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Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues

DigiTrad:
LOCKE HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES INFIRMARY
THE UNFORTUNATE RAKE


Related threads:
Lyr/Chords Req: St. James Infirmary (23)
(origins) Tune Req: St. James Infirmary Blues (18)
Lyr Add: The Unfortunate Lad (#350 / Rake's Lamen (8)
Help: St. James Infirmary - by Rolling Stones? (41)
Lyr Req: St. James Infirmary (24)
Tune Req: St. James Infirmary (12)
Lyr Req: Bright Shiny Morning (9)
Chords Req: St. James Infirmary (6)
Lyr Add: St. Jude's Infirmary (Parody for Spaw) (15)
Lyr Req: St James Infirmary (request only) (4) (closed)
Chords/Tab Req: St. James Infirmary (5)
Help: The Unfortunate Rake (3)
Tune Req: St. James Infirmary (7)


JedMarum 09 Apr 02 - 01:55 PM
BB 09 Apr 02 - 02:36 PM
Dicho 09 Apr 02 - 02:44 PM
Dicho 09 Apr 02 - 03:36 PM
Snuffy 09 Apr 02 - 07:17 PM
Susan of DT 09 Apr 02 - 07:52 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 09 Apr 02 - 08:35 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 09 Apr 02 - 11:10 PM
masato sakurai 10 Apr 02 - 06:22 AM
DMcG 10 Apr 02 - 07:26 AM
GUEST,Nerd 10 Apr 02 - 01:09 PM
greg stephens 11 Apr 02 - 07:22 AM
JedMarum 11 Apr 02 - 08:56 AM
greg stephens 11 Apr 02 - 09:00 AM
greg stephens 11 Apr 02 - 09:07 AM
GUEST,MAG at work 11 Apr 02 - 04:38 PM
GUEST,anna 20 Mar 06 - 06:09 PM
GUEST,oz childs 27 Aug 06 - 09:05 PM
GUEST,Another source--the Bard of Armagh? 25 Jun 07 - 02:43 PM
Scoville 25 Jun 07 - 02:48 PM
erosconpollo 25 Jun 07 - 03:54 PM
Q 25 Jun 07 - 05:44 PM
Q 25 Jun 07 - 06:21 PM
Susan of DT 25 Jun 07 - 07:34 PM
Q 25 Jun 07 - 08:51 PM
Stilly River Sage 25 Jun 07 - 10:01 PM
Q 25 Jun 07 - 10:30 PM
Stilly River Sage 26 Jun 07 - 01:36 AM
Q 26 Jun 07 - 07:46 PM
Q 27 Jun 07 - 01:18 AM
mrdux 27 Jun 07 - 06:05 PM
Q 27 Jun 07 - 06:20 PM
GUEST,Richie 27 Jun 07 - 06:36 PM
mrdux 28 Jun 07 - 01:24 AM
GUEST,Lighter 28 Jun 07 - 12:23 PM
Bee 29 Jun 07 - 10:31 PM
retrancer 29 Jun 07 - 10:49 PM
GUEST 20 Feb 08 - 12:32 PM
GUEST,Joseph de Culver City 20 Feb 08 - 03:09 PM
Stringsinger 20 Feb 08 - 03:15 PM
irishenglish 20 Feb 08 - 03:22 PM
Mark Clark 20 Feb 08 - 09:00 PM
GUEST,Guest 07 May 08 - 04:08 PM
PoppaGator 07 May 08 - 04:26 PM
PoppaGator 07 May 08 - 04:29 PM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 07 May 08 - 07:34 PM
Stewie 07 May 08 - 11:30 PM
Mr Happy 08 May 08 - 09:23 AM
Joe_F 08 May 08 - 09:28 PM
PoppaGator 09 May 08 - 01:10 PM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 09 May 08 - 07:47 PM
GUEST,Brian L 15 Sep 08 - 12:56 AM
GUEST,Adomnan McIntyre 17 Sep 08 - 01:19 PM
PoppaGator 17 Sep 08 - 02:09 PM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 17 Sep 08 - 07:31 PM
Marc Bernier 17 Sep 08 - 09:50 PM
GUEST,R Harwood 21 Jan 09 - 10:53 AM
Stilly River Sage 21 Jan 09 - 11:09 AM
GUEST,R. Harwood 21 Jan 09 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,Tootler on Mrs T's Computer 27 Mar 09 - 11:11 AM
GUEST 08 Jul 09 - 06:47 PM
GUEST,Dorothy Wright 09 Aug 09 - 11:59 AM
Stringsinger 09 Aug 09 - 03:04 PM
Stewie 09 Aug 09 - 08:02 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 10 Aug 09 - 08:01 PM
Richie 21 Aug 09 - 04:20 PM
Joe_F 21 Aug 09 - 08:45 PM
quokka 11 Oct 09 - 04:04 AM
Jack Campin 11 Oct 09 - 08:22 AM
meself 11 Oct 09 - 01:22 PM
Tootler 11 Oct 09 - 04:28 PM
meself 11 Oct 09 - 05:22 PM
Tootler 11 Oct 09 - 06:06 PM
meself 11 Oct 09 - 07:25 PM
Q 11 Oct 09 - 07:52 PM
Tootler 12 Oct 09 - 06:50 PM
meself 12 Oct 09 - 07:28 PM
Tootler 13 Oct 09 - 05:09 PM
meself 13 Oct 09 - 05:49 PM
Tootler 14 Oct 09 - 06:23 PM
Q 14 Oct 09 - 10:18 PM
GUEST 21 Nov 09 - 09:15 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Nov 09 - 01:15 AM
GUEST 26 Nov 09 - 04:37 PM
GUEST,Robert Harwood 25 Dec 09 - 04:14 PM
GUEST,wildroses 31 Jan 10 - 07:49 PM
Gulliver 31 Jan 10 - 09:47 PM
mousethief 31 Jan 10 - 11:07 PM
quokka 01 Feb 10 - 12:13 AM
quokka 01 Feb 10 - 12:22 AM
olddude 01 Feb 10 - 11:28 AM
Joe_F 01 Feb 10 - 06:04 PM
mousethief 01 Feb 10 - 06:06 PM
meself 01 Feb 10 - 10:25 PM
Steve Gardham 02 Feb 10 - 05:45 PM
Joe_F 07 May 10 - 05:30 PM
meself 07 May 10 - 09:56 PM
Leadfingers 07 May 10 - 10:59 PM
Leadfingers 07 May 10 - 11:00 PM
Leadfingers 08 May 10 - 06:27 AM
GUEST,marc lelangue 28 Sep 10 - 11:09 AM
pavane 28 Sep 10 - 11:46 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 22 Apr 11 - 08:00 PM
GUEST,Frankieboy 23 Apr 11 - 06:04 PM
Q 23 Apr 11 - 07:30 PM
olddude 23 Apr 11 - 07:38 PM
GUEST,curious 13 Mar 12 - 10:03 AM
GUEST,testpattern 29 Mar 12 - 03:15 AM
Joe_F 29 Mar 12 - 08:51 PM
GUEST,guest 13 Aug 12 - 04:02 PM
Q 13 Aug 12 - 04:56 PM
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Subject: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: JedMarum
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 01:55 PM

I'm looking for the history behind this song. I've heard/seen discussion on it's origins, perhaps an English song that was adapted in New Orleans ... what do we know about this song?

Search for "infirmary" threads


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: BB
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 02:36 PM

I understand that this song has its origins in the British song 'The Unfortunate Rake', other versions of which include 'The Young Man (or Girl) Cut Down in his (her) Prime', 'The Royal Albion', 'The Streets of Laredo', 'The Dying Airman', etc., etc. I believe there are versions all over the English-speaking world, although I only know of three where the person in question is female - one from America, one from the Caribbean and one from England.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Dicho
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 02:44 PM

This has been discussed (much good material) in several threads. Check in the Forum under all of the possible names.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Dicho
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 03:36 PM

In the Forum, type St. James. This will bring up most of the material.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Snuffy
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 07:17 PM

There are about 20 versions already in the DT database. Type LAREDS* in the "DigiTrad Lyrics Search" box.

WassaiL! V


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Susan of DT
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 07:52 PM

They also have DT #350, so you can search for #350
when you find a song with a child or DT #, you can search on that # for related songs.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 08:35 PM

Folkways released a whole album of variants of the song. It's probably available through the Smithsonian.

Jerrry


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 09 Apr 02 - 11:10 PM

The only threads that seems to cover the song are:

St. James Infirmary Blues
St. James Infirmary Blues
St. James Infirmary Blues


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: masato sakurai
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 06:22 AM

The record Jerry mentions is The Unfortunate Rake: A Study in the Evolution of a Ballad (Notes by Kenneth Goldstein) (Folkways FA 2305, 1960) [LP], which includes:

SIDE I
1. The Unfortunate Rake (Sung by A.L. Lloyd)
2. The Trooper Cut Down in His Prime (Sung by Ewan MscColl)
3. The Youg Sailor Cut Down in His Prime (Sung by Harry Cox)
4. Noo I'm a Young Man Cut Down in My Prime (Sung by Willie Mathieson)
5. The Bad Girl's Lament (Sung by Wade Hemsworth)
6. One Mornign in May (Sung by Hally Wood)
7. Bright Summer Morning (Sing by Mrs. Viola Penn)
8. The Girl in the Dilger Case (Sung by D.K. Wilgus)
9. The Cowboy's Lament (Sung by Bruce Buckley)
10. The Streets of Laredo (Sung by Harry Jackson)

SIDE II
1. St. James Hospital (Sung by Alan Lomax)
2. Gambler's Blues (Sung by Dave Van Ronk)
3. I Once Was a Carman in the Big Mountain Con (Sung by Guthrie Meade)
4. The Lineman's Hymn (Sung by Rosalie Sorrels)
5. The Wild Lumberjack (Sung by Kenneth S. Goldstein)
6. A Sun Valley Song (Sung by Jan Brunvand)
7. The Ballad of Bloody Thursday (Sung by John Greenway)
8. The Streets of Hamtramck (Sung by Bill Friedland)
9. The Ballad of Sherman Wu (Sung by Pete Seeger)
10. The Professor's Lament (Sung by Roger Abrahams)

To my regret, I don't have that record (having only a photocpy of the notes).

~Masato


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: DMcG
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 07:26 AM

Norma Waterson introduced this song at the Union Chapel recording (see separate thread) with something like the following line:

"Nothing spreads a folksong like a good case of syphilis"

Preplanned line, certainly, but still takes some beating!


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 01:09 PM

The Folkways record mentioned above can be special-ordered as a CD. I have it, as I was a student of Kenny Goldstein's. I don't much recommend it as listening; alongside the good singers, Kenny pressed into service several folklorists, including himself and Jan Brunvand (!) But the notes are crucial!

The English Folk Song and Dance's publication Root & Branch did an article with a historical flow chart on the song. It's available from the EFDSS. (Sorry, no blicky! go to www.efdss.org)


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 07:22 AM

There are lots of other threads about this, not all of them accessible to me,so apologies if any comments I make are duplicated elsewhere. (1) The name: St James Hospital in Liverpool comes up a lot as the most likely candidate. (2) The words: British/Irish (no way of deciding which cme first and there never will be, so feelfree to follow your own prejudices). A huge variety of songs (typical title "Young Sailor cut down in his prime" in which a friend of the narrator of the song has died and is given a stylised funeral.The cause of death various from war to drowning to "social diseases" to generised results of unspecified loose living.English versions generally have 4 stresses in each line, like the American version"Streets of Laredo".St James Infirmary has 3 stresses per line. (3) the story: much of the power of St James Ifirmary seems to lie in the extreme vagueness of the story line, much more "stream of consciousness"" than the clearer English versions. It's often by no meams clear whether a singer is referring to the death of the girl on the slab or his/her own departure, in different parts of the song. I know, because I often sing the song, how easy it is to change the feel of the song by minor changes and omissions in the verses (surely a hallmark of a folksong!). (everything seems to be grinding to a halt, electronically speaking, I'll send this off and start again).


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: JedMarum
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 08:56 AM

In my extra-Mudcat searches yesterday, I discovered a scholarly site claiming that St James indeed is rooted in the The Unfortunate Rake. Likewise, Streets of Laredo - and others.

St James Infirmary certainly has a New Orleans bluesy style, it seems to me - lyrically and musically. It makes sense that the basic story line of The Unfortunate Rake could have evolved into St James.

Where can I find a midi with the melody of The Unfortunate Rake? Thanks all, for the input.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 09:00 AM

Continued: the tune. American song tune for Streets of Laredo is related to English versions of the songs, but St. James Infirmary's tune isn't really, it seems to come from "The Queen of the May", a quite unrelated English song.(As I walked through the meadows to take the fresh air/The flowers were blooming and gay). This tune has a 4/3 stress pattern (unlike St. James Infirmary, 3 stress, and Young soldier/Streets of Laredo 4 stress lines). Queen of the May also had a distinct major to minor third scale change at the end. This is very intriguing, because the Cajun French version of St. James Infirmary (Blues de Soulard) has a tune intermediate between the New Orleans tune and the English original (??). Which shows that the French version is not just a straight borrowing of a popular New Orleans jazz number, as you might otherwise assume. The French version has the 4/3 stress pattern, and the shift to a minor third, which has proved very resilient: you can hear fiddlers sawing away at the B flat against the accordions major B and the guitarists G chord. The French words don't have a death/funeral narrative: those I know are standard Cajun moody ramblings, though on the same theme of the perils of loose living of the British and American songs. "Quand le blues me prend mooi je suis gone/Moi je suis parti me souler/ Quand moi je suis soul bebe moi je suis gone a la maison Pour join ma chere tite fille" (If you can't see how to sing line 3 to a 4-stress bit of melody, check out Louis Cormier's recording!). Anyway, there's a few disjointed comments. Luckily this wonderful songs origins are lost in the mists of time, just so as we can have fun trying to peer through the mist. Next WEEK: how did "The Derby Ram," an ancient English song of ritual death, end up as the definitive New Orleans funeral march "Didn't he ramble"? And it isn't even Irish/Scottish. Or is it?


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 09:07 AM

Sorry, I was typing fast from memory and put "fille" for " femme" in the "Blues de Soulard" lyrics which radically changes the feel of the song.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,MAG at work
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 04:38 PM

"Young Sailor..." also links to "Pills of White Mercury" (a cure for syphilis) which has the funeral stuff -- I once commented that this explains the seeming randomness of SJI to me: ie, his girlfriend died of VD; she got it from someone else; now he's got it too and is going to die.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,anna
Date: 20 Mar 06 - 06:09 PM

hey i'd like to know who recorded the armstrong version of st james infirmary, at okeh records (1928) ? does anybody knows about it ? thanks :)


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,oz childs
Date: 27 Aug 06 - 09:05 PM

A song about a dying woman or man at St. James's Hospital is pretty likely to be in its origin one of the oldest songs still current in English,though revised many times by the folk process (Not as old as "Sumer is a'coming in", but still).

Why? Because St. James's in London, where a palace now stands, was originally the site of a leper hospital, and it was pulled down in 1532 by Henry VIII, who made the park into a place to raise deer and eventually put up a palace. So the memory of St. James's as a place where people went who were sick with a loathsome disease is one of the oldest traditional geographical identifications. (While syphilis was too new a disease to be treated at the hospital, the connection between leprosy and syphilis is exemplified in the similar Paris institution, St-Lazare, which started as a leper hospital and ended up being for syphillitics and then for "fallen women").

St. James's Palace, rebuilt over the years, was where Queen Anne held court circa 1710, and ambassadors are still accredited to the "Court of St. James's).


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Another source--the Bard of Armagh?
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 02:43 PM

Does anyone know how the Bard of Armagh fits into this history of Streets of Laredo/St. James Infirmary. It's the dying song of an old musician/poet, named Brady (from the 18th Century) not a cowboy, but the melody is Laredo. The earliest recording I have is from 1920 by the popular Irish tenor John McCormack, on ASV CD AJA 5119.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Scoville
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 02:48 PM

Bard of Armagh! I knew I was thinking of an Irish song that had the same tune and couldn't recall the title.

I don't know how it fits in, though, but thanks for reminding me.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: erosconpollo
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 03:54 PM

Bard of Armagh: "the words to this old melody are sometime ascribed to Thomas Campbell, who is said to have written it in 1801" This according to William Cole in a song book of his.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Q
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 05:44 PM

All of this has been gone over in the previous threads and posts.
Bard of Armagh-Streets of Laredo is somewhat similar to the tune, but see Greg Stephens post, 11 Apr 02 (above). It is not the same tune as that used by Louis Armstrong, Rosa Henderson, and that appears first in Black folksong and music. In Galveston, where it may have started out, the hospital is 'John Seley's' rather than the St. James in London, Liverpool, etc. I will post the words in Scarborough 1925 in the next post; I haven't found it in Mudcat.


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Subject: Lyr Add: HOW SAD WAS THE DEATH OF MY SWEETHEART
From: Q
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 06:21 PM

^^
Lyr. Add: HOW SAD WAS THE DEATH OF MY SWEETHEART
(Negro folk song; Scarborough, 1925)

I went to John Seley's hospital;
The nurse there she turned me around.
She turned me around, yes, so slowly,
An' said, "The poor girl is sleepin' in the ground."

I was walkin' down Walnut Street so lonely,
My head it was hanging so low.
It made me think of my sweetheart,
Who was gone to a world far unknown.

Refrain:
Let her go, let her go.
May God bless her, wherever she may be.
She is mine.
She may roam this wide world over
But she will never fin' a man like me.

While walkin' I met her dear mother,
With her head hangin' low as was mine.
"Here's the ring of your daughter, dear mother,
And the last words as she closed her eyes:

"Take this ring, take this ring,
Place it on your lovin' right hand.
And when I am dead and forgotten
Keep the grass from growing on my grave."

Obtained from a 'young Galveston Negro, a student at Straight College, New Orleans'. Worth Tuttle Hedden, the collector, said it was rather widely sung among the Negroes in Galveston. John Seley Hospital is (or was) in Galveston.
p. 94, Dorothy Scarborough, 1925, "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs," Harvard University Press. Facsimile 1963, Folklore Associates, Inc.

A version of the same song was recorded by Louis Armstrong and others musicians in New Orleans as "Saint James Infirmary (Blues)." The song on the Armstrong recording was arranged by G. Primrose, Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five, 1928.
Hear the recording at http://www.redhotjazz.com/savoy5.html
St. James Infirmary
Other recordings were made aboout the same time. See Traditional Ballads Index.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Susan of DT
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 07:34 PM

There are 24 versions of DT #350. Since the online search is "blind" to the number sign, search for the whole [DT #350} without the [] to see all of them. There are quite a range of variants.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Q
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 08:51 PM

Of the "24 versions of DT #350" only one approaches the Louisiana-south Texas African-American song as popularized in the New Orleans region in the late 1920's by Louis Armstrong and others, and collected in that region by Scarborough.
St. JAMES INFIRMARY in the DT is close to a version published by Sandburg 1927, Some verses (Old Joe's barroom, rubber-tired hack) in a version coll. in Alabama show cross-fertilization with the Streets-Armagh song. A version 'B' in Sandburg, coll. in Texas, is more closely related to the "How Sad ..." and Armstrong lyrics ("The American Songbag" as "Those Gambler's Blues," coll. in Alabama and Texas). The song arr. by Primrose (Irving Mills) for Louis Armstrong is a shortened version for recording.

"St. James Hospital," in the DT, by Iron-Head Baker as sung for Alan Lomax, is one of the versions with the tune of the Streets of Laredo-Bard of Armagh group. It bears little if any relationship to the song of Armstrong and Scarborough.

"How Sad Was the Death of My Sweetheart" and "St. James Infirmary" of the song by Louis Armstrong perhaps should be considered as members of a group separate from the others.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 10:01 PM

Q--loved that link to the Louis Armstrong material. Marvelous, every last one on that page.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Q
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 10:30 PM

Stilly River Sage-
I get drunk on that Redhotjazz site, downloading collections I could not afford to buy on commercial discs.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 26 Jun 07 - 01:36 AM

Do you use something like Audible and save them one at a time? They're mesmerizing.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Q
Date: 26 Jun 07 - 07:46 PM

No method. Generally I go looking for a song or a band and end up browsing into others. I listen, and 'save as' into Real in a folder if I want to keep it. When I get enough for a disc, I transfer. My problem is that I want them all and Red Hot Jazz is voluminous.


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Subject: Lyr Add: ST. JAMES INFIRMARY (from Louis Armstrong
From: Q
Date: 27 Jun 07 - 01:18 AM

Lyr. Add: ST. JAMES INFIRMARY
Louis Armstrong, 1928, Okeh 8657

I went down to St. James Infirmary
Saw my baby there
Laid down on a long white table
So sweet, so cold, so fair.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her
Wherever she may be
She can look this wide world over
She'll never find a sweet man like me

When I die I want you to dress me in laced shoes (?)
In my black coat and Stetson hat
With a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So God'll know I died standing pat. (So the guys will know...?)

Help needed on the questioned lines.

Arr. J. Primrose, according to the label.
Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five, recorded in Chicago, 12/12/28.

Personnel included former members of the Hot Seven:
Louis Armstrong, cornet and vocals; (Lil Hardin Armstrong, piano;) Baby Dodds, drums; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; John Thomas, Trombone. The pianist probably was Earl Hines- it sounds like him.
In 1929, the personnel changed.

Several websites refer to the 1928 recording, including Wiikipedia, but they give an extended version with several verses from "Gamblers Blues" rather than the abbreviated lyrics of Louis Armstrong. These lyrics may have appeared in later Armstrong recordings.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: mrdux
Date: 27 Jun 07 - 06:05 PM

Q --

I hear the Armstrong lyrics as follows:

I went down to St. James Infirmary
Saw my baby there
Decked out on a long white table
So sweet, so cold, so fair.

* * *

When I die I want you to dress me in strait-laced shoes
[In my?] black coat and Stetson hat
With a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boys'll know I died standing pat.

I may have a recording of this at home and will listen more closely if I do.

michael
(also a long-time fan of the Red Hot Jazz site)


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Q
Date: 27 Jun 07 - 06:20 PM

I also heard 'boys, not 'God,' as the various written lyrics have it, but wasn't 100% sure. I will listen again with your suggestions in mind. I think you have a better ear!

One website suggested "Gamblers' Blues" goes back to 1899; I have been trying to find old versions.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 27 Jun 07 - 06:36 PM

Q,

I have a version titled "Gambler's Blues" printed in the 1920's in a Carson Robison Songbook. It's pretty much the standard minor blues version. It says written by E.V. Body (for everybody; meaning unknown author).

Meade doesn't have much on the origin. Sharp collected a version that is not closely related No. 131 St. James Hospital or A Sailor Cut Down in his Prime.

I suspect that someone reworked the folk song around 1900.

Richie


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: mrdux
Date: 28 Jun 07 - 01:24 AM

Q --

re: the Armstrong version, I did find a recording of it at home. Okeh 8657, recorded 12/12/28, on a 1989 Columbia CD. You were right: Hines was on piano with Armstrong. According to the notes, the rest of the personnel was Fred Robinson, trombone; Don Redman, clarinet/alto sax/arranger; Jimmy Strong, clarinet/tenor sax; Mancy Carr, banjo; Zutty Singleton, drums.

michael


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 28 Jun 07 - 12:23 PM

The Scarborough version does look like some sort of "missing link." Thanks for posting, Q.

As I hear it, sung for example by Tommy Makem, "The Bard of Armagh" melody is essentially identical to the most familiar tune used for "Streets of Laredo."


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Bee
Date: 29 Jun 07 - 10:31 PM

I sang (and played) a version of Saint James Infirmary this evening, on stage, at an old friend's memorial party. An old fellow came up to me afterwards, thanked me, and said he hadn't heard it sung that way in fifty years.

First time I've ever sung with a mike and about seventy people in front of me. Yes I had severe stage fright.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: retrancer
Date: 29 Jun 07 - 10:49 PM

cool, i just started playin it again as a part of my cover tunes. excellenet song


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 12:32 PM

My band does a faster version with drums and a strong electric guitar that goes something like this:

It was at old Joe's bar room
In the corner by the square
They was servin' whiskey as usual
The usual crowd's down there

On my left stood big Joe McKennedy
Well his eyes they were blood shot red
He turned his face to those people
These are the very words he said

Now I went down to St. James Infirmary
And I saw my little baby there
An' she was stretched out on this big white table
So sweet, cold and so fair

Well let her go let her go dear God bless her
Wherever she may be
She can search this whole wide world over
Never find a sweet lovin' man like me

Now when I die just bury me
In my 300 dollar Stetson hat
Put a twenty five dollar gold piece on my watch chain
The boys will know I died standin' pat

Well let her go let her go dear God bless her
Wherever she may be
She could search this whole wide world over
Never find a sweeter man than me

I want the crap shooters to be my pallbearers
Now get me 8 pretty chorus ladies to sing me this song
Drive a jazz band behind my hearse wagon
We'll raise hell as we roll along

Now I went down to St James Infirmary
Don't you know I had to leave my little baby girl down there
Now I go open another bottle of booze
Well I guess I got the St James infirmary blues


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Joseph de Culver City
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 03:09 PM

Thanks for the Louis Armstrong link. I am in thrall to the version of this song in the 'Snow White' Betty Boop cartoon made by the Fleisher brothers sung (and danced) by Cab Calloway, which seems to use the Armstrong version as it's reference. 'Streched out" it is.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 03:15 PM

The tune for St. James Infirmary is reputed to have been a popular tune from the 20's called
"When It's Chitlin Cookin' Time in Cheatham County".

Frank


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: irishenglish
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 03:22 PM

Not to do with the history of it, but since no one else mentioned it, a version appears on the Tom Jones/Jools Holland album from about 2 years ago.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 09:00 PM

Frank, That's really interesting. I have a recording of Sam & Kirk McGee (from sunny Tennessee) singing Chitlin Cookin' Time and I'd always assumed that melody was borrowed from SJI. Interesting to learn that it was the other way around. Thanks.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 07 May 08 - 04:08 PM

I don't know if anyone has been on this thread in a while...but I just heard this song for the first time the other day and I've become a bit obessesed with it.

It all started when my ex boyfriend posted an old picture of us on a website and he referenced the song in the caption of the picture. I knew that he was trying to see if I got the reference. So I googled it, downloaded it, listened to it. I first thought it was a little morbid for the situation between us and was a little confused on what he was trying to say...I think I get what he is sayin now. It's like an underlying meaning to him.

The situation is that we were working together in New Orleans when we met. We fell head over heals in CRAZY love. Haha! But I live on the east coast and he lives on the west coast...so we eventually got seperated and it was very sad. So I think he was trying to refer the sadness of the song to our situation rather than the morbidness of it. But maybe I'm crazy?!?! I don't know.

Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Bunny


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 07 May 08 - 04:26 PM

There's a neat article about this song in the current issue of Offbeat magazine:

http://offbeat.com/artman/publish/article_3061.shtml

Offbeat is a local New Orleans publication, and this month's issue is the annual extra-large Jazz Festival edition.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 07 May 08 - 04:29 PM

Oops, I just saw that the link is useless; the article is available only to "print subscribers."

Why post it on the web at all, then? Seems like nothing more than a semi-underhanded way to sell subscriptions.

Sorry, y'all. It's an interesting article ~ I read it in the printed magazine, which was handed out for free on the streets outside the Jazz Festival ~ but there's no way I'm going to type the whole thing out for you here!


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 07 May 08 - 07:34 PM

The tune turns up as Jimmy Roger's "Gamblin' Bar Room Blues" and was covered by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

This is roughly how I was singing SJI about 40 years ago:

It was down by old Bell's barroom
Round the corner from George Square,
All the drinks were served as usual
And the usual crowd was there.
On my left stood big Hamish Henderson
And his eyes were bloodshot red,
And he turned his face to the people;
These were the very words he said.

I went down to the Royal Infirmary.
My baby, there she lay,
Laid out on a cold marble table.
Well, I looked and I turned away.
"What is my baby's chances?"
I asked old Doctor Sharp.
"Boy, by six o' clock this evenin'
She'll be playin' her golden harp".

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
She can hunt this wide world over,
But she'll never find a man like me.

Sixteen Saint Cuthbert's horses,
Hitched to a rubber-tired hack,
Carried seven girls to the graveyard,
And brought only six of them back.
Now when I die, please bury me
In my taxi driver's cap,
With half-a-dollar hangin' on my watch-chain,
So they'll know I died standin' pat.

I want six fiddlers for my pall bearers,
Eilish Moore to sing my funeral song,
With a ceilidh band playin' reels an' jigs,
Raisin' hell as we roll along.
Now I may be drowned in the ocean,
May be killed by the cannonball,
But let me tell you, buddy,
A woman was the cause of it all.

Well, now that you've heard my story,
Let me have one more pint of booze,
And if anyone should ever ask you,
I got the Sandy Bell's Barroom Blues.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Stewie
Date: 07 May 08 - 11:30 PM

Frank (Stringsinger), I think you'll find it was the other way round: 'St James Infirmary' predated 'Chittlin' Cooking Time'. See previous threads that link SJI to 'The Unfortunate Rake'. The first recording of 'Chittlin'' was in February 1937 by Fiddlin' Arthur Smith with the Delmores. Bill Cox recorded it in October of the same year. In his notes to the County LP reissue of Fiddlin' Arthur Smith recordings, the late Charles Wolfe wrote:


'Chittlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County' takes the melody of 'St James Infirmary', another jazz standard, with new words which, according to Kirk McGee, were written by him and 'a fellow named Busby' who hung around WSM.
.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 08 May 08 - 09:23 AM

Same tune as Cab Calloway's 'Minnie the Moocher'

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=08wOPt-2PeE

He did it years later in 'The Blues Brothers'


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Joe_F
Date: 08 May 08 - 09:28 PM

It seems to me remarkable, and remarkably unremarked on, that the "Let her go" stanza must be an interloper. How can it possibly refer to a dead person?


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 09 May 08 - 01:10 PM

Good point, Joe. I wonder why I never wondered about that before!

If you can find Danny Barker's recording of this song, it's very much worth a listen. I'm not sure which album it's on; I hear it on the radio two-three times every month because it gets a lot of airplay on WWOZ-FM (also available at www.wwoz.org -- just a quick plug; I'm not even bothering to clickify). Danny interjects spoken interludes after just about every line of the song, and even though the recording is eminently musical, it's almost as much comedy routine as it is performance of a song. Also, since it's a solo recording, it's easy to hear and appreciate his simple but very elegant self-accompaniment on acoustic archtop jazz guitar

Danny was a long-time trad-jazz banjo and guitar player, who put in many years with Louis Armstrong's bands. From the late fifties though the sixties and beyond, he lived at home in New Orleans and performed regularly with his pianist/vocalist wife, Blue Lu Barker, for whom he wrote the classic "Don't You Feel My Leg." (Folkies are most likely to know that song as recorded by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, vocal by Maria D'Amato Muldaur.)

Danny Barker is also responsible, almost singlehandedly, for the renaissance of New Orleans traditional Brass Band music. It was a dying art when he organized a group of teenagers and preteens as the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band, teaching them the then-nearly-forgotten repertoire of traditional dirges and uptempo jazz-funeral hymns. Those young fellows grew up to become the leaders of a new generation of brass bands, notably including the Dirty Dozen, the first such ensemble to break through to wider recognition.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 09 May 08 - 07:47 PM

"It seems to me remarkable, and remarkably unremarked on, that the "Let her go" stanza must be an interloper. How can it possibly refer to a dead person?"

I always took it that the first two lines instruct the doctors to desist from reviving her, and for Big Whats-is-name to let go emotionally. The last two lines are purely self-congratulatory.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Brian L
Date: 15 Sep 08 - 12:56 AM

I always found the line about playing the "death march" interesting. I had thought it was some thing generic until I found a book of Fifi tunes that are from Colonial times. In it there is a song called the "Death March" I assume this is the song they are talking about in the song. Not sure how to play the fifi so I don't know what it sounds like I wonder if it is the same melody as St. James Infirmary etc.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Adomnan McIntyre
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 01:19 PM

The version Dave MacKenzie gives sounds like one of the adaptations of well-known folk-songs made in the East of Scotland by Edinburgh intellectuals in the 50s. George Square is in the university district, Hamish Henderson was a song-collector, the Royal Infirmary was where intellectuals had their stomachs pumped and St Cuthbert's Co-operative Society ran a funeral service.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 02:09 PM

"It seems to me remarkable, and remarkably unremarked on, that the "Let her go" stanza must be an interloper. How can it possibly refer to a dead person?"

I always took it that the first two lines instruct the doctors to desist from reviving her, and for Big Whats-is-name to let go emotionally. The last two lines are purely self-congratulatory.


Part of the customary New Orleans jazz funeral ritual is to "turn him/her loose" at the burial site, or (in modern times) at a point where the hearse leaves the larger group of mourners and speeds away to the cemetery with a small contingent of immediate family.

This represents a moment when the assembled friends give the departed over to the spirit world, cease mouring, and find the abiliity get on with life. This is the point at which the band stops playing dirges and immediately moves into uptempo street-parade mode (often making a U-turn at the same time, to lead the congregation back to the point of origin, or to someplace where a repast will be served).

So, to me, the words "let her go" in this song refer to movement from the final phase of the mourning process to recovery and getting on with one's own life. Almost like "forget about her," but not in any dismissive or unkind way, simply to "move on."

It's the next (certainly self-congratulatory) lines that, to me, couldn't possibly refer to a dead person: "She may search the wide world over / and she'll never find a man like me." Perhaps the lyricist lacked the requisite skills in semi-advanced English grammar to have put it something like this: "She could have searched...but she would never have found..."


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 07:31 PM

Nice to be described as an intellectual, though I'm not quite that old; this one was late 60s. Bell's is "Sandy Bell's", c50yards from the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and not much further from George Square where the School of Scottish Studies is, and Big Hamish had his office.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Marc Bernier
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 09:50 PM

Brian L

Not Likely. Which book of Fife tunes are you referring to? 18th & 19th century Fife manuals all have job specific marches, drills, or tunes, not to mention tunes with weird names. It's not likely that the tune in your fife manual will bear much resemblance to what we recognize as SJI. However if you let me know which fife manual your looking at I'll try and check it and let you know.


PS. I have access to a bit of fife music.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,R Harwood
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 10:53 AM

A new book, to be found at, http://www.stjamesinfirmary.ca/, is a thorough exploration of the origins and early history of "St. James Infirmary."


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 11:09 AM

Author, Author!

I hope this isn't your first or last visit to Mudcat.

Here is the publication link and

here is the author's blogspot blog to do with the book.

This looks like a self-published text. Nothing wrong with that, it allows you to keep more of the profits, but you end up paying for the design and printing and scramble to sell it. It's also a lot harder to get traction in the scholarly world when you publish yourself, because there is no vetting of the text. Have you published other books or articles on this or other music subjects, to give us a little context?

Do you play an instrument, play in a band, collect books and/or recordings, etc? Tell us more about yourself, please!

SRS


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,R. Harwood
Date: 21 Jan 09 - 02:57 PM

Nope, neither my first nor my last visit to Mudcat. You're right about the book being self-published, although it has nothing to do with profit. More to do with the difficulty of finding a publisher interested in such a specific topic. My wife, Pam, designed the cover and the interior.

I work in health care, play guitar, have not published on music in the past. This is a thoroughly researched book - I completed that research over a period of about five years. Lots of new information here, new biographical material, as well as bits and pieces of related info - such as, who really wrote "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues," why did Irving Mills use the Primrose pseudonym, how did the link to "The Unfortunate Rake" gain credence, why did Armstrong record the song in '28, and who was Carl Moore (attributed with the song's composition on Fess Williams 1927 recording)?

Aside from the website and the blog, there's a 5-part interview at Rob Walker's SJI site: http://nonotes.wordpress.com/2009/01/12/qa-series-5-"i-went-down-to-st-james-infirmary"-by-robert-w-harwood/

Thanks for your interest!

RWH


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST,Tootler on Mrs T's Computer
Date: 27 Mar 09 - 11:11 AM

Just been going through this interesting thread as we've been singing it recently.

I found the album referred to back in '02 is available for purchase from Smithsonian Folkways here download, CD or Cassette.

I'll have to think about getting it when I get back on my own Computer.


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Subject: RE: History of Saint James Infirmary Blues?
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Jul 09 - 06:47 PM

Melodically St James Infirmary Blues has nothing to do with
The Bard Of Armagh, said to have been composed in 1801 by
Thomas Campbell.It was recorded by John McCormack in 1920.
The Streets of Laredo, composed 1876 by Francis "Frank" Henry
Maynard borrows the Bard Of Armagh melody note for note......
                                     Happy trails
                                           James Molloy

If you wish have a listen to my, Whisky In The Jar etc
on Utube and do leave a comment


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Dorothy Wright
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 11:59 AM

My brother used to sing me a song. The lyrics seem similar to the ones I have read in your listings. I used to love him singing it, but his wife took it too personal and would not allow him to sing it in front of her.

It was down at Saint James Infirmary,
My baby there she lay,
Stretched out on a cold marble table,
I looked then turned away.

What are my baby's chances,
I asked old Dr Sharpe,
He said, by 6 o'clock this evening,
She'll be playing her golden harp.

CHORUS
Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
She can search this wide world over,
Never find a better man than me.

Sixteen cold black horses,
Hitched to a rubber tired hack,
Took 7 pretty girls to the graveyard,
But brought only 6 of them back.

REPEAT CHORUS

When I die please bury me,
In my mild white stetson hat.
With a 5 dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
Just to show that I died standing fast.

REPEAT CHORUS

Six poker dealers or pall bearers,
Better all sing my funeral song,
With a red hot band, just a-beatin' it out,
Raising hell as we rode along.

REPEAT CHORUS

Well maybe I'll be drowned in the ocean,
Or get killed by a cannon ball.
Let me tell you buddy,
A woman was the cause of it all.

REPEAT CHORUS

Hope this helps you. I am still confused as to where my brother would have heard it. I miss him so much, he died of a brain haemorrage aged 42. This was 31 years ago. I still miss him so much, but my memory of his singing is so vivid I can still hear him.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Stringsinger
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 03:04 PM

The melody of Saint James Infirmary Blues is a pop song of the twenties called,
"When It's Chitlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County".


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Stewie
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 08:02 PM

This article is worth a read:

From the Gambit website: gambitweekly.com
POSTED ON JUNE 14, 2005:

Name That Tune

In an excerpt from Letters From New Orleans, writer Rob Walker charts the course of "St. James Infirmary" from Dublin, Ireland, to Rampart Street.

By Rob Walker

This entry requires a short preamble. The story begins in November 1998, before E and I had even moved to New Orleans. And it is not over yet. The easiest thing to say is it is a story about a song, "St. James Infirmary." Like most of the other stories in this book, it was sent out by email to people who had signed up for The Letter From New Orleans, and it was posted on my web site. (Editor's note: see sidebar, "Man of Letters.") Unlike the other stories, it included a plea for feedback and help; you could call it a mild attempt at "viral reporting." Of course I wasn't sure how productive it would be, since I was not researching a new trend or a nascent technology, but a rather old bit of music. In practice, my experiment did not travel the web as quickly as, say, a scatological Flash joke, but it did yield some interesting results. Even months after the fact, fellow "St. James" obsessives were stumbling upon the link and sending me their thoughts and suggestions, and even fresh facts, some of which have been worked in below (although 95% of what follows is the original June 2003 version of the story). Amusingly, one of the best tips I got turned out to be from someone who lived near my New Orleans neighborhood. There's the power of the Internet for you. In any case, when I say that the story is still not complete, I mean it: If you have something to add, I'm at walker@robwalker.net, and anxious to hear it.
So: November 1998. We were visiting the city with a bunch of friends, sharing a house in Gentilly for Thanksgiving. One night some of us went to Donna's, in the Quarter, where the Hot Eight was playing. They did a version of "St. James Infirmary." I had heard "St. James Infirmary" a number of times, and liked it quite a bit. But this was the first time I'd really thought about the curious lyrics.

The leader of the Hot Eight was a wild young trumpet player, alleged age 18, with glasses and big, baggy jeans. He seemed to blow with all his strength, with all his savvy, sometimes letting his left hand dangle and arching his body back and forcing out the notes. I got the impression that the Hot Eight might be an unruly bunch in general, one reason being that we saw them a couple of times and there were never eight of them -- only six or seven showed up at a time.

Anyway, he sang the opening stanza in a rather subdued and mournful tone, which the other players matched. Those lyrics went like this:

I went down to St. James Infirmary,

Saw my baby there.

She was stretched out on a long white table, so sweet,

So cold, so bare.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,

Wherever she may be,

She can search this whole wide world over,

She ain't never gonna find another man like me.

So I'd heard the lyrics before, but now I was thinking about them. Sad song about a man going to see the corpse of his lover ... . And will she go to heaven or will she go to hell ... . And whatever the answer, she "ain't never gonna find another man like me." Wow. That's something. That's beautiful and wrong at the same time.

The music continued, and the way the Hot Eight did it, they eventually came back around and repeated this opening verse. But now the funeral march pace was gone and it was a wailing dance, a celebration, an affirmation -- body arched back, left hand dangling, forcing out those notes -- she ain't never gonna find another man like me.

SO THAT STUCK WITH ME. After I moved here, and was in a position to hear a lot of the local standards in a variety of settings -- outdoor festivals, small clubs, parades, jazz funerals -- "St. James Infirmary" became my favorite. I got mildly curious about it one day. I knew there was a very famous Louis Armstrong recording, which I happened to have on some best-of CD reissue. The notes there said it was recorded on December 12, 1928, in Chicago, and listed the writer as J. Primrose. Armstrong did the lyrics pretty much as the Hot Eight were doing them 70 years later. Now I paid more attention to the next verse, which (in Armstrong's rendition) goes:

When I die, I want you to dress me in straight-laced shoes

Box-back coat and a Stetson hat

Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain,

So the boys will know that I died standin' pat.

I liked that, too. It was odd that the singer would abruptly start addressing his own funeral arrangements while looking at his lover's body, but I found it charming somehow. I'm not saying I admire the narrator, who seems overly pleased with himself and dishonest besides. But I do admire something in his matter-of-fact, fearless taunting of the fates. That just seems very New Orleans to me.

I WAS PLEASED TO DISCOVER THAT SARAH VOWELL, whose work on This American Life I have enjoyed, had written about "St. James Infirmary," in an October 6, 1999, piece for Salon.com. I've since found that some of the specifics in that article are off, but she is certainly right in identifying the source of the song's curious pull in that jarring moment when the singer turns away from the horror of death and abruptly starts bragging about his own superiority to all men in this world or any other.

Vowell's take is that the shift "doesn't make any sense unless you take into account the selfish way the living regard the dead. ... [T]he narrator of this song is curiously so stuck up that he feels sorry for his loved one, not because she won't be doing any more breathing, but because she just lost the grace of his presence. It's so petty. And so human." Not only that, the song also "shoots down the idea of love as a true possibility. If you need love in part to know you'll be missed when you're gone, what does it mean if your sweetheart stands over your icy corpse and -- instead of wishing to rejoin you on some astral plane -- fantasizes about impressing his buddies with a big dumb coin?"

Well, okay, that's intriguing, but also a little harsh, and it's not how I see things. And I couldn't stop thinking about the song. What did it mean? Where did it come from? I began to concoct theories that would perhaps redeem the singer. My most clever interpretation, I think, was that perhaps the singer had killed his lover in a jealous rage. Perhaps she'd been cheating on him, and he caught her in the act. That would explain both his strange insistence on informing her corpse that he's the best man she'll ever have, and also his preoccupation with his own death, perhaps by execution.

Anyway, fast forward a few months and I own several dozen versions of "St. James Infirmary," which is a fair indication of the intensity that my interest in the song would eventually reach. I have renditions by Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, the Hall Johnson Negro Choir, Red Garland, Harry Connick, Jr., The Animals, Bobby "Blue" Bland, The Ventures, The White Stripes, and Marc Ribot. As Vowell notes, the song is sometimes listed as traditional, but is more often attributed to Joe Primrose or to Irving Mills, "an associate of Duke Ellington."

Actually Joe Primrose is Irving Mills. I eventually confirmed this with EMI Music, the song's publisher. According to EMI, Mills, using the pseudonym Joe Primrose, took the copyright on the song in 1929. This seemed odd, if it's right that the Armstrong recording was actually made in late 1928. A knowledgeable reader has suggested that Mills probably published the song in 1928 and deposited the copyright the following year; publishers, my correspondent added, often sent artists advance copies of their tunes.

A lot has been written about (and by) Louis Armstrong, and I certainly have not read it all, but I have looked through many books for clues to how he might have come to record this particular number. I've found nothing solid. I was reading through a book called Storyville, New Orleans by Al Rose, in particular a passage about the corner of Bienville and Marais streets. (This corner no longer exists; there's a housing project where Storyville used to be.) Jelly Roll Morton hung out at one of the bars on that corner, and across the street stood St. James Methodist Church. "According to a common legend," Rose writes, "the church offered first-aid services and modest hospital facilities and thus became the inspiration for the widely performed St. James Infirmary Blues."

Ah!

But no. The next line: "Unfortunately, this colorful and imaginative legend is not true; indeed, the song has no connection with New Orleans." After this crushing sentence, Rose moves on to his next topic, without a footnote or a backward glance. But I now have a pretty good idea what he meant, because this particular story really begins, at the very latest, in 1790.

"ST. JAMES INFIRMARY," IT TURNS OUT, is an offshoot of an extraordinary song cycle that is the subject of a 1960 Folkways Records release called The Unfortunate Rake: A Study in the Evolution of a Ballad, containing 20 songs and extensive notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein. I have, needless to say, purchased this item. Goldstein writes that the oldest published text from the "Rake" cycle was "collected" in 1848 in County Cork, Ireland, "from a singer who had learned it in Dublin in 1790." The song may have been "in tradition" for years prior to that, but it's obviously impossible to say. (He also notes that St. James Hospital was in London, and treated lepers.)

The disc includes one recording based on lyrics printed on a 19th century broadside. The singer recounts "a-walking down by St. James Hospital" one day and running into a friend, who was "wrapped up in flannel," despite the warm weather. The friend blames his troubled health on "a handsome young woman." It seems that he knew this woman rather well, but there was something she didn't tell him, and if only she had, "I might have got the pills and salts of white mercury." This refers to a treatment for venereal disease. "Now I'm cut down in the height of my prime," the unfortunate rake explains, proceeding to make requests relating to his funeral ("Get six of your soldiers to carry my coffin, six young girls to sing me a song ...").

The next several tunes on the disc are variations on this story, with the lyrics rearranged in various ways. One difference is that most are explicit that the young man is a soldier or sailor, and none are anywhere near so explicit about what exactly his problem is. In fact they're all extremely vague -- it's just a young man who is "cut down in his prime" for reasons that aren't clear. Sometimes, as in "Bad Girl's Lament," the ballad is about the woman, but basically follows the same pattern (an early mention of St. James' Hospital, a closing request for "Six pretty maidens with a bunch of red roses, six pretty maidens to sing me a song ..."). You won't find many of these exact same words in the most typically played version of "St. James Infirmary" today, but this at least is a back story that makes some of the latter's sentiments perfectly logical: The singer makes a jealousy-tinged boast and turns quickly to thoughts of his own death because his "baby" just died of VD. Dig?

THE BALLAD TRAVELED THE WORLD. There is a black West Indian version from the 19th century. And there's one from Kentucky (dated to 1915) that seems to have been adapted to refer to a specific local scandal involving a former policeman caught up in a brothel-based slaying that led to his own execution. Another version of the ballad traveled west with pioneers as "The Cowboy's Lament." It's basically the same story again, but the linen-wrapped fellow is a cowboy found on a Laredo street. ("Get sixteen cowboys to carry my coffin; get sixteen pretty ladies to bear up my pall ..."). Sometimes the request is for a bunch of gamblers to carry the coffin.

Alan Lomax appears on the Folkways disc -- singing. He contributes a "Negro version" of the ballad that he and his father collected in 1934 from a prisoner in Sugar Land, Texas. It's called "St. James Hospital." Here it's worth noting that up to this point on the disc, none of the versions has the melody of the modern "St. James Infirmary." (It's also worth noting that Lomax is not much of a singer.) Instead they use the melody closer to the one we know today as "Streets of Laredo," which has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Arlo Guthrie, and many others. The "Rake" cycle splits in two directions, one leading to Laredo, the other to the St. James Infirmary. In Goldstein's notes, Lomax is quoted saying this version "provides the link between the folk ballad and the pop tune" -- between "The Unfortunate Rake" and "St. James Infirmary."

The actual recording of the prisoner (James "Ironhead" Baker) singing "St. James Hospital" appears on a Rounder CD of material collected by Lomax and his father John A. Lomax called Black Texicans. This is an interesting set, exploring and documenting black variations on and contributions to the cowboy ballad form. (The Lomaxes seem to have been particularly interested in prisoners who'd had little contact with the outside world, and thus with popular recordings and recent musical trends and so forth, for decades.) Oddly, despite the title, the words "St. James hospital" appear in Lomax's rendition, but not in Baker's. The melody may not be quite the same as the "Rake" melody, but despite what Lomax implies, it's hardly identical to "St. James Infirmary," which of course had been recorded by Armstrong about five years before "Ironhead" Baker's performance in Sugar Land.

THIS RAISED MORE QUESTIONS, and trying to answer them has been an interesting, if ultimately frustrating, process. We live in a moment of very intense documentation. Every cultural event -- hell, every wedding -- is captured on video, in photographs, written up in web logs and emails. The historians of the future will have an embarrassment of riches to work with, no matter how trivial their inquiries may be. And I sometimes wonder if they'll have much left to inquire about, given how few secrets are left in our real-time culture. It's startling to look back less than 100 years in search of answers, only to confront the alien idea of the unknowable.

We know that Irving Mills was born in New York, the son of immigrants from Odessa, Russia. As young men, he and his brother Jack worked as "song pluggers" (promoters), and in about 1920 they set up their own music-publishing firm, Mills Music. At the time, such firms made money by selling sheet music. Live performances and even recordings were basically seen as a way of promoting such sales. Jazz was commercially popular; Mills Music also sold novelty rags and blues. They would buy songs from musician-writers for a flat fee, and own them outright. They once bought all rights to 21 Fats Waller songs for $500.

The forward-looking Irving did a pretty good job getting involved with new technologies like radio, and was apparently a pioneer in sending free recordings to publications to garner publicity. (Recording sales overtook sheet music in the mid 1930s.) He also started working as an agent, most famously for Duke Ellington, under an arrangement that allowed him to take partial writing credit on dozens of early Ellington tunes, many of which he probably did not contribute to at all. For this reason, Mills is generally recalled as a bit of a scoundrel; just about every time I've read some passing mention of him in liner notes or jazz books, it's dismissive at best. There's so much more to say about Mills, but seeing as how he had little to do with New Orleans, I'll get to the point.

The point is this. In 1927, the poet Carl Sandburg published a book called American Songbag, a collection of 280 songs (music and lyrics and very short explanatory introductions) from "all regions of America." About 100 of these he describes as "strictly folk songs," never before published. "Though meant to be sung, [the book] can be read as a glorious anthology of the songs that men have sung in the making of America." One of the songs is called "Those Gambler's Blues." Two sets of lyrics are given for the melody, one collected from someone at the University of Alabama, the other given by two sources, one in Los Angeles and one in Fort Worth. There's no mention of a composer, which rather strongly implies that this is one of the folk songs with no known author, which these days we would see credited to "Traditional." The lyrics contain much of what we hear as "St. James Infirmary" today; the melody (I confirmed with a friend who reads music) is basically the same.

Again it's worth noting how the world has changed. Can you imagine someone today getting away with taking credit for writing a song that had actually been published in a collection -- one compiled by a famous poet -- two years earlier? Anyway, I don't know where Irving Mills heard the tune. I don't know why he used the name Joe Primrose in claiming it, as he never seems to have used that pseudonym again. I can tell you that the Harlem Hot Chocolates recorded a version in New York in March 1930, with a singer identified as Sunny Smith. This was actually Duke Ellington's band, with Mills, under another pseudonym, on vocals. He's not a great singer, but he's better than Alan Lomax.

The only recording I've been able to find that pre-dates Armstrong's is a performance by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra, made February 25, 1927, in New York City. On the CD version, the song is listed as "Gambler's Blues," and, maddeningly, the writer credit is "Moore-Baxter." Reader and fellow "St. James" obsessive Robert W. Harwood, in his cool self-published book A Rake's Progress, explains that drummer Carl "Squeakin' Deacon" Moore and bandleader Phil Baxter essentially gave a lightly comic spin to the traditional tune. Even more maddeningly, I also came across a single stray reference to Don Redman as the song's writer. Jorma Kaukonen (formerly of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) covered the song not long ago and credited it to Jimmie Rodgers, who cut a version under the title "Those Gambler's Blues" in 1930. I don't know what to make of these outliers. Maybe they are just mistakes.

The jazz reference books I've seen that address the question of the song's authorship tend to offer no specific name, but say that it dates back to 1910, or maybe the late 1890s, etc. In other words, they don't help. Maybe the most definitive thing we can assert is that somebody who was at least partly inspired by "The Unfortunate Rake" laid down the blueprint for the song we now know as "St. James Infirmary" sometime prior to 1927, and that in 1929, "Joe Primrose" was granted the copyright.

NOW, I'M GENERALLY SKEPTICAL OF MUSIC writing that focuses on analyzing lyrics, and I deplore attempts to treat lyrics like poetry. However, I am obviously very interested in that one lyrical passage -- the one in which the singer suddenly shifts from lamenting his lover's death to bragging that: "She can search this whole wide world over; she ain't never gonna find another man like me."

There's a lot of tweaking and futzing and rearranging of lyrics in various recorded versions of "St. James Infirmary" that I've heard. In the "Rake" songs the singer was a third-party narrator, relating a tale he heard from the stricken man himself. The oldest "Rake" songs downplay the woman, who is merely an undifferentiated "flash girl," not the unfortunate protagonist's true love.

This is even true of "Gambler's Blues." In the most prevalent version, the narrator is in a bar and hears the tale of woe from Big Joe McKennedy (or something similar), who is just back from having visited his lover's corpse at the St. James Infirmary. (This is how Eric Burden did it, old school blues poseur that he is, in what I have to admit would be a great rendition if not for the backup singers going "oh-ooh-whoa" over and over.) But this scene of gazing at the woman's lifeless body is an addition to the storyline of the "Rake" songs, and suggests that the deceased was, in fact, the singer's true love, or at least main squeeze, not just an ill-advised fling.

Occasionally, the woman is immaterial or even eliminated. Dr. John reworked "St. James Infirmary" into "Touro Infirmary," a lament for the death of his hard-living "runnin' partner," who had requested "the finest whores on Bourbon Street" and Professor Longhair for his funeral, before he ended up dead on arrival at Touro (a real New Orleans hospital). One of the most extraordinary variations is Blind Willie McTell's "The Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues." McTell had done some recording -- and like Mills was fond of pseudonyms, from Pig 'n' Whistle Red to Barrelhouse Sammy -- but was reduced to singing in the street when an Atlanta recording shop owner came upon him in 1956 and made what turned out to be the last recordings of a gifted bluesman. At one point McTell sets up his next number by saying he started writing it in 1929 and finished it in 1932. It concerns a gambler friend named Jesse Williams, who was shot in the street, taken home by McTell, and as he died proceeded to give McTell a number of funeral-related requests -- 16 crapshooter pallbearers, 16 bootlegers to sing him a song, and so on (plus a pair of dice in his shoes, a deck of cards as his tombstone, and a wish for "everybody to do the Charleston while he's dyin'"). The fact that Williams' woman had left him is a mere aside; the song has him killed by police for unspecified reasons. Williams, McTell relates, asked him to sing about all this at the funeral itself. "That I did," McTell asserts. "See, I had to steal music from every which a-way to get it, get it to fit." (Bob Dylan later wrote a song called "Blind Willie McTell," and an extensive deconstruction of that tune by Michael Gray in Song & Dance Man III is how I came to McTell and then to "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues." Dylan's song, too, includes echoes from the "Rake," and ends, "I am gazing out the window of the St. James Hotel, and I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.")

Most of the more modern jazz versions (Armstrong forward) omit this narrative device and make it a first-person story. That passage I'm so obsessed with does not appear in the old English "Rake" songs, nor is it in either version of the lyrics provided by Sandburg, or in McTell's version. In one of the sets of lyrics that Sandburg offers, the line is replaced with, "There'll never be another like her; there'll never be another for me." This is the way the Hall Johnson Negro Choir did it in December 1931, and it's also the reading that Bobby Bland went with decades later. It's certainly a more traditional and less jarring sentiment. And it's much less interesting.

The line is omitted from Fess Williams' 1927 take, which skips straight from the image of the dead woman to the narrator discussing his own funeral. The version that Mills (as Sunny Smith) sang in 1930 basically has it both ways: After seeing his baby on that long white table, he first "wish[es] it was me instead," and then throws in the "search this whole world over" verse right afterward. Another version that Mills was involved with, recorded by Mills Merry Makers in January 1930, has Charlie Teagarden (younger brother of Jack) on vocals, and delivers a take that works so hard to get the verb tense right that it sounds like a grammar teacher delivered it: "She could have looked this wide world all over, she'd never have found a sweet man like me." (Emphasis added.) It's actually a nicely done vocal, but that reading of the line is ridiculous, and completely misses the mysticism and the nastiness of the eternal vengeance implied by saying that even in the afterlife she'll never find such a man. It also waters down the sense that the singer is affirming his own life with a certain proud desperation. Which to me is the whole point.

IN NEW ORLEANS, THE LYRICS ARE pretty much always performed the way Armstrong did them. The most recent recorded version I know of is on 2002's The Marsalis Family, with patriarch Ellis and all four of his musician sons. Harry Connick sings -- and uses the lyrics that Armstrong did.

How did the song come to Mills' attention? Did he hear a recording? A live performance somewhere? Where did Armstrong pick it up? Was it being played in New Orleans when he was growing up, hanging around Storyville? Who added that key lyrical phrase, "She'll never find another man like me"?

I don't know, I don't know. Maybe I never will. That Bob Dylan book I mentioned earlier led me, through its footnotes, to a 1975 book called The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk Into Rock. One section, by a writer named Karl Dallas, deals with "St. James Infirmary" and "The Unfortunate Rake," and marvels at how "the soldier dying of syphilis in eighteenth century London crosses oceans, changes sex, becomes a cowboy dying of gunshot wounds on the streets of Laredo, coming to rest finally in New Orleans as the black hero of ...''St. James Infirmary.'" Putting aside Dallas' unflinching association of the song with New Orleans, which obviously pleases me, I was interested in his point that the common bond is the dying protagonist in one way or another calling the shots of his own funeral. The requests, by and large, are not modest, despite the fact that in pretty much every case that protagonist admits that his pending death is the result of his own bad behavior (whether a single aberration or a lifetime of sin). "Though the identity of the hero and the cause of death changes, one thing remains -- the triumphant laugh in the face of death." I actually think that overstates things for the earlier "Rake" versions, but it's right on target for "St. James Infirmary" as the Hot Eight performed it that night in 1998 -- both in the specific words chosen, the way those words were sung, and the force of the music that accompanied them.

Since that key line in the Armstrong version does not have a precedent that I am aware of, I can at least pretend that this is the way he had heard it performed in New Orleans, before he left for Chicago in 1922. I have no proof of this at all, of course, but I think it is still too soon to say that the song has "no connection with New Orleans whatever." Because every time I hear some local brass band playing the tune, I always say to myself: "No connection with New Orleans? That just can't be right."

URL for this story: http://bestofneworleans.comhttp://bestofneworleans.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A34686


--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 08:01 PM

What a classic example of how the songs we think of as "uniquely American" have their roots in earlier Irish, Scottish or English traditional music. I remember learning "St. James Infirmary" as a 16-year-old kid and thinking it was just a classic New Orleans blues - period. The influence of black musicians, local language and a blues structure morphed it into the "American" song it became.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Richie
Date: 21 Aug 09 - 04:20 PM

Hi,

I was wondering if this sheet music would be one of the earliest versions of sheetmusic for "St. James Infirmary." Dated 1902. Key G major.


http://books.google.com/books?id=ORU6AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA72&dq=%22She%27s+Gone,+Let+Her+Go%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Joe_F
Date: 21 Aug 09 - 08:45 PM

In that one, at any rate, she's not dead.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: quokka
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 04:04 AM

Here, Peace, re-reading this thread should give you time to clean up that keyboard and finish your coffee ;-)


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 08:22 AM

Both "Bard of Armagh" and "Streets of Laredo" got their tune from the same source - "The Banks of the Devon", whose melody was collected by Burns near Inverness (the singer's words were a Gaelic Jacobite song on the '45 rebellion by Alasdair MacMaighstear Alasdair). Burns's song (with words that nothing to do with the Gaelic original) was an enormous hit all over the English-speaking world. As a result the tune was still being suggested for broadside songs decades later.

Since Campbell came from the west of Scotland, was educated there and in Edinburgh, and had never been to Ireland when he wrote "Bard of Armagh", it's fairly obvious where he got the tune from.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 01:22 PM

Some people struggle too hard to make logical narrative sense out of "lyrical" lyrics. And/or fixate in a futile way on a line or phrase that may just be a fluke - a misremembering or mispronunciation of the original, a whole verse pulled in unthinkingly from another song, an undigested blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese.

Having said that ... I first heard Earl Hines' heartfelt rendition of SJI as a teenager, and, ever since, I've been satisfied to understand the "Let her go" verse as a kind of passing, not clearly-defined, fantasy - the speaker imagining the soul of his dead lover wandering the world, but in the end, returning to her one true love (him!) - or, if not returning, at least somehow realizing that she could not be happy alive or dead with anyone else. If that's braggadoccio, it's of a very familiar kind: no one loves you as much as I do; we were meant for each other, etc. And it seems to be natural to fantasize about what the dear departed are up to: read any obituary column (or thread).

As for the "When I die" verse - it is common, if not universal, to contemplate one's own mortality upon the death of a loved one. Even to start thinking about one's own funeral arrangements. In this instance, it might not be too much of a stretch to suppose that the speaker feels he has nothing left to live for, now that his "baby" is gone, and that a showy funeral is all he has to look forward to. Again, nothing unusual in such sentiments.

So, the only narrative we get out of all this is: a guy has just seen the corpse of his lover; he tries to accept her death and "move on", but still acknowledges a strong connection with her; he contemplates his own mortality, perhaps feeling little desire to live, and tries to come to terms with his despair and eventual death by imagining an impressive funeral.

Not sure why anyone would want to bring murder, syphilis, or even brutally egocentric emotion into it.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Tootler
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 04:28 PM

Not sure why anyone would want to bring murder, syphilis, or even brutally egocentric emotion into it.

Because the song from which this was derived, The Unfortunate Rake, was about a young man who died from venereal disease, most likely syphilis.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 05:22 PM

Well, yeah, but the song had come a long way from the original. You might as well decide that his baby was wrapped up in white linen, even though there's no suggestion of it in SJI, or that he wanted the fifes playing lowly, but had forgotten to mention it.

Or that the dying cowboy who had been "gunned down" had been dying of syphilis anyway, and someone in the bar had told a joke about a syphilitic, and that enraged him, and he had pulled his gun, and, and .....


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Tootler
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 06:06 PM

Alright I take your point about the cowboy being gunned down rather than dying of the pox, but all the derivatives of the Unfortunate Rake refer to someone dying an untimely death.

If you look at the lyrics of St James Infirmary in the DT, there is reference to bars, gambling and chorus girls. So although it is not explicit, it is implicit from the context of the song that the dead girl has died an unnatural death so syphilis or violence are not unreasonable assumptions.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 07:25 PM

The "unnatural death" (are syphilis and violence "unnatural"?) is only implicit if the song is considered within the context of an academic study of its "song family". Looking at SJI on its own, there is no suggestion whatever of syphilis or violence within it. The gal could have died of TB or in a car accident - it is really immaterial. If they felt the cause important, the singers who passed down and/or altered SJI would have included at least some hint of it - I don't think they would have assumed their audiences were familiar enough with The Unfortunate Rake tradition as to take the song as a warning of the dangers of bad girls and the pox.

I don't think the references to bars, gambling, and chorus girls have to suggest violence and disease, either. They could just suggest good times.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Q
Date: 11 Oct 09 - 07:52 PM

I agree, meself, but some people like to complicate "Streets of Laredo" or "St. James Infirmary" with stuff from earlier songs that used the same or similar tune. I have done it myself.

Whether Bhanarach dhonn a'chruidh (sp?) or Hill of Lochiel (can't fit that one to the words) is the original tune, or just similar, I dunno.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Tootler
Date: 12 Oct 09 - 06:50 PM

I don't think the references to bars, gambling, and chorus girls have to suggest violence and disease, either. They could just suggest good times.

Shall we just agree to differ?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 12 Oct 09 - 07:28 PM

No - pistols at dawn! (And I would suggest that you have some white linen ready).


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Tootler
Date: 13 Oct 09 - 05:09 PM

OK and I'll make sure you have a nice cold, white slab to lie on. Specially specified for your comfort.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 13 Oct 09 - 05:49 PM

If things should indeed go that way, all I ask is six crap-shooters to bear my pall, a chorus girl to - well, you know the drill -


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Tootler
Date: 14 Oct 09 - 06:23 PM

Would you like them to play the [mouth] harp slowly?

Doesn't have quite the same ring does it!?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Q
Date: 14 Oct 09 - 10:18 PM

Why not go all the way and play the tuba slowly?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Nov 09 - 09:15 PM

I had assumed Saint James Infirmary was a place in New Orleans and got interested in the song when I found out it wasn't.

But here is my question (which has nothing to do with the jazz versions of St James Infirmary): Some posts here note that there was once a Saint James Hospital was a leper hospital on the site of Saint James Palace in London and state that that is the hospital in the original Rake song. But that would mean the original Rake song goes back to the 14-1500s, before St James Palace was built on the hospital site. Is there any evidence any place that the song is that old?

If not, could it be that the scholars who associate the Rake song with that particular hospital are wrong, and that the song refers to another St James Hospital (someone mentioned there was one in Liverpool)?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Nov 09 - 01:15 AM

I posted this not long since on another thread [it was indeed what made Peace cough his coffee all over his keyboard as ref'd above by Quokka 14 threads back] - but venture to repeat it here as at least equally relevant but doesn't seem to have been mentioned thruout this thread:-

Streets of Laredo, [& also its variant Lee Tharin's Barroom sung so inimitably by Hedy West]: all part of the huge Unfortunate Rake/Young Man·Girl Cut Down In Prime/St James Hospital·Infirmary family of songs; which have the charming, & almost universal, attribute of the demand for the Funeral With Full Military Honours* even where not the least appropriate, as with gamblers-girls-cowboys — tho why, right from the start when it often was a Young Soldier/Sailor, he should have thought that dying of the pox warranted such a display of Military Glory has never been quite clear to me.

*or anyhow a variant thereof in form of high·crown·stetson·hats, gold·dollar·pieces·on·watchchains & so forth...


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Nov 09 - 04:37 PM

This song always reminds me a bit of my favorite early Moon Mullican song "lay me down beside my darling".


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Robert Harwood
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 04:14 PM

I think your brother got that song from sheet music published about 1930, from Denton and Haskins. I shall make an entry at http://iwentdowntostjamesinfirmary.blogspot.com/ in the next day or two, to give you more specific info about that. Hope it's okay if I mention your note on Mudcat.

All the best!
Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,wildroses
Date: 31 Jan 10 - 07:49 PM

I have Gale Garnett singing St. James on her "Well Sing in the Sunshine" album and there is a stanza:

Give me a six gambles of tall pall bearers
Give me a corkscrew to sing me a song
Give me a jazz man on my haunts a wagon
Please pray as we go along

Anyone familiar?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Gulliver
Date: 31 Jan 10 - 09:47 PM

Should have stuck to "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" - at least that's in English.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: mousethief
Date: 31 Jan 10 - 11:07 PM

I always figured "let her go" was spoken to himself, meaning, don't try to hang on to her mentally / emotionally.

Some absolutely stellar scholarship here. Makes the song that much more intriguing and wonderful.

And ditto on the Danny Barker version.

O..O
=o=


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: quokka
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 12:13 AM

just spent FAR too long looking at various versions of this on Youtube... louis armstrong, cab calloway,lou rawls, eric clapton & dr john, arlo guthrie, the white stripes...some better than others. The award for best version I have heard today goes to Harry Connick Jr. Hands down. I was blown away. Lou Rawls is pretty good too.
Lou Rawls version


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: quokka
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 12:22 AM

Harry Connick Jr and Lucien Barbarin


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: olddude
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 11:28 AM

I have a version I did such as it is
kicked it up a notch

olddude


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Joe_F
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 06:04 PM

Mousethief: An introspective "Let her go" does not consort well with "She may search this whole wide world over". In the rest of the song, in any case, she is *dead*. I still guess that that stanza belongs properly to some other song.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: mousethief
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 06:06 PM

I think it goes quite well with "God bless her." If anything else it seems the "search the world over" part is an import -- it makes no sense at all of a dead person.

O..O
=o=


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 10:25 PM

I'm with mousethief on this one: "Let her go, and God bless her" is just the sort of thought someone might have in trying to deal with the death of a loved one. And as I've said above, I take the "search" as a kind of whimsical if melancholy fantasy - which is not to say that that business has not been 'imported' from another song, but that those who passed that import along understood it in something of the way I suggest.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 02 Feb 10 - 05:45 PM

Re GUEST 21.11.09
If Malcolm was here he would settle this one. He may have already done so on one of the other threads. The link with St James' anything appears to be a later addition if it occurs at all in any versions in Britain earlier than 1900. 'The Buck's Elegy', the earliest broadside cmid18thc is set in Covent Garden. The earliest mention of a hospital is on early 19thc broadsides and it's 'The Lock Hospital' est 1746 at Hyde Park Corner for the treatment of venereal diseases. After that the term 'Lock Hospital' became generic for these sorts of hospitals.

Later broadsides mention 'The Royal Albion' which is probably a corruption of 'Royal Albert' the Royal Albert Dock in London opening in 1880. But there are various 'Royal Albion' Hotels notably in Brighton.

In The Buck's Elegy the narrator is lamenting the death of his comrade and wishing he'd taken some form of remedy (pills of white mercury) as he has obviously been with the same girls and realises he's next for the chop.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Joe_F
Date: 07 May 10 - 05:30 PM

I can't argue with that! %^)


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 07 May 10 - 09:56 PM

Come on, give it a try - you're not a true Mudcatter unless you argue about anything ....


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Leadfingers
Date: 07 May 10 - 10:59 PM

Too Many accents to be a real language !!


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Leadfingers
Date: 07 May 10 - 11:00 PM

So 100


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Leadfingers
Date: 08 May 10 - 06:27 AM

Ooops ! This IS 100 'cos of a deletion


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,marc lelangue
Date: 28 Sep 10 - 11:09 AM

This has nothing to do with the history of the song, but I'm surprised Josh White's beautiful version is not mentionned (though I've "scanned" some passages more than actually "reading" them).


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: pavane
Date: 28 Sep 10 - 11:46 AM

There doesn't seem to be any reference here to yet another title, "The Unfortunate Lad", so I thought I would add it for completeness. There are several copies in the Bodley collection - these all refer to Lock Hospital, which was an early VD hospital in London.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 22 Apr 11 - 08:00 PM

Is it possible that this song is originally just a lament for a life spent having random one-night stands, not attached to a specific place, and became attached to various different locations in the British Isles before it came to America?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Frankieboy
Date: 23 Apr 11 - 06:04 PM

There used to be a guy on here quite a bit that had a great version of it. Jayto is what he went by and I haven't seen him on here in a while. He had a really good version. Does anybody know where I could find his version of it? I have looked but I am having a hard time locating it.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Q
Date: 23 Apr 11 - 07:30 PM

With the possible exception of the tune, the UK and American songs are unrelated.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: olddude
Date: 23 Apr 11 - 07:38 PM

Frankie
I will see if I can find JT's version. Here is mine if you want it, free to download

http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8912856


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,curious
Date: 13 Mar 12 - 10:03 AM

I first came across the song SJI in Germany - a German beardy jazz/blues band had it on their LP. That was in 1981, and the LP was a few years old at that time. If anyone knows who the band were/what the album was called - let me know: catsanddogsand8@hotmail.com - I'd love to hear it again. (I had recently worked in St James Hospital in Dublin and was broken-hearted at the time, which is why I loved it so much.) The words as I recall them:

I went down to St James Infirmary.
to see my baby there
lying on a cold white table.
So sweet, so cold, so fair.

"hey hey What's my baby's chances?"
I asked old Doctor Sharp.
"Boy, by six o' clock this evenin'
She'll be playin' her golden harp".

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
She can hunt this wide world over,
But she'll never find a man like me.

I may be drowned in the ocean,
May be killed by the cannonball,
But boy one thing I can tell you,
A woman was the cause of it all.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,testpattern
Date: 29 Mar 12 - 03:15 AM

I do believe that Louis and the rest of the New Orleans interpreters of this song asked to be buried in a "box-back coat," a cut that was popular among the sporting gentlemen of the District back in the day (see Danny Barker, Baby Dodds, Jelly Roll, etc.)


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Joe_F
Date: 29 Mar 12 - 08:51 PM

testpattern: I've always heard it that way. Box-back coat & Stetson hat.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,guest
Date: 13 Aug 12 - 04:02 PM

As long as we're touting our favourite renditions, allow me to recommend Hugh Laurie's from "Let them Talk". I think the whole disc is really excellent.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Q
Date: 13 Aug 12 - 04:56 PM

See thread "Hugh Laurie, Down by the River."

Lots of love-hate Laurie in that thread.
Hugh Laurie


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