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Home > Hits Menu > Hits List > "BANKS OF THE OHIO" by OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN > Summary
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Hit Month (Australia): August 1971
Song Author: Unknown authors - Traditional
Year Recorded: 1971
Record Label: Interfusion
Label Number: ITFK-4397
Banks of the Ohio

Olivia Newton-John (with Mike Sammes, in 1971, her second commercial single in the United States), with slightly different lyrics when sung by a female.

"'Banks of the Ohio'" is a 19th century murder ballad, written by unknown authors, in which "Willie" invites his young lover for a walk during which she rejects his marriage proposal. Once they are alone on the river bank, he murders the young woman.

The first recording of the song was by Red Patterson's Piedmont Log Rollers on August 12, 1927.

The song has since been recorded numerous times, such as by New Lost City Ramblers, Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman, Clayton McMichen, The Carter Family, Blue Sky Boys (whose version, performed in 1936, appears in the soundtrack of the 1973 film Paper Moon), Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Pete Seeger, Monroe Brothers, Joan Baez.

The song is similar in subject to "Pretty Polly", and likely tells the same story (Both songs date from approximately the same time, tell roughly the same story, and feature a villain named "Willie").

Another not so well known version of the song is entitled "On the Banks of the Old Pedee."

Also, the song and its title serve as the theme song for, and title of, a long-running radio series broadcast of bluegrass music on WAMU-PBS and Bluegrass Country, hosted by Fred Bartenstein and produced for the International Bluegrass Music Museum, near the Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Traditional version
Come my love let's take a walk
Just a little way away
While we walk along we'll talk
Talk about our wedding day

Only say that you'll be mine
And in our home we'll happy be
Down beside where the waters flow
Down on the banks of the Ohio

I drew my knife across her throat
And to my breast she gently pressed
Oh please, oh please, don't murder me!
For I'm unprepared to die you see

I taken her by her lily white hand
I let her down and I made her stand
There I plunged her in to drown
And watched her as she floated down

Returning home 'tween twelve and one
Thinking of the deed I'd done
I murdered the girl I love you see
Because she would not marry me

Next day as I was running home
I met the sheriff standing in the door
He said young man come with me and go
Down to the banks of the Ohio