Pretty Polly

Some time in the Pre-Cambrian era I was sent to Vines Road.
At that time, Deakin University was only in Geelong, and had taken over a institute of technology and a former teachers college, to become a ‘university’. And the teachers college was in Vines Road.

This was in the 1980s, so I can remember very little about the campus.
But it had a music department, and so it had a record collection – meaning ‘long-playing record’ (LP) – disks that you stuck a stylus onto to access the analog recording – what a weird old idea! Lucky we’ve left that behind 🙂

And in this record collection was a boxset – it probably had two disks in it – called the Folk Box. This might not have been the first, and certainly wasn’t the last collection with this name, but I haven’t ever been able to recover just which ‘folk box’ this was.

What I *do* remember is the first song on the first side. A performance like hardly anything else I’ve ever heard. The song was called ‘Pretty Polly’ – and there’s no mystery about that: it’s been recorded scores of time. But it took me three decades to finally recover the performance that I found so astonishing.

The banjo-player and singer attacks the song like his life depended on it. It’s not easy to understand the words – and it doesn’t matter: it’s the ‘life force’ in the wild, energetic performance with which one is forced to engage.

There are more than one ‘old-timey’ singers who recorded this murder ballad, including John Hammond and Dock Boggs, but the guy who gets my attention is … Lee Sexton, b. 1928.