The Story of the Arizona Killer Song

I’d just returned from a gig at Telluride MountainFilm Festival in 2008—where they showed a documentary DVD of my activism; trying to save our Colorado River and restore Glen Canyon—to be zapped back into my past with a force that has left me dazed.

Out of the blue I get an email from a guy named Bill who is a PhD student in rhetoric and a composition teacher at Carnegie-Mellon University. He tells me he saw this movie 3:10 to Yuma and they played a verse from a song called “The Arizona Killer.” When he did a web search about the song, he found ME; and when I told him I’d never heard of the movie he thought I was pulling his leg. He wanted the song – all of it.

Backpedal about 53 years: Chicago–Palmer House Hotel – nice suite – Harry and Milton, his guitarist – me and my guitar taping it for Harry – last name Bellefonte. He never sang it, as far as I know, though Milton said he liked the changes in the rhythm. Other than for my coffeehouse or nightclub audiences, the only times I remember singing it for the media were on Studs Terkel’s WFMT show sometime in the mid to late fifties, and maybe NBC-TV Telephone Hour. Old friend Josh White said something like, “Ah c’mon–he kills six dudes in a couple days? – that’s too wild even for the Wildest West!”. And Burl, who’d gone thru my warehouse of folksongs, picking material I could best use on the road, asked why I wrote it – or re-wrote it, as the case may be.

“Because I want my very own “One Hour Ahead of the Posse,” I told him–a song that he’d recently recorded, and which I liked a lot.

“Not as classy as Posse,” he said, “but at least you’ve given it some character with the music.” The music I’d already composed for its sibling, The Tennessee Killer–found in Vance Randolph’s, Folk Songs of the Ozarks – soooo, I rewrote it, added another verse, decided our western place names fit my music better than the Ozark ones, and quit singing about Tennessee altogether.

Lest you think I’m just name-dropping here, the object of this exercise is to show that none of these famous souls ever sang it and certainly never recorded it. Nor have I sung it for twenty years until this week. Now I can’t get it out of my head!
But, I did record it on my Concertone–the cream of machines back in the 60’s – and it does fit the movie, 3:10 To Yuma. I must commend these guys for using the one verse they used, and Tucker whose almost “singing” gives the song and the scene maximum effect.

One-song CD
[Available in Katie’s Store HERE…]

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