Duncan and Brady

Duncan and Brady
"Duncan and Brady"
Roud #4177
Laws L19
Written by Traditional
Published 1925[1]
Language English
Form Ballad, Murder ballad
Original artist Wilmer Watts & his Lonely Eagles (1929)
Recorded by Blind Jesse Harris (1937)
Lead Belly (1947)
Dave Van Ronk (1959)
Tom Rush (1963)
Hoyt Axton (1964)
New Riders of the Purple Sage (1972)
Johnson Mountain Boys (1993)
Bob Dylan (1997)
Performed by James Taylor (1970)
Paul Brady (2000)
Gene & Nancy Morgan (2000)
Railroad Earth (2002)

"Duncan and Brady", also known as "Been on the Job Too Long", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"[2], or simply "Brady",[3] is a traditional murder ballad about the shooting of a policeman, Brady, by a bartender, Duncan. The song's lyrics stemmed from actual events, involving the shooting of James Brady in the Charles Starkes Saloon in St. Louis, Missouri. Harry Duncan was convicted of the murder, and later executed.[4] Originally recorded by Wilmer Watts & his Lonely Eagles in 1929, it has been recorded numerous times, most famously by Lead Belly, also by Dave Van Ronk, The Johnson Mountain Boys, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Bob Dylan.



Lyrics to the song, including the main characters Duncan and Brady, originated from a barroom shooting in St. Louis, Missouri. On October 6, 1880, several police officers, including James Brady, arrived at the Charles Starkes Saloon in downtown St. Louis, where a bar fight was taking place. The officers tried to arrest patrons of the bar suspected of starting the fight, which prompted a gunfight. Brady was shot by an unknown man, supposedly by the bar's owner, Charles Starkes.[4] Harry Duncan claimed as such when he was arrested for Brady's murder; Starkes denied the claim.[4] Duncan was convicted and was sentenced to hang, but through several appeals, the case made its way to the Supreme Court.[4] However, this appeal was denied, and Duncan was hanged on July 27, 1894. It was rumored that Charles Starkes later confessed to the murder on his deathbed.[4]

However, Mrs. Tom Barret, a resident of Marlin, Texas, wrote to folklorist Dorothy Scarborough about the song's lyrics and origins. She identifies Waco, Texas, as the scene of the shooting, although she does not specify whether or not it is in a bar.[2] The song may bear a close relation to the tune of the traditional Negro ballad "Bad Man Ballad".[5]


"Duncan and Brady" is a typical "bad man" murder ballad, such as "Frankie and Johnny" or "Stagger Lee".[2] The song begins with Brady, a policeman, riding around in an electric car, with a "mean look in his eye", looking to "shoot somebody just to see him die".[1] He walks into a bar, which Duncan is tending, and arrests him.[1] Duncan then shoots Brady, and Brady then dies. However, in the next verse, Brady is told that he "knew he done wrong", because he was,

Walkin' in the room when the game was goin' on
Knockin down windows, breakin' down the door[1]

Women hear of the death of Brady and all dress in red.[1] In a second variation recorded by Lead Belly, there is also mention of Brady's wife, who expects to get a pension from his death.[6]


Performer Album Year Variant Notes
Wilmer Watts & Lonely Eagles Paramount Old Time Recordings 1929 "Been on the Job Too Long"
Blind Jesse Harris Field Recordings, Vol. 4: Mississippi & Alabama (1934-1942) 1937 "Brady" Recorded by John Lomax.
Camp No. 1 convicts N/A 1941 "Duncan and Brady" Recorded and transcribed by John and Alan Lomax in 1933 for the 1941 book Our Singing Country.
Lead Belly Where Did You Sleep Last Night 1947 Recorded both a-capella and with guitar.
Win Stracke Americana
Paul Clayton Wanted for Murder: Songs of Outlaws and Desperadoes 1956
Dave Van Ronk Ballads, Blues, and a Spiritual 1959
Tom Rush Got a Mind to Ramble 1963
Koerner, Ray & Glover Lots More Blues, Rags, and Hollers 1964
Whiskeyhill Singers Dave Guard & Whiskeyhill Singers 1962
Judy Henske High Flying Bird 1963
Hoyt Axton The Best of Hoyt Axton 1964 "Been on the Job Too Long"
New Riders of the Purple Sage Powerglide 1972 "Duncan and Brady"
Tom Akstens Original and Traditional Music 1975 Recorded as a medley with the song "Mole's Moan".
Creek Snakes Bastille Day 2011 "Duncan & Brady"


  1. ^ a b c d e Lead Belly, Duncan and Brady. mudcat.org. Retrieved 12-28-10
  2. ^ a b c Scarborough, Dorothy, Lee Gulledge, Ola. On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. Harvard University Press, 1925, p. 85
  3. ^ Place, Jeff. Linear notes to Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy Vol. 1. Smithsonian/Folkways Records. CD, 1996
  4. ^ a b c d e The Delta Blues, The Truth: Duncan and Brady. tdblues.com. Retrieved 12-31-10
  5. ^ Lomax, John A., Lomax, Alan. Our Singing Country: Folk Songs and Ballads. Courier Dover Publications, 1941. p. 333
  6. ^ Waltz, Robert, Engle, David G. Duncan and Brady {Laws 19). The Traditional Ballad Index, California State University. Retrieved 3-30-11

External links

Lyrics of Bob Dylan's and Lead Belly's versions

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