Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Bad Man's Blunder" (1960)

Early one evening I was rollin around
I was feelin kind of mean
I shot a deputy down

Michael Ritchie’s 1976 movie, The Bad News Bears, is about a really bad Little League baseball team.  It has many, many inappropriate lines and scenes – so many that I don’t think the movie could be made today.  Which is why it’s possibly the funniest movie ever made.

The team’s coach (played by Walter Matthau at his most irascible) always has a Budweiser in his hand as he chauffeurs the kids (sans seatbelts, of course) to and from practices and games. 

His best player smokes cigarettes and tries to pick up 21-year-olds.  (“You from around here?  I’ve got a Harley-Davidson.  Does that turn you on?  A Harley-Davidson?”)

The team’s diminutive shortstop is appalled by his rag-tag collection of teammates: “All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ spaz.”  (“Spaz” was a very common word when I was a kid, but you don’t hear it much anymore.)

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I was reminded of The Bad News Bears while listening to the equally inappropriate “Bad Man’s Blunder” – one of two songs on The Best of the Kingston Trio album about a criminal who gets arrested in Mexico.

In the other of those songs, “Tijuana Jail,” the guy who ends up in jail got caught gambling – not a very serious crime.  

But the narrator of “Bad Man’s Blunder” is guilty of murdering a deputy sheriff in Texas.  The blundering bad man skedaddles off for Mexico, but is quickly tracked down and brought back to the Lone Star State.  

He has a bad feeling when he walks into the courtroom to stand trial for murder:

The judge was an old man, ninety-three
And I didn't like the way the jury looked at me
(I think they were suspicious)

Not surprisingly, things don’t go well for the criminal:

It was a most unsatisfactory trial
They gave me ninety-nine years on the hard rock pile
Ninety and nine on the hard rock ground
All I ever did was shoot a deputy down

Back in the eighties and nineties, a lot of people lost their minds over gangsta-rap songs about killing the police.  But I’ve never seen any evidence that anyone protested “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which treats the cold-blooded murder of a deputy sheriff as a laughing matter.  

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“Bad Man’s Blunder” was written by Cisco Houston (who performed for years with Woody Guthrie) and Lee Hays (a member of the legendary folk group, the Weavers, and a co-writer of “If I Had a Hammer”).

Lee Hays
Hays was the nephew of the famous Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph.  In 1948, Randolph published a book of Ozark folksongs that included one that’s usually called “Bad Lee Brown” or “Little Sadie,” which “Bad Man’s Blunder” was clearly inspired by.  I have to think that Hays got the idea for his song from his uncle.

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Here’s “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which the Kingston Trio recorded in 1960:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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