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About "Jail"

"Down in the Valley", also known as "Birmingham Jail", is a traditional American folk song. It has been recorded by many artists and is included in the Songs of Expanding America recordings in Burl Ives' six-album set Historical America in Song.

The verses mentioning "Birmingham Jail" refer to the Birmingham, Alabama, City Jail which was well-known in the mid-1920s, although the reference was often omitted in later versions. Guitarist Jimmie Tarlton claimed to have written the lyrics in 1925 while he was jailed in Birmingham for moonshining. It was first recorded by Tarlton and his partner Tom Darby on November 10, 1927, in Atlanta, Georgia, for Columbia Records. According to one biographer of the folk musician Lead Belly, he performed it for Texas Governor Pat Neff at the Sugarland Penitentiary in 1924.

The ballad is played in the 34 time signature. Lyrics vary, as with most folk songs. For example, sometimes the line "Hang your head over, hear the wind blow" is replaced by "Late in the evening, hear the train blow". In 1927, Darby and Tarlton sang "down in the levee" in place of "down in the valley"; the version sung by Lead Belly in 1934 substitutes "Shreveport jail" for "Birmingham jail".

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