Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now)


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From Billy Murray to Ry Cooder to Merle Haggard to Van Halen and David Lee Roth, this novelty piece is fun for everyone!


First introduced in vaudeville by Healy and Cross, the novelty song Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now) became a vocal hit in 1924 for Margaret Young, accompanied by Rube Bloom.

“Big Bad Bill” enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1980s thanks to a cover version by the rock band Van Halen. Their rendition appeared on their 1982 album “Diver Down” and featured a guest appearance by Eddie Van Halen’s father, Jan, on clarinet.

The lyrics describe a man living in Louisville (presumably Kentucky), who was once a fearsome and rough character known for getting into fights, who, after getting married, becomes a peaceable person who devotes his time to domestic activities such as washing dishes and mopping the floor.

This arrangement from the 1924 sheet music includes a verse seldom heard in recordings.

Key: F major

Mood: fun, humorous

Pedagogy: hand position changes, syncopation, ragtime patterns, repeats, D.S., “vamp” opening


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