Lincoln Durham has One String on His Guitar: A Snapshot of a Murder Ballad at a Black Fret Show

Words and Photos by Laura Roberts


It’s the last song of an hour-long set for a sea of ants on a hill on a Texas night in mid October…

Lincoln Durham has one string on his guitar.

And enough dirt in his voice to clog seven sinks in Louisiana.

“This is about a girl who can’t quit killing men,” he spouts, mic bumping up against his lips. His voice goes into a dog snarl.

            Annie lay your six-guns down

            Lest you find you’re six foot under ground

The sides of his head are shorn close and one piece of his slicked-back middle keeps falling in his face. He’s got a twisted, monopoly-man mustache and an overgrown soul patch. His sweat is making his forehead and cheeks shine like wood off a basketball gym floor.

            Put on your rouge

            Powder your nose

            Hide your bow-legs under knee-high hose 

            You done shot a man, girl

His voice is a bit Ryan Bingham. A bit Tom Waits.

A bit New-Orleans-had-a-one-night-stand-with-Memphis.

Lincoln’s hand is slapping the thick one-string against the square box as his left hand climbs up and down the broomstick neck.

Red drums are strewn on the stage.

Like the crew took a smoke break during load-in and never came back.

Lincoln’s foot is kicking a drum with a lever—hard to tell how in the sea of drums.

But the one-string beat is steady as a White Stripe.

Lincoln Durham

            One…two…three, put him out of misery

            Four…five…six, just to please them wicked kicks

            You been burnin’ powder

            You better burn the breeze

            Forever legend as Annie Departee

The one-string continues to bend this way and that, as Lincoln’s voice and pores pour sweat.

            Annie lay your six-guns down

            You’ve been spreadin’ lead all over town

His thin red tie struggles to free itself from the wedge of his black button-up and git-fiddle.

            Better take your black hat and paint it white

            ‘Fore a buscadero puts you in his sights

            You done shot a man, now

Lincoln lets the chorus seep through his teeth once more, than drops the broomstick guitar neck and grabbles the silver mic with his mouth.

            Let me tell you a little story about Annie now

His pulpit is littered with brimstone and fire from the audience of ants.

            You see, Annie was known for her nasty reputation

            Born with a short fuse already lit, and suffered from a chronic frustration

            Most men would cower underneath the persecution of her pistol point

            But every now and then, there’d be one seeking fame and find her at a local jip- joint

His left hand stretches out to the ants on the hill. His ring finger wears a thin anchor tattoo.

Lincoln Durham

            Somehow Annie always knew, and her eyes’d turn red 

            And all of a sudden there’d be a bullet in the belly of Fred,

            or Steve, or George, or Rick

            It don’t matter

The string bending beings to build.

            Oh Annie, you done done it again, girl

            You better change your evil ways

The fire pulpit vocals glow out the October night air, and make their final brand on the ant ears of the hill.

            “You been burnin’ powder.

                        You better burn the breee-zeee!

            Forever legend as…

                        ANNIE DE-PARTEE!!”