Ever found yourself curious about the story behind Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard? This 1972 folk rock hit tells the story of two boys who narrowly escape jail time after getting into trouble.
The song remains popular 50 years later, with dozens of musicians covering it in their own way. But many wonder if Julio is based on a real person.
We’ll dive in to uncover the truth behind this great song from a popular songwriter.
Who Originally Wrote Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard?
Paul Simon originally wrote this hit song. The track was a single from his 1972 self-titled album.
Paul Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 13, 1941. He grew up in Queens, New York, where he met his future bandmate, Art Garfunkel. The two began singing together when they were both 13. In fact, they recorded their first song, The Girl for Me, around the same time.
Simon and Garfunkel rose to fame in the 1960s and played together until their breakup in 1970. Both pursued solo careers afterward, occasionally reuniting for concerts and collaboration.
Paul Simon’s self-titled album was his first as a solo artist, and it received widespread praise. His 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years won Album of the Year at the 18th Grammy Awards.
The 1981 Simon & Garfunkel reunion performance in Central Park drew more than 500,000 attendees. It was one of the biggest concerts in US history. Then, in 1985, Simon traveled to South Africa, where he recorded his best-known album, Graceland.
Paul continued to write and record great music and released his 13th album in 2016. Between his solo career and his work with Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon has won 12 Grammy Awards.
Was Julio a Real Person?
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard features several characters, including a boy named Julio. Mama Pajama catches Julio and the song’s speaker breaking the law together. The two boys are then arrested for their unknown crimes. Toward the song’s end, a radical priest bails them out.
When asked about the track in an interview, Paul Simon explained that Julio isn’t real. The songwriter called the story within the song “a bit of inscrutable doggerel.”
Simon chose Julio because it was a common name in Queens when he was young. This choice caused the tune to surge in popularity among Spanish-speaking listeners excited to hear a familiar name in a mainstream American song.
Did Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard Feature a Cuica?
If you’ve ever heard this famous song, you probably noticed a unique-sounding instrument toward the end. It’s a Brazilian drum called a cuíca. Paul Simon recruited the great Airto Moreira to play it on the studio track. Moreira is a well-known jazz percussionist who’s worked with several musicians, including Miles Davis.
The cuíca is a type of friction drum. The body is made of metal or organic materials like gourds., and animal skin creates the drum’s head. Additionally, a small hole placed in the center of the drum head holds a thin bamboo stick.
The player holds the instrument under one arm, supported by a shoulder strap. With one hand, the player moves the bamboo stick up and down through the hole. The player then adjusts the tension of the head with the other hand. This action changes the pressure, creating different pitches and tones.
Who Has Covered Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard?
Numerous musicians have recorded versions of Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard since Simon’s 1972 original recording. Maybe it’s the groovy percussion or the quirky story. Whatever it is, other artists seem to enjoy putting their own spin on this great classic.
Here are a few of the most well-known versions of Paul Simon’s hit.
Hair of the Dog
Hair of the Dog covered Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard in 2003. A live version of the song appears on their album Let it Flow. The song is a relatively faithful tribute to the original, keeping the same rhythm and speed.
Hair of the Dog’s personal touches on this track includes a guitar solo and a fiddle. The band specializes in Celtic rock, and the addition of the violin lends a distinctly folksy sound. This version of the song is fun and melodic. It makes you want to sing along!
Lee Lessack and Johnny Rodgers
Another popular rendering of the song is Lee Lessack and Johnny Rodgers’s version, recorded as part of a live tribute album. Lessack and Rodgers did a tour in 2016 called Live in Central Park Revisited. This tribute tour recreated Simon & Garfunkel’s famous 1981 Central Park performance.
Lessack and Rodgers also created a version of the song that’s very faithful to the original. While there’s no cuíca, the singers recreate the effect of the instrument through scatting. Lessack and Rodgers’ harmonies are very clean, and their vocal styles are close to Simon’s.
Jack Antonoff’s cover of Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard is one of the most recent versions of the song. Antonoff, who plays in two bands, Bleachers and Fun, recorded the cover for the 2019 Secret Life of Pets 2 movie soundtrack.
This cover is quite different from the original. With synths, vocal effects, and a cleaner rhythm, Antonoff’s version is more pop than folk rock. Though it’s very danceable and fun.
What is Paul Simon Doing Now?
Paul Simon announced his retirement in 2018. The songwriter explained he felt he was spending too much time away from his family. He also experienced a loss: the death of Vincent Nguini, his guitarist of 30 years. However, recent events point to the possibility of Simon coming out of retirement.
Though he’s now 81 years old, the star performed at the Newport Folk Festival in July 2022. The appearance surprised concertgoers, as it hadn’t been announced. Ironically, a set of Paul Simon covers was underway when the musician walked onstage and began playing Graceland. Some speculate that this performance could signal a return to live shows.
There’s even more compelling evidence that Simon is returning to music. According to Spin, he’s working on a new album tentatively titled The Seven Psalms at a studio in New York City. In an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, Simon said that a dream inspired the new album.
A Natural Storyteller
One of Paul Simon’s greatest talents is his storytelling. His lively, melodic songs have a way of pulling you in. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard is just one example of the musician’s songwriting skills. The catchy tune with the fun characters and unique percussion is still beloved, even by a whole new generation of listeners.
What’s your favorite version of this classic song? Is there a different Paul Simon song you love? Tell us about it in the comments below.