Wise County Jail

Dock Boggs claimed to have written this song about the jail in his home county of Wise in Virginia. The lyrics, however, are mostly borrowed from "Cryderville Jail" and the tune is similar to "Hard Times in the Mill" which is said to be based on "Cryderville Jail." There are many similar county jail songs where the name of the singers local jail is substituted. Who knows, maybe Dock's version was the first.

I borrowed an extra verse from Cisco Houston's recording of "Cryderville Jail." Woody Guthrie said of that song, "Recon this is one of the best jail house songs I know. There is 'Birmingham Jail', but it don't say enough. There's 'Prisoners' Song', but it don't say much either. There's 'Moonlight and Skies' (Jimmy Rogers), but it brags a little too much about deputies.. 'Cryderville Jail' ain't no sissy song. . . A man will pop up and sing it once in a while - a real man."

Always desiring to live up to Woody's estimate of 'a real man', I eschew them sissy songs and give you "Wise County Jail.'

Lyrics: 

Wash up your face, boys, comb up your head;
Now get ready for your coffee and bread.

It's hard times in the Wise county jail;
It's hard times I know

If s a piece of cold meat and cold corn bread;
It's so cold it's heavy as lead

It's hard times . . .

We're in jail and it's so complete;
About one-half enough to eat,

It's hard times . . .

It almost makes my stomache ache;
When they bring the potatoes on the old tin plate,

It's hard times . . .

We're in jail and it is so nice;
Among the dirt and body lice,

It's hard times . . .

The Wise county jail's no jail at all;
The chinches and bugs are walking the wall,

It's hard times . . .

It almost brings me to my knees;
When I hear that jailer ring them keys;

It's hard times . . .

I wrote to my mother to send me a knife,
The lice and the chinches have threatened my life.

It's hard times . . .

The police 'round here are a dirty old crew;
They will arrest a poor man and look him plumb through;
His pockets they'll pick, his clothes they'll sell;
For twenty-five cents they'd send him to hell;

It's hard times . . .


Note on the banjo arrangement:
The backup arrangement for the verses is exactly as Dock played it, with a strumming/picking parlor guitar style and the occasional flourish - what I call the Charlie Poole tickle. I tuned the banjo, as Dock did, in standard C but a whole-step lower. The three-finger breaks are my own invention.
Instruments: 
Tuning: 
f#BF#AB
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