Some of us in this country had the good fortune to watch Marsh Dodanwela play Billy Markham in Shel Silverstein’s “The Devil and Billy Markham” several months ago, and if you were one of us that did, you may remember that final verse that goes like this:

Then, arm in arm, Billy Markham and the Devil walk out through Linebaugh’s door,
Leavin’ Billy’s old beat-up guitar there on the floor.
And if you go into Linebaugh’s now, you can see it there today
Hangin’ from a nail on the wall of peelin’ gray
Billy Markham’s old guitar . . .
That nobody dares to play.

And now to continue:

Until, that is, one stormy night a stranger walked right in
To Linebaugh’s, and he looked around his face being pretty grim.
He checked out Red – still strummin his guitar, with nary a word to say,
Then he looks at Eddie, who gets a beer and turns to look away.
Vince thinks he’s seen it all before, so he passes once again,
And Ronnie with his snuff queens ain’t feelin any pain.
The stranger takes another look, then see’s Billy’s guitar
Hanging on the wall so lonely as no one dared to play.
The stranger turned to Linebaugh and in a silky voice he said
Hey man, is this that same guitar that Billy Markham played?”

They all looked up to check him out, this stranger with a face
So familiar it seemed to them, although they could not place
Where they had seen it before,
Could it have been here, so long ago,
When the Devil made his play
With spotless dice and another voice,
And Billy made his day?
Or had Billy come to claim his place,
His grace, his voice, his previous face?
They could not tell and yet they stared
At the stranger at the bar.
And Linebaugh, looking up at last
Said to the stranger with a laugh.
Yeah man that’s Billy Markham’s ol guitar

The stranger got himself a drink and lit himself a joint,
Inhaling deep he looked around and then he made his point.
He walked up to that ol guitar and gently tuned its strings,
He handled it with tender care and almost made it sing,
And then he struck some bluesey chords and got into a song
That Billy Markham played a lot, and they hadn’t heard so long.
His voice was not like Billy’s rasp, it rang out smooth and clear
Not so unlike that Devil’s tone”, thought Linebaugh as he got himself a beer.

The stranger done, he looked around to see the folk were staring
At something strange that happened while he was up there playing.
And sure enough, the stranger thought, as he looked in Linebaugh’s mirror,
His face was changing, his guitar playing and his memories made him shiver.
Another time, another place, another game with spotless dice,
Another player steeped in vice, had tricked him into playing.
And then it all came back to him
What had happened in the interim….

Down there in Hell after some time old Billy had enough
Of stupid games of roll them dice and other Devil stuff,
And so he hit upon a plan to get away from there.
He had to use the same old dice to satisfy the Devil’s vice
And so he did prepare.
He got some bones from haggard crones and carved up cubes – a pair.
He cut them out and shaped them up and polished them with care
Until they looked just like the ones the Devil would entice
A fool like him, and cheat his way to win with spotless dice.

He took his time between the works the Devil made him do,
Concealed the dice where the sun don’t shine and out the Devil’s view.
And then, when all alone at last, he painted dots where there were none
On both cubes – just like the Devil’s – and put it back when he was done.
Much later, when the Devil checked to see if all was well,
He spotted Billy working hard to stoke the fires of Hell.
Hey Billy Markham”, the Devil yelled, “get yo ass up here.
Come on up and play my game and if you win I’ll sever
The chains that bind you – no strings attached – and you’ll leave Hell forever
”.

Billy smiled, his chance had come – he had waited for this time
To get right back to Linebaugh’s bar and get his ass in line
To hang out with them pimps and whores, his gambling and his other woes,
To breathe fresh air, play his guitar, sing the blues, get stoned once more.
And so he got his ass in gear and climbed out of the pit
That he was in for all the sins that he did once commit.
The Devil laughed, he cracked right up to think that all this while
Billy never tired of being made a fool by his satanic majesty’s guile.

Gimme them dice, I’ll play the game” said Billy thinking fast
He knew he had the other pair he’d hidden up his ass.
The Devil laughed, his evil leer made Billy think that never
Would he be more determined to pull this off and and leave this dump for ever.
So he took the Devil’s dice and thinking fast he made a pass behind his fanny
And switched his dice with painted spots with the Devil’s own that hadn’t any.
He shook em up, blew in his fists and watched the Devil leer
As he chanted “Come on sweethearts, do your thing and get me outta here”.

He rolled the dice across the floor of the Devil’s sanctum scene
They rolled until they hit the wall and ended up – “thirteen
Screamed Billy – holding up the dice so they’d be seen.

You cheated me” the Devil yelled “these fucking dice have spots,
There’s sevens on one when mine had none
And only sixes on the other one
”.
Sorry” said Billy with a smile, “they’re the only dice I’ve got”.

Well, the Devil had to keep his word and set old Billy free
And so he took him by his hand and walked him to the edge
Of Hell, and pointed out for him to see
The fringes of eternity.
He shook his hand and with a grin
Said, “Billy, you deserve to win
You played my game
And did your thing
And then you played my game to win
Your freedom. So go and get back to your bar
And sing the blues and play guitar
And hang out with them pimps and whores,
Your gambling and your other woes,
Go breathe fresh air, get stoned once more

And then, without so much as a “fare thee well”,
Bill was kicked out from the gates of Hell.

So now he’s back in Linebaugh’s bar.
He’ll sing the blues and play guitar
And hang out with them pimps and whores,
His gambling and his other woes
And breathe fresh air, get stoned as well,
Having left the Devil in his fires of Hell.

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