Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Don't Shoot Me, I'm a Lawyer!": The Lyrics

God bless the intertubes.  Five years ago I put up a post recounting the story of a vengeance killing in the lobby of a hotel in Shelbyville, Kentucky, in 1937, preserved in legend only by the response of bystander who got his moment in history by coining the immortal response:

Don't Shoot Me, I'm a Lawyer!

I learned the story along about 1961 in the most agreeable possible manner: in the form of a ballad scratched out almost on the spot by a memorialist with an eye to posterity.  Better, I heard about it from the most agreeable possible source: the author himself, George Hendon, a gentleman of the old school. witty and learned, the best possible company (actually a lawyer himself, at least by the time I met him, though he wore his professional identity lightly).  

Anyway, I lamented five years ago that I couldn't find the ballad anywhere on the web.  Ah, but a couple of weeks ago when I got a message from a certain "Uncledoc," who said that he remembered the song and would be happy to share.  An exchange of emails disclosed that "Uncledoc" was in fact a real doctor, practicing in Calhoun, Kentucky, on the Green River just a hop, skip and a jump from Madisonville.  Uncledoc let slip that he doesn't mind being confused with "Uncle Dave" Macon, last of the pre-radio country vocalists. He said that why yes, he would indeed be glad to share, and that if we could get together on a phone like, he would be happy to sing it to me.

We did, and he did: "just let me put the phone down here," he said.  Whereupon he not only sang the song but accompanied himself on the banjo.  It is my great disappointment that I can't provide an audio version here, but I do offer this transcription of the lyrics:
The harvest moon was shining on the streets of Shelbyville
The night that General Denhardt met his fate.
The Garr boys was a-gunnin', they were out to shoot to kill
And death and General Henry had a date.

Sad the end of soldier Henry, His military records clean
Now he lies beneath the sod, his soul has flown to God
But his body's in Bowling Green.

Pretty Verna Garr was lying, a-mouldering in her grave
in LaGrange 16 miles away,
And folks for miles around thought the general shot her down
Because she would not let him have his way.

Little did the general fear as he sipped his foaming beer
with lawyer Otte up from Louisville
That before the night had fled he'd be lying cold and dead
with Verna's secret locked within him still.

As the general reached the doorway of the old Armstrong Hotel
He stumbled and fell upon his face.
Roy Garr strode up beside him, smokin' pistol in his hand
And with one shot passed on to God the case.

“Don't shoot me I'm a lawyer!” cried attorney Rodes K. Myers
Down on his knees a-beggin' for his life.
His earnest words were heeded by doctor E.J. Garr
Who spared him for his kiddies and his wife

Now ladies don't you fear: if you've got a brother dear
That someday you may meet poor Verna's fate.
With lovin' ones around you to protect your womanhood
And the laws are what they are in this here state.
Seems to me there is a line missing in the second verse but Uncledoc says he thinks not (he says it is a chorus, not bound by the format for verses).  I told him it was a rotten shame that this wasn't on Youtube.  He said yes, well, he didn't know how to do that sort of thing, but that others have in fact posted some of his other stuff.  So to get a sense of what the lawyer song might sound like, listen here:

Here's a memorial plaque for the shooting, and for the old Armstrong Hotel.  FWIW, I've read a coule of summaries of the case and the general sure as hell sounds guilty to me.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. That has to be one of the great lines in folk music! I've been searching for the lyrics--my mother told them to me years ago and I, of course, never took note. The Garr brothers are in my family tree.

Lee Durham Stone said...

My father, Larry L. Stone (1914-1993), editor of the Central City Messenger and the Times-Argus, used to sing the chorus in the 1950s. He might have picked up the song when he was a student at Western Kentucky Teachers' College in the mid to late 1930s. Anyway, his lyrics were only slightly changed from what you have posted above. My father sang:

<"Sad the tale of soldier Henry
His military record clean
He lies beneath the sod
His soul has gone to God
But he's buried in Bowling Green">

Then, "Bowling Green" repeated twice (I think), followed by repeating "He's buried in Bowling Green." Then, back to lines three and four ("He lies beneath the sod, His soul has gone to God"), and then, "But he's buried in Bowling Green."

This short version could go one for a while (depending on the quantity of Oertel's 92 beer consumed).