Knoxville Girl: Explorations in an Appalachian Murder Ballad

I first came across this (in)famous murder ballad only very recently while perusing my copy of The Real Bluegrass Book published by Hal Leonard. Both sides of my family come from east Tennessee. I was born there and spent large portions of my childhood exploring the region’s beauty nestled up to the Smoky Mountains. My time there included regular trips to the big city, Knoxville.

So the title jumped off the page.

My version of the murderous traditional includes four verses only, leaving out the passages where the narrator’s mother confronts him. The reason simply being these were the lyrics in my songbook. I could easily have included the other passages, but that only crossed my mind after the recording was finished.

I recorded Knoxville Girl using a Behringer Xenyx Q802USB as my mixer/audio interface. I used a Shure SM58 for vocals and an SM57 for the guitar, which also plugged directly in the mixer via a piezo pickup (recorded in parallel using the separate left/right channels). The digital signal goes into my trusty System76 PanP7.

For software I start with the excellent audio/video production-focused Linux distribution Kxstudio. From there Ardour 3 is my DAW of choice. For plugins (vocal EQ and guitar reverb) I took advantage of Calf Studio Gear’s fantastic creative suite. Finally, on the vocals I was able to use the epicVerb vst plugin created by Variety of Sound. Though the plugin is designed for Windows I had little trouble using it with Kxstudio (however I’m unable to use it in live monitoring situations without a few xruns).

Anyway, that’s that. For anyone interested in finding out more about the background story of Knoxville Girl I highly recommend Paul Slade’s detailed essay on the subject, “Unprepared to die: Knoxville Girl.Continue reading