The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #46310 Message #3888684
Posted By: Brian Peters
15-Nov-17 - 07:35 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
"Brian Peters states that there is an Irish version from County Clare which mentions St James, as if this if proof that the words St James had origins this side (ie the European side) of the Atlantic.
"I looked at the version from the Clare web site. Tom Lenihan, The site states that the version was collected in 1976, which is nearly half a century after Armstrong and also post dates the Goldstein Folkways LP. It is an interesting set of lyrics, but for me it isn't evidence that the song has an Irish origin. To give an analogy, I might have arranged and sung it in Wales at about that time, but that would not prove it to be Welsh."
You seem to have missed my point, Karen, and your analogy with some putative 'Welsh version' doesn't remotely resemble the Tom Lenihan situation. I wasn't claiming - and nor was anyone else as far as I can tell - that song has an Irish origin. I was pointing out that the existence of several independent versions of 'Unfortunate Rake' from oral tradition in various countries makes it unlikely that Bert Lloyd was solely responsible for introducing that location to the song, even though it's quite likely he added it to his own version. If you are suggesting that Tom Lenihan somehow got the location from a 1960s LP released in the USA, then you'd have to convince me both that a farmer in Co. Clare had access to the record (maybe Jim can tell us how likely that is), and then identify similarities between Tom Lenihan's text and any of the Goldstein versions.
"anything post the Armstrong may well have been influenced by it. It may be like the story of the folklorists who went to Africa and found a chap playing blues and said This proves the blues came from Africa but it turned out the chap was a big John Lee Hooker fan and had been learning his stuff."
If you believe that TL got it from Armstrong's recording (was he a fan, Jim?), you'd expect there to be more similarities than just the name of the hospital (oh, and the mention of a 'hack'). Since the texts are otherwise completely different, you'd have to assume that TL heard Armstrong via record or radio, then spliced the line about St James Hospital into the version he knew already.
Neither of those seems very likely on the face of it.