The melody is widely disseminated through the United States, with the exception of the Northeast and north Mid-West. Bayard (1944) writes that when he collected the melody it was "current as a marching tune in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and is known to its 'Billy' form of the title farther south (as the tune resembles another Pa. tune called 'Jinny in the Lowlands').
The resemblances between this tune and 'Jinny in the Lowlands' may be fortuitous; but they have at any rate attracted enough notice from the players to cause confusion of the titles..." Tom Carter and Blanton Owen (1976) maintain the tune and title are characteristic of the Franklin, Floyd and Patrick County area of southwestern Virginia, and represent an older fiddle repertoire which predates the later development of stringband or fiddle/clawhammer banjo tunes.
"Billy in the Lowground" was played by Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner for dances in the Southwest at the beginning of the twentieth century (the piece was identified by him as having come to that region from the American South, and assessed it as "a good one"). It was recorded from the playing of an Ozark fiddler for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph who collected in the early 1940's, and, likewise, by Herbert Halpert (also for the Library of Congress) in 1939 from Tishomingo County, Mississippi, fiddler John Hatcher.
Texas fiddler Eck Robertson recorded it commercially for Victor records in 1923 in a medley with "Sallie Johnson" (the disc was backed with "Done Gone (1)"). Cauthen (1990) collected evidence from period newspapers and other accounts in Alabama and records that it was one of the tunes commonly played throughout every region of that state in the first part of the 20th century.
The Marion Standard of April 30th, 1909, reported it was one of the tunes (along with "Miss McLeod") played at a housewarming in Perry County, Ala., in 1827. Elsewhere in the deep South, a Georgia fiddler named Ben Smith, serving with the 12th Alabama Infantry in the Civil War, played the tune in that conflict according to a memoir of the unit. According to Bell Irvin Wiley, writing in his book The Life of Johnny Reb (1943), "Billy in the Lowground" was a favorite tune of Confederate fiddlers.
It is also known to have been associated with Kentucky fiddlers (Wolfe, 1982). The famous Kentucky musician Dick Burnett related this improbable story about the origin of the tune and title: You know how come them to make that? There was a man a gointhrough an old field one time and he had his fiddle with him andhe walked out on the bank of a sink hole and it broke off and hefell down in that hole and couldn't get out. He just sat down thereand took his fiddle and played that tune. His name was Billysomething but I forgot his full name...
X:1 T:Billy in the Low Ground  S:Leonard Rutherford (c. 1900-1954, Monticello, Ky.) M:C| L:1/8 Q:"Quick" D:Columbia 15209-D (78 RPM), Burnett and Rutherford (1928) F:https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/billy-low-ground-9 Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:C CA,|:G,A,CD EGA(B|c)Bcd cGAG|E+slide+[A2A2]c AGEG|A(de)d ed c2| G,A,CD EGA(B|c)Bcd cGAG|E+slide+[A2A2] B AGEG|1cGAG EDCA,:|2cGAG EDC2|| |:g3a gecd|e(ga)(g e)dcd|e+slide+a2a abag|egag edcd | eg2a gedg|e(ga)(g e)dcd|+slide+[e2e2]+slide+[ee]-[de] cAGA|cGAG ED C2:|]
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