankie and Johnny, or Ella Speed. The earliest known recording was by a white string band, Wilmer Watts & Lonely Eagles, in 1929 but it has its roots in the African American tradition. The Lomaxes, John and Allen, recorded versions from blues singers and chain-gang workers in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1930's and 1940's. Inspired by Lead Belly's recording in 1947 the song became popular among the folk revivalists of the 1960's such as Dave Van Ronk, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Judy Henske, Tom Rush and Hoyt Axton.

Duncan and Brady seems to be based on a real incident, a barroom shooting in St Louis that occurred in 1890. Here we find only reference to an "electric car" that I've ever heard in a folksong. But it is not too improbable. The very first police car manufactured in the United States was a motorized police patrol wagon built in 1899 for the Akron, Ohio police. It was powered by two 4hp electric motors and served the department well until an angry mob pushed it into the Ohio Canal. The Akron police fished their electric wagon out of the canal and used it until 1905 when they sold it as scrap for $25.

Another reference that might sound strange to some folks is of women who dressed in red on hearing of the death. It seems that red as a mourning color was not unusual in the African American communities of those days and goes back to traditions in Africa. In "Ella Speed" too, "they all went home and they re-ragged in red."

"Duncan and Brady" stands out from the other murder ballads in that it seems more sympathetic to the shooter than the victim. The sentiment is that our bold policeman brought his fate on himself, violating the usual gentleman's agreement by barging into the local grocery/bar-room and rudely interrupting the gambling. Well I guess he'd been on the job too long.


Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, little star
Along come Brady in his e-lectric car
Got a mean look all in his eye
Gonna shoot somebody just to see them die

Cause he been on the job too long.

Duncan, Duncan was tending the bar
In walked Brady with a shinny star
He says, "Mister Duncan you under arrest.”
Duncan shot a hole right in Brady's chest.

Well he been on the job too long

Brady he had a little '25,
Said it would shoot half a mile,
Duncan he had a big '44
That what laid Mr. Brady so low.

He been on the job too long

"Brady, Brady, Brady, you know you done wrong
Walkin' in here when the game was goin' on
Your come a breakin’ out the windows,
and a knockin’ down the door
Now you lyin' dead on my grocery floor.

You just been on the job too long.

Brady fell down on the barroom floor, cried
"Please Mr. Duncan don' shoot me no more."
Women all cryin', ain't it a shame,
They shot King Brady, goin' a shoot him again.

Just cause he been on the job too long

Brady he was a big fat man.
The doctor reached out grabbed a holt of his hand
He reached for his pulse and the doctor said.
I believe to my soul that King Brady is dead

He just been on the job too long.

Ms. Brady she was at home in her bed
When the word come around that Mister Brady was dead
She said “Chillen, chillen, chillen, put your hats on your head”
“Let’s all go see if King Brady is dead.”

He’s been on the job too long.

Ms. Brady said “Brady why didn’t you run”
“Rather than face that 44 gun.
“Brady, Brady, Brady why didn’t you run”
“Rather than face that gatlin gun.
You just been on the job too long.

When them womens all heard that Brady was dead,
The goes back home and they dressed in red.
Come a snifflin' and a sighin' as they wakin’ down the street,
In their big mother hubbards and their stockin' feet.

The just been on the job too long.

Brady, Brady, Brady . . .