(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
Track 6 – Stewball (MASTER MA 16)
Irish in origin, the early 19th Century ballad recounted a match race between “Skewball” and “Miss Sportly” on the plains of Kildare, winner take all of the 500 English pound purse. A copy of a version of the ballad appeared in The Vocal Library published in London, in 1822; that fixed the approximate date of the race, though there were other, perhaps earlier imprints celebrating the victory of the noble Skewball over the little gray mare. (See Dorothy Scarborough, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs [Cambridge, 1925; reprinted in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1963], pp. 61-64.) As a work song or as a ballad, “Stewball” is sung throughout the South by blacks as well as whites, according to Bruce Jackson’s Wake Up Dead Man (Cambridge, 1972; reprinted Athens, Georgia, 1999, pp. 102-03. Jackson’s accompanying album of prison songs by the same title was released on Rounder as ROUN CD 2013.) Charles K.Wolfe notes that most Tennessee “horse fanciers know the term ‘Skewbald’ refers to a horse marked with blotches of bay on a white background.” (See his Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee [Knoxville, 1997], p. 88.) Malcolm Laws, British Broadside Ballads Traditional in America, classifies this as Q 22. Just where or when Guthrie learned the ballad is unknown. There apparently were no 78 rpm recordings of it, suggesting that Guthrie learned it aurally.