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Posted by Orville Johnson
Excerpted from Arranging Folk and Blues Songs
Loosely based on actual events that occurred around 1880 in St. Louis, “Duncan and Brady” tells the story of policeman James Brady and his murderer Harry Duncan. It seems that a brawl broke out during a gambling match in a local bar and, when the police showed up to calm things down and make some arrests, Brady was gunned down by Duncan. Some historians suggest that Brady was a corrupt cop known for harassing the African-American community, which may explain the “Gonna shoot somebody just to watch him die” and “He’s been on the job too long” lines in the lyrics.
“Duncan and Brady” has been rendered in just about every blues style and there are bluegrass, country, and folk versions as well. I decided to emphasize the macabre aspect of the story in my guitar arrangement. When I’m looking for a sound that says “spooky,” there’s no better place to start than Skip James’s D-minor tuning. I’ve most often heard “Duncan and Brady” done in a major key, so changing it to minor immediately darkens the mood.