Read today that it was the anniversary of William McKinley’s death, which always reminds me of one of my favorite songs, White House Blues.
Now I first heard White House Blues on the amazing and essential “Anthology of American Folk Music“. This was the Charlie Poole version recorded in 1926, and perhaps the earliest known recording of the song. No one really knows the original author as these were folk songs and prior to recorded music folk songs meant songs for the common folk and no one tried to lay claim to them.
The song tells the story of McKinley being shot in Buffalo, NY during the 1901 World’s Fair. There have been many versions of this song throughout the years, most of them in the bluegrass vein but all good. Some change the lyrics up a bit (again, part of the folk tradition), but the basic story always remains the same and most feature my favorite line:
Roosevelt’s in the white house he’s doing his best/Mckinley’s in the graveyard he’s taking his rest
One thing that has always struck me about the McKinley assassination is that unlike all other presidential killings, no one really remembers who shot McKinley yet we all seem to remember the doctor’s prodding around looking for the bullet is likely what killed him. I personally think this is due to the assassin having a name that is too difficult to pronounce. I mean hell, even Charles Guiteau is remembered more than Leon Czolgosz.
While the Charlie Poole version I linked to above is the essential version, my personal favorite version is the hyper Bill Monroe version recorded in the mid 50’s which became the blueprint for many other bluegrass versions from there forward. I will also include the Muleskinner (ft. Clarence White) version from 1973 (which throws in a dig at Nixon doing his best) and a newer version by ATS favorite Scott H. Biram.