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I love my baby like a cow loves to chaw her cud, but that fool moved off and left me, she done moved to the piney woods - Blind Lemon Jefferson, Piney Woods Money Mama

Author Topic: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs  (Read 5199 times)

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Offline Bricktown Bob

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St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« on: November 10, 2007, 09:40:54 AM »
Musically, yes I agree, for a start McTell starts the rap phase with a Dm position, not a C. The general lyrical idea and title are a thorough cop from McTell though. To be pedantic though  ;) it's not St James Infirmary, since that is usually a minor song as well.

This probably ought to be in a new topic, since it's not about baseball blues.  I suppose in general it's about sources and inspiration and such, and adapting traditional songs for current needs.

Anyway, start with an English song usually called "The Unfortunate Rake."  In America, that song followed two general lines of descent.  One is "The Cowboy's Lament," more popularly "The Streets of Laredo"; the other is "St James Infirmary."  My point, insofar as I had one, was that, not referring to any particular performance or arrangement, "Dying Crapshooter" and "Dying Cub Fan" both belong to the St James Infirmary line: they are affines, their similarity due to descent from a common ancestor.

Interesting McTell connection.  Robert W. Harwood recently came out with a book, A Rake's Progress, about the evolution of this song.  Asked about the genesis of his interest, he said:

"Around 1992 a friend sent me a tape of previously unreleased Dylan songs. I found out later that these came from Columbia?s The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. (Should any record executives out there feel concerned, rest assured that I later bought the CD.) The song 'Blind Willie McTell' immediately caught my attention. I never tired of listening to it. Some years later I was playing a newly bought compilation CD of jazz vocals, and Lou Rawls came over the speakers singing 'St. James Infirmary.' This was the first time I?d heard 'SJI.' Rawls sings his own introduction, 'When will I ever stop moaning / When will I ever smile / My baby went away and she left me / She?ll be gone for a long, long while' and so on. He then gets into the song proper, and at this point I shot up from my chair, exclaiming aloud 'That?s "Blind Willie McTell"!!!' For some reason that I can?t explain today, I became quite excited. There was nobody else in the room. The Dylan lyrics, 'I?m standing by the window of the old St. James Hotel / and I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell' came to mind, and that started it."

Quote taken from another good source: Rob Walker has been researching "St. James Infirmary" since 1999 and has collected thousands of pages of information about the song, along with dozens of versions: NO Notes

Some versions of "St James Infirmary" are called "Gambler's Blues" (such as Dave Van Ronk's).  Bessie Smith did a song called "Dying Gambler's Blues," but I don't have it and can't find the lyrics and don't know how it relates, if at all, to either "St James Infirmary" or McTell's "Dying Gambler" (which, confusingly, is not a "St James Infirmary" variation).

Although most versions would be considered jazz, I suppose, and usually taken from Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway, there ought to be be many that are blues.

Any takers?  Any thoughts?

Offline Johnm

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2007, 10:10:27 AM »
Hi Bricktown Bob,
I thought your suggestion that this should be a thread of its own was a good one, so I split it off from the Baseball thread.  I don't have much to add, unfortunately, except that I almost always prefer versions of this song performed by New Orleans musicians--they most often end up having that New Orleans celebratory funeral feel.  I think my favorite version is Snooks Eaglins', for a sung version.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2007, 10:19:37 AM »
Robert W. Harwood recently came out with a book, A Rake's Progress, about the evolution of this song. 
I think I'm gonna have to investigate that. In the 1940's song collector A.L. Lloyd spent much time documenting variants of this folksong from informants around the British Isles most of who were in their 70s-80s. These he published in Keynote Music Magazine (January 1947, p. 10-14) as a feature entitled "Background To St James's Infirmary Blues". I guess all this has now been documented by Harwood.

Offline unezrider

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2007, 11:13:26 AM »
hey bricktown,
i was reading what you had written about dylan's 'blind willie mctell' song, & by god! i had never realized that before. wow. what a cool tune, by the way... (he does it really good live).
& for what it's worth my two favorite versions of 'st. james' are the 1959 version by louis armstrong & his allstars (from the 'satch plays king oliver' cd) & jimmie rodgers' take of it called 'gambling bar room blues'.
-i had read somewhere some time ago, that dylan's 'not dark yet' was musically related to the memphis jug band's 'k.c. moan.' (i still can't hear that one, though.)
-chris
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline Pan

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2007, 11:14:49 AM »
Hi there

FWIW Bessie Smiths' Dying Gambler Blues can be heard on the Red Hot jazz site: http://www.redhotjazz.com/bessie.html

I'll leave it to you to decide wether or not it has any resemblance with St. James Infirmary.

Cheers

Pan

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2007, 12:58:48 PM »
FWIW Bessie Smiths' Dying Gambler Blues can be heard on the Red Hot jazz site: http://www.redhotjazz.com/bessie.html

I'll leave it to you to decide wether or not it has any resemblance with St. James Infirmary.

Thanks, Pan!

I'd say not.  And not to McTell's "Dying Gambler," either.  Ah, well.

Offline Rivers

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2007, 09:54:40 PM »
It's late and I think I've got the fact straight here but will correct any minor details tomorrow.

All I know is Jimmie Rodgers Gambling Bar Room Blues lyrics were written in Rodgers' own handwriting shortly before the session on the back of a piece of hotel stationery. The lyrics to St James Infirmary were scribbled on the on the front side.

Porterfield's book cites many sources as saying Ralph Peer tended to pressure Jimmie to come up with new songs, even if they weren't really new, in order to get copyright. There are photographs of the notepaper in the book.

Van Ronk's version is interesting if you know both songs as it combines both the classic St James Infirmary lyric crossed with Gambling Bar Room Blues, with melody and licks likewise copped from both.

Cooljack

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2007, 12:49:22 AM »
The Hokum Boys versions of "Gamblers Blues" are my favorate of those that I have listened too, Jimmie Rodgers does a nice adaption of the song called "Gambling Bar Room Blues" which uses a similar melody and has a few similar lyrics. I've noticed that "Dying Crap Shooters Blues" which I've heard a few versions of also has some quite similar lyrics, safe to say they are all closely related in my opinion.

edit: Just read through the topic and it seems as though im not the only one to mention the Jimmie Rodgers song, oh well still a good song :)
« Last Edit: November 11, 2007, 12:50:29 AM by Cooljack »

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2007, 09:28:57 AM »
Thanks, all.  I'd not heard "Gambling Bar Room Blues" before.  Clearly related, but also clearly, Jimmie's trying for something new (or at least different).  He did a more straightforward version a couple years before called "Those Gambler's Blues," including the usual funeral arrangement section that is missing here.

Offline dave stott

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2007, 12:45:44 PM »
my personal favorite version of this song is done by Arlo Guthrie...

he does an great fingerpicked version and his voice suits the tune as well.

Arlo claims that he stole some of the licks from Dave Van Ronk.

Dave

Offline Michael Kuehn

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2007, 01:18:43 PM »
One of my favorite versions of St James Infirmary is by Josh White.

Mike

Offline Richard

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2007, 01:06:22 PM »
I have sort of copy of the sheet music and it says by Jimmie Rodgers and Shelly Lee Alley......  Shelly Lee Alley now is that a person or a place  ::)

It's in Dm for what thats worth.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

M.Vidrine

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2007, 07:53:35 AM »
On the hillbilly note - listen to Arthur Smith's, Chittlin Cookin' Time in Cheatham County - one of my favorite versions!
Malcolm

Offline Johnm

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2007, 02:29:24 PM »
That's a great call, Malcolm!  The lyrics in "Chittlin'-Cookin' Time" diverge from those of "St. James Infirmary", but the melody is spot on the same.  I don't think I would have noticed that forever, despite knowing both songs for over forty years.  Good one!
All best,
Johnm 

Offline poymando

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Re: St. James Infirmary: Origins and Related Songs
« Reply #14 on: November 26, 2007, 07:10:36 PM »
There is a great "Barroom Blues" done by the cajun band, Dixie Ramblers. (For Bluebird. recorded 8/10/35)
Perhaps this is a cover of the Jimmy Rodgers tune?

 


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