A Short Life of Trouble

Burnett and Rutherford

This song has been recorded by many old time country as well as bluegrass players . I first heard it from Hobart Smith. The earliest recordings were done in the mid 1920's by Burnett and Rutherford (1926), Buell Kazee (1928) and Grayson and Whitter (1928). My favorite most recent recording is by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The sentiment of this song is so adolescent. "Lost my girl and life's not worth living." I rather prefer the attitude of the cowboy in another song: "Well, my honey woundn't see and she throwed me down so I got drunk and I shot up the town. Come a ti yi yippee yippee yi yippee yea . . ." Violence not withstanding.

This banjo arrangement is my own but it is similar to Burnet and Rutherford. I like to use the arpeggio style for vocal accompaniment and switch to the more primal frailing (clawhammer) style for instrumental breaks. The double-C tuning is my favorite. You can get that haunting modal sound.


A short life of trouble
Only a word to part
A short life of trouble, dear girl,
For a boy with a broken heart

Remember what you promised
Not more than a week ago
You promised that you'd marry me
Standing in your mama's door

Now you've broke your promise
Go marry whoever you may
This old world's so big and so wide
I'll ramble back here some day

Short life . . .

I hear the train a-comin'
I hear that whistle blow
I'd rather be dead and in my grave
Than to see my darling go

Short life . . .