The Ballad of James Lee
Years ago, an idea for a song came to mind. I have always been fond of Westerns. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Audie Murphy and many other movie cowboys captured my imagination as a boy.
I wanted to keep the song simple so I only used one chord. I made riffs with the bass and six string guitars to keep the melody moving.
I wanted the lyric to be a haunting story of injustice and revenge. I wanted to condense a movie into a song.
The Ballad of James Lee
Hot desert wind, blowing sand
He envisions water cupped in his hands
Drinking a dream that never came
He died because of another man's ill fate
John Colter rode across his grave
His horse got spooked in a ghostly way
John became James Lee, the man that died
Cocked his guns and made his ride
The Devil's doom went into town
James inside the man that shot them down
Johnny shot them down, down
Johnny shot them down
It all began a bad mistake
James Lee looked like the killer Jake
But Jake was hung in Sunnyville
A month before James Lee was killed
Sheriff Silver tied up Jame's feet
And the whole town kicked him in the street
Deputies took him 40 miles away
Into the desert where he died the next day
John Colter left blood in his path
Dripping from the ghost of James Lee's wrath
The ghost of James Lee's wrath
Writing the song.
As I noted above, I used bass riffs and guitar riffs to keep the melody moving. I simply created a little fancier riff in the bass line when playing the chorus. My method is to play along with the basic song recording until I find that perfect strum, pluck or dancing fingers on the keyboard.
You can sing any song by simply playing one major chord. I found it to be a great vocal practice for control. Even a song with numerous chords can be played with one chord. Try strumming E or Am on your guitar and sing, "House of the Rising Sun." You'll be amazed at how good it can sound and how your vocal control ability improves.
I've written songs with famous and not so famous writers like myself. We all have one thing in common and that is we love our craft. Sometimes we over do it and sometimes we slack off too much but real writers are never afraid to fix it.
To this day, the song remains one of my favorites. My wife Tammy and son, Larkin have always loved the song. It seems to connect more with some people.
If I could have chosen a singer for the song, it would have been Johnny Cash.
I never wrote another song that was similar. I started a few but they wound up as three pointers in my trash can. Unless I write a better one, this remains my best...Country and Western song about the old West.
To hear the song, click the title.
- The Balad of James Lee
A one chord song written and performed by Tom Cornett.
© 2010 Tom Cornett