Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Printer Friendly - Home
Page: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues

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


Related threads:
(origins) Origins: Der Treue Husar and the Unfortunate Rake (25)
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)
St. James Infirmary (from Josh White) (2)
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)


Big Al Whittle 25 Nov 17 - 10:04 AM
GUEST 25 Nov 17 - 09:26 AM
GUEST,Karen 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 04:05 PM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 03:25 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 02:50 PM
meself 22 Nov 17 - 02:27 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 02:09 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:55 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:47 PM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 01:38 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 11:57 AM
meself 22 Nov 17 - 11:45 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 11:43 AM
Brian Peters 22 Nov 17 - 07:57 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 05:52 AM
Brian Peters 22 Nov 17 - 05:36 AM
meself 21 Nov 17 - 09:20 PM
GUEST,Karen 21 Nov 17 - 08:38 PM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 07:04 PM
Richard Mellish 21 Nov 17 - 05:20 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 02:53 PM
meself 21 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 01:43 PM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 01:25 PM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 17 - 12:20 PM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 17 - 12:08 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 11:49 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 11:36 AM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 11:15 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 08:24 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 08:23 AM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 17 - 05:30 AM
Lighter 20 Nov 17 - 03:38 PM
Big Al Whittle 20 Nov 17 - 11:34 AM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 17 - 10:58 AM
Steve Gardham 20 Nov 17 - 09:54 AM
Lighter 20 Nov 17 - 09:35 AM
Steve Gardham 20 Nov 17 - 09:11 AM
Big Al Whittle 20 Nov 17 - 09:06 AM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 17 - 08:55 AM
GUEST,Karen 20 Nov 17 - 08:16 AM
GUEST,Brian 20 Nov 17 - 08:13 AM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 17 - 07:24 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 17 - 05:26 AM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 17 - 05:08 AM
Big Al Whittle 20 Nov 17 - 04:48 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 17 - 04:26 AM
Steve Gardham 19 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:



Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 10:04 AM

many versions

Dave Berry , the Chesterfield /Sheffield lad had a pop hit.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 09:26 AM

Jazz band at my funeral:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3qKntEq9po


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

Earl Hines


Thanks for the link; had not heard this version.

Wonderful.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 04:05 PM

"not the sort of technique that you write poetry within the Eng Lit sense."
Thanks be to god - as they say over here
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 03:25 PM

yes i can see that. like i say, though its not the sort of technique that you write poetry within the Eng Lit sense.

its a different sort of aesthetic.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:50 PM

Al
There's an Anerican version of The Golden Vanitee which has the lines:
Some were playing cards, some were playing dice
And some were standing 'round giving good advice"
That's vernacular poetry at its best.
I served my apprenticeship on the docks in Liverpool; in the dinner breal the electricians would play chess while the the rest of the scruffs - fitters, labourers.... would play draughts or crib.
THe fist time I heard that verse my mind sprang back to every game I watched during those dinner breaks That's high poetry.

There's an Irish folk tale which sums up what I'm trying to get at perfectly

"What is the finest music in the world?" asked Fionn of his son Ois?n.
"The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge," he answered.
They went around the room and each told what music they believed to be finest. One said the bellowing of a stag across the water, another the baying of a tuneful pack of hounds heard in the distance, and others believed the finest music to be the song of a lark, the laughter of a happy girl, or the whisper of a moved one.
"They are good sounds all," said Fionn
"Tell us," one of them asked him, "What do you think"?
"The music of what happens," said Fionn, "that is the finest music in the world."
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:27 PM

There's nothing to say the speaker is NOT a pimp - my point is simply that he is not necessarily a pimp.

**********

For many years, the only version I knew of this song was that recorded by Earl Hines, which is probably the Armstrong one, which I still haven't gotten round to. Anyway, it's stripped down to four verses (I went down; Let her go; When I die; I want six crap-shooters). I find it powerful poetically - at least as much so as many poems that have the academic seal of approval.

Earl Hines: St. James Infirmary Blues


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:09 PM

"however I can't see much wordcraft in The Streets of Laredo, or St James's Infirmary."
Can't speak too much about American versions Al as I'm not familiar with th vernacular, but the idea of a dying man instructing how a funeral should be conducted is poetic enough for me, as is the terms set out in the confession of sins by many of the characters in the various versions
Most folk songs are based on vernacular speech, which can be as poetic in the extreme wherever it occurs
By the way the "border ballads" are just a fraction of the Child canon (don't think any I mentioned were included)
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:55 PM

Sorry Here's the Gammon link again

http://eprint.ncl.ac.uk/file_store/production/1115/53B11C61-0F97-4A46-A0AE-C28A2320DA87.pdf


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:49 PM

Everything said, I think I may have some sympathy for some of Jim Carroll's agenda.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:47 PM

Hello.

* On the pimp question.

As has probably been said, this is about a verse in the Armstrong version which appears to have been added, almost like a 'floating verse' might be in both the folk tradition (on some accounts) and the blues tradition (on most accounts).

If I am right, in the Armstrong version, the verse is as follows:

Let her go, let her go, God bless here
Wherever she may be
She may search the whole world over
She'll never find another sweet man like me.

Many people have commented on how odd it makes the song feel - a dead girl searching the world for another 'sweet man'. I think Harwood in his book comments on the narrator's 'pathological self regard'.

Harwood found what a version of this verse in a turn-of-century Harvard Song Book. It comes from a completely different song, which has various names (we are getting used to this!).

Something similar appears in the Sandburg book American Song bag, which was widely used as a source by Tin Pan Alley songwriters.

The verse in question, from a song set in St Joe's Infirmary is

Let her go, let her go God bless her
Wherever she may be
There'll never be another like her,
There'll never be another for me.

As usual, there are various versions of the 'original song', but not all of them include the words 'sweet man'. One title of the original is 'Dear Companion', which can be looked up in the Fresno Song Index. That song starts like this:

They say true love is a blessing,
But the blessing I never could see,
For the only girl I ever loved
Has done gone back on me.

She?s gone, let her go, God bless her,
For she?s mine wherever she may be,
You may roam this wide world all over,
But you?ll never find a friend like me.

So it is possible that the words 'sweet man' were introduced deliberately. If you look at the content of the funeral request from the Armstrong version, and in one of the Sandburg versions, the jazz band, chorus girls and gambling context and the booze all refer to the underworld of the 1920s. This was the era of prohibition, after all. It is like a St Orleans jazz funeral mixed up with a big gangster funeral of the time.

It is said that the word 'sweet man' is underworld slang for a pimp.
I don't have a dictionary of Black American slang but I did find an online one which said that this usage was known in the Caribbean.

Given this piece of information, and the contextual information about the smart dressing character, I think the pimp interpretation is a valid one, though who knows what was in the mind of whoever threw together the lyrics for the Armstrong recording.

I don't think this line of thought can be dismissed as a 21st century bit of academicism: have a look at the character portrayed by Cab Calloway here. Shiftiness incarnated, and a brilliant interpretation/characterisation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcXSbCXxGzw

As it happens, on the actual words of St James' Infirmary, I can find no explicit hints about 'clap'. I think perhaps we are reading this into the song because we have decided it comes from The Unfortunate Lad.

* On Shakespeare being 'humble son of a glove maker': I like the assonance and rhythm here. Nicely put. But his father was middle class, and so was Shakespeare. (Ben Elton's latest brilliant comedy notwithstanding)

A well-to-do glover and whittawer (leather worker) by trade, Shakespeare was a dealer in hides and wool, and was elected to several municipal offices, serving as an alderman and culminating in a term as bailiff, the chief magistrate of the town council, and Mayor of Stratford in 1568, before he fell on hard times for reasons unknown.[3] His fortunes later revived and he was granted a coat of arms five years before his death, probably at the instigation and expense of his playwright son as well as his contributions in civic duty.

* On sheath and knife as 'brilliant sexual metaphor': well, yes if you were, for example, writing a first-person noire thriller narrative. Otherwise &ZZ%^$£^*&*&XX!

* On the relationship between oral and print traditions: I'm not certain one can make too many broad generalisations, but I did find this an interesting outline of some of the issues. I've come across several discussions of this sort, with various positions taken. It may be 'donnish 'but it is interesting. And peer reviewed. What he says about the blind man and the elephant is spot on, I thought.

Intro to Vic Gammon

But probably all that should be for another thread?

Thank you for reading this far.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:38 PM

well yes, of course theres lyricism in the border ballads and various folksongs,

however I can't see much wordcraft in The Streets of Laredo, or St James's Infirmary...cold as the clay in fact.

This aspect of songwriting i first saw pointed out by Stephen Sondheim.

If you started a short story "It was a beautiful day" Your creative writing teacher would say how hackneyed, can't you express that more powerfully?

And yet.... at the start of Oklahoma, when the young cowboys steps out from the backdrop cornfield and the painted backdrop and sings Oh What a beautiful morning!. Its powerful theatrically. It takes the audience right there.

Songwriting is a different craft to poetry and verse writing.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:57 AM

"The words aren't really poetical, in the way that someone like Ewan MacColl with great awareness of language."
I don't think you could be more wrong about this Al - MacColl was one of the great advocates of the poetic power of the vernacular speech which went into the making of our folk songs and ballads

"I saw the new moon yestereen wi' the auld moon in its Arms" - a beautiful description of a haloed moon
Or this brilliant example of black folk humour
"O laith, laith (loath, loath) were our gude Scots lords
Tae wet their cork-heelt (heeled) shuin (shoes);
But lang or aw the play wis done
They wet their hats abuin. (above) "
"I once was fu' o' Gil Morrice as the hip is of the stone" - was there a more powerfully beautiful description of pregnancy than comparing it to a rose hip berry with its huge stone and its wafer thin layer of skin?
Even songs like Van Dieman's land with its simple description of a view from aboard a ship in the middle of the ocean, "all around us one black water and above us one blue sky"   
"It?s I would sleep in Jimmy's arms, though his grave was growing green ? magnificent!
"Sheath and Knife? " a brilliant sexual metaphor
This is vernacular poetry at its very finest.

MacColl's very best songs (in my opinion) were those lifted directly from vernacular speech; Freeborn Man came from hours of actuality recorded from Travellers (I have many of the original recordings, but you only have to listen to one Radio Ballad to see what I mean)
'Shoals of Herring' - straight from the words of Sam Larner and fellow East Anglian fisherman, Ronnie Balls - Sam Larner found the song so convincing he once said he'd been listening to it all his life though he couldn't remember ever hearing it sung by anybody
'Shellback' taken directly from the words of merchant seaman Ben Bright, who served under sail, jumped ship to join The Wobblies and was discovered working as an escapologist's assistant on London Bridge
'Tenant Farmer' based on an interview with Scottish border formers who had been evicted from their farms to make room for the Multinationals and Forestation.
'Freeborn Man' taken from the interviews with Minty Smith, Belle Stewart and Gordon Boswell.
This is why I believe the suggestion that our folk songs originated on the broadside presses to be utter nonsense - the city-based hacks would have to have been fully conversant with vernacular speech, folklore, social history and rural and maritime work practices to create such poetic gems

Having said that, I do believe that there is always a danger of these discussions taking flights of academic fantasy
Typical is Phillips Barry's notorious note to one of the most beautiful descriptions of a local drowning tragedy in the repertoire, Lake of Col Finn, where, by the use of metaphysical gibberish he turns the death of a young man into a mystical tale of water-sprites, magical islands and malignant seaweed.
There are some signs that this is beginning to happen here; this is simply a song of a young man or woman dying of the clap; everything else is charactarisation.
These songs are basically straightforward stories presented in the language of the day (wherever and whenever that "day" may be.

MacColl always insisted on comparing the language of our folk songs and ballads to that of Shakespeare - there's a great deal of evidence to support that
Shakespeare (simple son of a glove-maker) borrowed liberally from contemporary folklore and custom; why not vernacular language?
One of the things we were encouraged to do in the Critics Group was to analyse the songs and learn to use every aspect of their construction in our performances
Returning to those songs after decades of not having sung them, I am now realising the value of having adopted that practice, my songs work as well for me now as they did forty or fifty years ago, if not better
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:45 AM

So, Al, what is 'donnish': the use of the term 'sensationalism' or the criticism of the groundless and irrelevant insistence that the 'voice' is that of a pimp? Or is it that only someone as far removed from reality as a 'don' would think that there could be something 'sensationalistic' about trying to bring a pimp into the picture? Please clarify.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:43 AM

ah! good point Brian! crudely sensationalist to a train spotter is a train with the wrong number on it. for the rest of us its the train leaving the station and the woman's skirt is stuck in the train door and gets whipped off, but no one notices because an atom bomb goes off.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 07:57 AM

"The whole tone of this conversation is donnish in the extreme."

Donnish conversations between music nerds is one of the reasons for Mudcat's existence. Like I said before, it doesn't interfere at all with enjoyment of songs for their own sake. Their 'significance to modern listeners' is an element I would always want to discuss at events like the Lewes Ballad Forum in ten days time.

Much of it is doggerel set to a catchy tune.

Some of it is. Some of it is real poetry and, even though the tunes may once have been merely catchy, they often sound strange and even magical to modern ears, as witness the many beautiful modal tunes to 'Unfortunate Lad / Lass'.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 05:52 AM

Sensationalism! The whole tone of this conversation is donnish in the extreme.

Personally I find the modern manifestations of these songs, and their significance to modern listeners and readers - really more interesting, because you CAN take a guess at what people who are living are experiencing. I don't really have any idea of how these songs were experienced by people in history.

Fascinating also that the potency of the piece lies in the compound of the words and music. The words aren't really poetical, in the way that someone like Ewan MacColl with great awaremness of language.

Much of it is doggerel set to a catchy tune.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 05:36 AM

"I can see at most three common features between the St James Infirmary / Gambler's Blues family and the Unfortunate Rake family, and two of those are tenuous. The only strong one is the funeral requests. But we are quite familiar with floating verses that crop up in songs that are otherwise distinct. Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen. So the description of the desired funeral could be borrowed and re-used in a song that is otherwise entirely separate, not a descendant.

The "St James" name seems to belong in only a very few "Unfortunate Rake" versions, and again could have been borrowed.


I can see you are a sceptic on this issue, Richard, but I take issue with several of those points.

1. We have at least three 'Unfortunate Lass' (my shorthand title) variants mentioning St James (there's an additional one from Ontario claimed on the Folkways LP), plus Maynard's account (see Lighter above) that this was the usual opening line. If anything, the link between 'St James' and 'Gamblers Blues' is the more tenuous (since it seems to have been added for copyrighting reasons) and might conceivably have arisen independently from a hospital in Orleans. Though that would represent quite a coincidence.

2. There is no comparison here with the 'rose and briar' motif. 'Fair Margaret & Sweet William' and 'Barabra Allen' each has a lengthy and coherent tale to tale, with two stanzas' worth of 'rose/briar' tagged on at the end. The funeral isn't just tagged on to the song in the present case, it is the song.

3. Comparable funeral arrangements crop up in the 'Wild and Wicked Youth' song family, but again in that case they are an addendum to what is a coherent song in its own right.

You mention 'three common features' and believe that all are arguable. But let's leave out 'St. James' for a moment, and compare the essentials of the jazz version with the plot as related in English versions of 'Unfortunate Lass':

1. The narrator visits a hospital

2. There a young woman is seriously ill (and 'cold')

3. A doctor has been summoned, but is unable to help

4. A funeral is planned

5. The coffin is to be accompanied by six mourners of each sex

6. Alcoholic refreshments will be served ('a glass of brown ale' in Adams)

Add to that the elements turning up in the jazz version that are present in the cowboy version (which is indisputably a descendant of the British ballad) such as the 'bar-room' setting and the detail that the male pall bearers are 'gamblers', and also the fact that at least one 'Gamblers Blues' has flowers scattered on the coffin as per the English texts.

There is also the recurring suggestion (albeit subliminal in some cases) that prostitution is involved, which recalls the fate of the Young Sailor back in England.

I don't necessarily see a linear progression from Sailor / Young girl through Cowboy and thence to Gambler. It's more complicated than that, and to me the jazz song looks like a composite (in which, incidentally, the storyline is not coherent) possibly drawing on both strains.

Although we don't have a silver bullet yet, there are more links than I could explain away as coincidences.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 09:20 PM

"Our gambling man is a pimp."

He may well be - but to insist that he is smacks of sensationalism. Clearly, his life involves barrooms, booze, box-back coats, high-roller hats, twenty-dollar gold-pieces, crap-shooters, chorus girls or 'whore-girls', etc. - but there is nothing to suggest is a pimp per se, and it hardly matters.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:38 PM

Brian
20th Nov 8.55
Agree that some people have used 'blanket' titles, as you say. Obviously not a mortal sin, but if you aren't aware of this, maybe because they aren't explicit, it can cause confusion, and I say this on the basis that I have been confused. It's a good point to flag up, as you did.
Another thing that can get confusing is when people don't specify whether they are referring to a tune or to words, or, perhaps to both. I think there is some confusion in discussion online (not necessarily this thread) because, I am realising, one and possibly more than one tune called "The Unfortunate Rake" was used for/with unrelated lyrics.


******

Nice point made above about uncertainty and the mystique of folk.

*****
It is true that various unrelated songs end with funerals.

There are also some unrelated old songs about 'clap'. I think there was one in Samuel Pepys' collection of ballads. A US uni, forget which now, but it could be googled, has indexed these and digitised some.

At this point I will hazard a 'theory' as opposed to constitional scepticism, happy for it to be shredded, maybe we have so many late 19th century lock hospital songs because of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which were passed, I believe because the military was losing so many sick days to it. It was a big issue in the Crimean war. At first the laws allowing them to forcibly take in prostitutes only applied in selected towns with barracks, including I think, but this could be checked Cork and Dublin. I think there were some hospitals created at the time. I'm guessing most folk tried to buy over the counter quack cures,even if they were sure what they had. Hospital cost money and many would not let infectious people in. Not claiming the song did not exist prior to that, but it seems to have been printed all over at the
I conjecture only.

I wonder whether this would have been sung by the squaddies of those times, who no doubt sang all sorts when 'in their cups'?

Another marginal point is the pipe and drum: these were mainly battlefield signalling instruments, the pitches suitable to carry over noise. I know you get them in marching bands. I don't think you were allowed a military funeral for dying of the pox. Somebody mentioned the death march, and you guessed it, several composers wrote one.


I have certainly got some new and interesting ideas from this discussion.

Thank you


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 07:04 PM

****Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen.****

Hi, Richard, I will be raising this very point on Saturday at the Sheffield Broadside TSF meeting.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 05:20 PM

I've now read the Harwood book, apart from the appendices, but it has left me pretty confused, partly because a lot of the information seems very peripheral, if relevant at all, such as the words of some entirely unrelated songs. Maybe I'll do better if I read it again.

Harwood does offer one suggestion for making sense of the "Let her go" verse, but I can't tell how seriously. He points out that the clothing requested for the funeral was characteristic of two types of men, gamblers and pimps. So he combines them: "Our gambling man is a pimp. His baby, so sweet, so pale, and so dead, was one of his girls. He, of course, is the best of pimps. He cares for his women. He keeps them off the streets. And though they might search far and wide, they'll never find a sweeter pimp than he".

I can see at most three common features between the St James Infirmary / Gambler's Blues family and the Unfortunate Rake family, and two of those are tenuous. The only strong one is the funeral requests. But we are quite familiar with floating verses that crop up in songs that are otherwise distinct. Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen. So the description of the desired funeral could be borrowed and re-used in a song that is otherwise entirely separate, not a descendant.

The "St James" name seems to belong in only a very few "Unfortunate Rake" versions, and again could have been borrowed.

And there is the frame, where someone (the singer) goes somewhere (a bar room, an infirmary, The Royal Albion, The streets of Laredo / etc) and sees a son/daughter/friend/sweetheart either dead or dying.

As I said, I'm still confused!

It would be helpful to have the words of enough versions together in one place. A few days ago Brian said "what we really need is Richie Matteson on the case." There are a few posts from Guest Richie way up thread.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 02:53 PM

Joan O'Bryant sings "Tom Sherman's Barroom" to a modal tune slightly resembling Iron Head Baker's song on "America Ballads and Folksongs" (Folkways, 1958). She learned it from a singer in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Hear the tune:


https://www.amazon.com/American-Ballads-Folksongs-Joan-OBryant/dp/B000S96POS/ref=sr_1_2?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1511293773&sr=1-2-m


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM

I believe that would have been in close proximity to the House of the Rising Sun. Discuss.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 01:43 PM

New Orleans "Daily Delta" (May 29, 1862), p.1:

"HEADQUARTERS MILITARY COMMANDANT'S OFFICE, New Orleans, May 27, 1862.

"General Orders No. 5.

"...II. The Medical Director at St. James Hospital will cause a consolidated report of the sick in his charge to made daily at these headquarters, to be sent in at 9 o'clock A.M."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 01:25 PM

Brian, that's interesting as the Adams version is a 'Young girl cut down' variant. Somewhat bizarrely I used this tune myself as the B music of a tune I put together in jig time and had only heard it sung as a waltz before. I actually collected a full version of 'The Sailor Cut Down' to that tune.

I think I already hinted at this but all of the earlier British 'Young Girl cut down' variants have no mention of any hospital until we get to the Somerset version collected in 1936 which has 'Bath Hospital'. I think there would be a lot to learn from a detailed study regarding the likely transmission routes. It is interesting how the songs have passed almost freely between genders.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 12:20 PM

The tune as printed for 'The Wandering Harper' in Crosby's Irish Musical Repository, linked previously by Karen, has the A and B parts of the tune reversed, as in TTA #2, which is why I didn't recognize it at first.

Looking at some of the other English tunes to Roud 2, none of them is as close a fit as the Adams one, but several are of that ilk. Others, like Harry Cox's, are straight major, rather than Dorian, and it's harder to see more than a vague resemblance there.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 12:08 PM

Steve, I think I may have what you're looking for:

Exhibit A: Unfortunate Rake in the Traditional Tune Archive, version #1 from Ryan (1883).

Exhibit B: 'The Doctor' from Henry Adams, coll. George Gardiner 1906. This goes with a a recognizable Roud 2 text (with some interesting idiosyncracies).

The first bar is identical, and the shapes of the two tunes are sufficiently close that I would say they are clearly related, though obviously the song has half the number of bars.

Anyone agree with me?

Thanks for the Thorp text, Lighter.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:49 AM

Steve, the two best-known tunes to "The Cowboy's Lament" (one often associated with the "Streets of Laredo" words" and the other with "Tom Sherman's Barroom") bear no resemblance that I can hear to "Rake" tunes I'm familiar with.

The exception is MacColl's "Trooper Cut Down in his Prime," which is clearly the "same" as "The Streets of Laredo" (and "The Bard of Armagh").

However, there are some less familiar tunes to variants of the "Lament" that I can't comment on offhand except to say that one or two are modal in nature.

I'm I right in recalling that the "Streets of Laredo" tune used for one of the "Dying Girl" texts on the Folkways album?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:36 AM

From Jack Thorp's 1908 booklet, "Songs of the Cowboys," including all misprints:

                         COW BOYS LAMENT

'Twas once in my saddle I used to be happy
'Twas once in my saddle I sued to be gay
But I first took to drinking, then to gambling
A shot from a six-shooter took my life away.

My curse let it rest, let it rest on the fair one
Who drove me from friends that I loved and from home
Who told me she loved me, just to deceive me
My curse rest upon her, wherever she roam.

Oh she was fair, Oh she was lovely
The belle of the Village the fairest of all
But her heart was as cold as the snow on the mountain
She gave me up for the glitter of gold.

I arrived in Galveston in old Texas
Drinking and gambling I went to give o'er
But, I met with a Greaser and my life he has finished
Home and relations I'll never see more.

Send for my father, Oh send for mother
Send for the surgeon to look at my wounds
But I fear it is useless I feel I am dying
I'm a young cow-boy cut down in my bloom.

Farewell my friends, farewell my relations
My earthly career has cost me sore
The cow-boy ceased talking, they knew he was dying
His trials on earth forever were o'er.

Chor. Beat your drums lightly, play your fifes merrily
Sing your dearth march as you bear me along
Take me to the grave yard, lay the sod o'er me
I'm a young cow-boy and I know I've done wrong.


My guess is that this is somebody's (Thorp's?) idiosyncratic rewrite of a more conventional text; it is based, perhaps, on a desire to approximate the original song from a faulty recollection.

Thorp commented elsewhere that collecting songs fro cowboys was difficult because few of the singers knew all the words!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:15 AM

I'm sorry if this has already been established, but looking through most of the earlier American more learned notes on the song there is constant reference to 'The Unfortunate Rake' tune being the same tune as early versions of The Dying Cowboy and related pieces. Is this just because of the confusion created by Kidson/Broadwood/Sharp or are there real connections between the dance tune TUR and any version of the family, or is this just a red herring created by the similarity of names. I'm not sufficiently musical to opine on this.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:24 AM

Will post Thorp 1908 later today.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:23 AM

> which was itself a collation

Precisely.

With a few lines of extraneous poetry intruding in italics!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 05:30 AM

"Thorp presents a peculiar problem. He explains in 1921 that he "first heard it sung" in Nebraska in 1886. That's presumably true, but the text he prints in 1921 comes from Lomax 1910."

... which was itself a collation, hence the unusual number of verses?

Sorry, I've been a bit slow on the uptake here.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 03:38 PM

Thorp presents a peculiar problem. He explains in 1921 that he "first heard it sung" in Nebraska in 1886. That's presumably true, but the text he prints in 1921 comes from Lomax 1910.

Thorp's 1908 text - which may or may not be the one he heard in 1886 - is very different.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 11:34 AM

years ago i was in a folk club in Majorca and I heard a version of Street of Laredo sung by a young American ex-pat

AS I was a walking
One day in Majorca
As I was a walking through the Plaza Major
I spied a young tourist sad and crestfallen
drinking champagne sangria and a large fundador.

I see by your camera that you are a tourist
Oh I have a camera and sunglasses too
But I've got diarrhoea, and I caught it here
So now I'm afraid I must dash to the loo


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 10:58 AM

"Maynard evidently told Sires specifically (and without knowledge of this thread) that he adapted his "Dying Cowboy" directly from a version of "The Dying Girl" which included the name "St. James Hospital."

Ker-pow! Another piece of the jigsaw pops into place. Thanks for that.

I've had a look at the Thorp (1921) book that I downloaded this morning. The 'Cowboy's Lament' in there begins 'As I walked out in the streets of Laredo' and was apparently "credited to Troy Hale, Battle Creek, Nebraska... I [Thorp] first heard it sung in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886"

It's very similar to the Maynard text above, except for the first line, the substitution of 'cowboy' for 'ranger' throughout, and two additional verses, one beginning 'my friends and relations they live in the nation', and another 'swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly' (in addition to the usual drums and fifes stanza).

Is this likely to be authentic, and if so does it represent another 'new composition', this time based on Maynard's?

The court decision notes: "In March, 1929, the plaintiffs revived the old song under the title 'St. James' Infirmary.' *The infirmary heretofore unidentified was given a name* [my emphasis - L]. They put forward an advertising and publicity campaign to sell the old composition under the new name."

This passed me by the last time you posted it. Do you think it fair to assume that in introducing 'St James' to 'Gambler's Blues' in order to make it a 'new song', the authors were drawing on their knowledge of the old 'Dying Girl' song? Could it possibly be coincidence?

[Al]
"I meant what are the consequences for us as people who sing these songs..."

There need be none, Al. Enjoy the song for what it is, and be bothered about the history only if that sort of thing interests you. Though having said that' I fear it does affect my personal attitude to a song if I find it was cobbled together in the 1960s so, although I enjoy Bert singing his version of 'St James', I'd research a different one to sing myself.

"there are a lot of songs about funerals, Brian. Finnegans Wake, Barbara Allen, Teenage Cremation..... If I add a verse about six pall bearers to these songs do they become related to The Streets of Laredo and St James's Infirmary?"

No, and I'm not sure I'd want to hear 'Teenage Cremation' in the first place....

"Talking of Hamish Imlach - I wonder if you remember how he used to do Black is the Colour - like a blues song, really swinging that Aminor chord. always sounded odd to me."

Didn't sound half as odd as Lizzie Roberts (the original source of the song, from Hot Springs, NC) singing it to Maud Karpeles accompanying herself on a harmonium in a resolutely major key.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 09:54 AM

Unless those claims can be proved inaccurate or wrong, Jon, I would be very happy to accept that account. What he wrote is sufficiently different to 'The Dying Girl's Lament' to warrant being called a new song and therefore no issue with copyrighting it. At worst it could be called a parody. It also takes 'St James Infirmary' use in the States back to before 1876 which is more relevant to this thread.

I'll have another look at my versions of TDC in respect of variation and see if that throws up any points of interest.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 09:35 AM

Posted to an earlier thread, but may be of interest here:

The U.S. law journal Northeastern Reporter (1932, Vol. 181, p. 58) acknowledges a 1930 copyright suit concerning "St. James Infirmary."

The court decision notes: "In March, 1929, the plaintiffs revived the old song under the title 'St. James' Infirmary.' *The infirmary heretofore unidentified was given a name* [my emphasis - L]. They put forward an advertising and publicity campaign to sell the old composition under the new name."

The song in question was credited to "Joe Primrose" (actually Irving Mills) of Gotham Music Service. A year later a rival publisher put out a similar song with the same title. Hence the lawsuit.

And from further notes I've made:

Harwood asserts that cowboy Francis Henry Maynard "copyrighted" the cowboy version in 1876. While supporting Maynard's claim, his biography by Jim Hoy, Cowboy's Lament (2010), makes no mention of a copyright, which would seem highly improbable anyway.

Maynard published a booklet of his verse titled "Rhymes of the Range and Trail" (1911) which included the following:


THE DYING COWBOY

As I rode down by Tom Sherman's bar-room,
Tom Sherman's bar-room so early one day,
There I espied a handsome young ranger
All wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay.
"I see by your outfit that you are a ranger,"
The words that he said as I went riding by,
"Come sit down beside me, and hear my sad story,
I'm shot through the breast and I know I must die.

Chorus:
Then muffle the drums and play the dead marches;
Play the dead marches as I'm carried along;
Take me to the church-yard and lay the sod o'er me,
I'm a young ranger and I know I've done wrong.

"Go bear a message to my grey-haired mother
Go break the news to gently to my sister so dear,
But never a word of this place do you mention,
As they gather around you my story to hear.
Then there is another as dear as a sister,
Who will bitterly weep when she knows I am gone,
But another more worthy may win her affection,
For I'm a young ranger ? I know I've done wrong."

Chorus

"Once in my saddle I used to be dashing;
Once in my saddle, I used to be brave;
But I first took to gambling, from that to drinking,
And now in my prime, I must go to my grave.
Go gather around you a crowd of gay rangers,
Go tell them the tale of their comrade's sad fate,
Tell each and all to take timely warning,
And leave their wild ways before it's too late."

Chorus

"Go, now, and bring me a cup of cold water,
To bathe my flushed temples," the poor fellow said.
But ere I returned, the spirit had left him,
Had gone to is Giver ? the ranger was dead.
So we muffled the drums and played the dead marches,
We bitterly wept as we bore him along,
For we all loved the ranger, so brave and so handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he'd done wrong.


Maynard told a journalist in 1924:

"During the winter of 1876 I was working for a Grimes outfit which had started north with a trail herd [from Texas]...We were wintering on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas river on the border of Kansas....

"One of the favorite songs of the cowboys in those days was called 'The Dying Girl's Lament,' the story of a girl who had been betrayed by her lover...

"I had often amused myself by trying to write verses, and one dull winter day in camp to while away the time I began writing a poem which could be sung to the tune of 'The Dying Girl's Lament.' I made it a dying ranger or a cowboy....

"After I had finished the new words to the song I sang it to the boys in the outfit. They liked it and began singing it. It became popular with boys in other outfits ...and from that time on I heard it sung everywhere on the range and the trail."

Not long after this interview, Maynard told song collector Ina Sires that "he wrote the words to fit the tune of an old song that used to be sung by the cowboys called 'The Dying Girl's Lament,' which was the story of a girl dying in a hospital, and which began like this:

"'As I walked down by St. James Hospital, St. James Hospital so early one day, etc.' The song was accepted by the cowboys."


Maynard evidently told Sires specifically (and without knowledge of this thread) that he adapted his "Dying Cowboy" directly from a version of "The Dying Girl" which included the name "St. James Hospital."

While Maynard was apparently responsible for *one* adaptation of "The Dying Girl's Lament," there's no way to know if he was truly the first (or the only one) to adapt the song to the American West. No "cowboy" text before Thorp's very different (and oddly "literary") one (1908) seems to survive.

Lomax's extensive conflation (1910) suggests that by then the song was well known in various texts.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 09:11 AM

There are 2 ways of looking at umbrella titles from a researcher's point. They can get in the way of accuracy if misused as seems to be the case with 'The Unfortunate Rake'. However, in everyday discussion
it would be impractical if not impossible to keep referring to Child 295B or Laws P27a or Roud 27798 or ODNR 364, so to counter this I use my own Master Title index alongside these 4 systems. This is based upon the most frequently used published title. When I'm studying a particular ballad and comparing all of the versions, if a particular version comes without the singer's title and only gives an umbrella title I leave it blank to avoid inaccuracy.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 09:06 AM

Thankyou Brian. That's very good of you to explain that.

When I said - what are the consequences, I don't mean the consequences for mankind.

I meant what are the consequences for us as people who sing these songs...

there are a lot of songs about funerals, Brian. Finnegans Wake, Barbara Allen, Teenage Cremation..... If I add a verse about six pall bearers to these songs do they become related to The Streets of Laredo and St James's Infirmary?

Talking of Hamish Imlach - I wonder if you remember how he used to do Black is the Colour - like a blues song, really swinging that Aminor chord. always sounded odd to me.

if we had the all important DNA tests and St James's infirmary is proved to be Irish. What are the consequences - shall we add a verse about hurling, drop a few begorrahs into the lyrics....?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 08:55 AM

Thank you, Karen.

"I would add that there is also some room for questioning whether there was ever a version of these lyrics specifically entitled by their singers 'The Unfortunate Rake'. "

As far as I can see, most traditional singers titled their songs by first line or chorus. It was the collectors who allocated titles according to Child's nomenclature or their own invention, and tried to stick to them to identify variants as members of a family, rather as Steve Roud's numbering system has done for us more recently (and a lot more reliably).

For instance, Cecil Sharp insisted on calling Appalachian examples of Roud 15 'Cruel Ship's Carpenter' when I suspect the locals called it 'Pretty Polly'. But that did at least mean he placed it in the same bracket as the English song of that name.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 08:16 AM

Tarn it!

I got muddled up and put the wrong name in the 'From' box, when I was just thanking Brian for his summary of where we are at.

Very sorry for any misunderstandings that may follow.

The man who is said to have copyrighted cowboy's lament was Frank Maynard.

:0


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Brian
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 08:13 AM

Thank you for this excellent summary.

My own opinion is a) that nobody really knows, and that nobody will ever know 'the whole truth', b) all we can do is make inferences, some of which some people may find persuasive, some not and also, c) without wishing to call anybody a 'liar' (Harwood disagrees that Blind Willie McTell wrote "the dying crapshooter's blues" even though McTell claimed that he did, but does not call him a liar), there is reason to be a tad sceptical about what one reads in early journals, and even in the methods and findings about people collecting in the field.   

I would add that there is also some room for questioning whether there was ever a version of these lyrics specifically entitled by their singers 'The Unfortunate Rake'. The early references to this title are references to what I have learned on this very helpful thread thread may be more than one 'air', or melody, of this name, which also has a number of other names, which seems to have been a dance tune at some point, and whose origin is also obscure. The idea that the words/a version/variant (is there a technical difference in folkloric theory between a version and a variant) of this air at some point were joined up with the song whose 19th century title was mostly The Unfortunate Lad is, I humbly suggest, an inference, and most probably one entrenched in people's minds as a result of the work of A L Lloyd. But one reason for my coming on this thread was to see if anybody could provide me with, say, evidence from the 19th century of the actual use of those words with that title. I hope I have not muddled this up: this is how I understand it.

By the way, I have nothing against "Bert" Lloyd. I never met him, but it is said in literature I have found that he was likeable. He obviously managed to get on good enough terms with the English Folk Dance and Song Society. But some of his 'politics' strike one as almost wilfully naive with the wisdom of hindsight. I am thinking of a passage from his book on English Folk Song, a book which demonstrates to me a lack of ability to keep to the topic as opposed to going off at tangents, and does not feel to me look remotely 'academic'. Reading it after the horrors of the break up of the former Yugoslavia, not to mention the demise of British coal mining, I found this:

Things have changed a bit in the last few years. In some parts of Europe, and particularly in the folkloristically rich South-east the general democratic trend has set a different pattern in what Americans like to call the 'collector-informant context'. A Balkan collective farm peasant is no longer daunted by the man in collar and tie, any more than a Durham miner by the fellow from the BBC. The increase of working class self confidence offers new and more favourable conditions for discovering the full physiology of musical folklore, blood, flesh and wounds, and not merely its anatomy."

I hadn't seen Thorp Fife and Fife. Thanks for the reference. On cowboy versions, Harwood gives the name of a man who claimed to have copyrighted it in the 19th century: cannot just recall it now. That's another story from Harwood. Definitely a good read. Actually, I find him more readable than Lloyd.

Have a nice day, everybody.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 07:24 AM

"Brian, Karen, and Steve, are you familiar with the comprehensive collation of cowboy versions in Thorp, Fife, and Fife's "Songs of the Cowboys" (1966)?"

No. I did manage to download Thorp's earlier book free, but I can only see the one you're talking about available from US sellers where there would be a shipping issue. I should definitely like to see it, though. Thanks.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 05:26 AM

"It poses many questions in particular the role of the singer in creating the song"
Plenty of evidence that they did create songs
Dig out the BBC recording of the Hebridean singers creating a song on the spot in praise of Alan Lomax's sexual attributes
We have a description of four men standing at the crossroads of the next village from here, tossing verses at each other until they's made a seven verse song
Another of a group of young, non-literate Travellers sitting on a grassy bank outside a church making a long song about how the wedding that was taking place would turn out

penultimate verse
"Oh the first year were were married was lovely
And the second we couldn't agree
An the third one she put on the trousers
And then made a wreck out of me"

That's why it is nonsense to suggest that singers had to rely on print for their songs
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 05:08 AM

"what exactly are the consequences of this bloke ever having come across an American version of the Unfortunate Rake"

Hi Al,
Perhaps this comment is a timely reminder that when a bunch of specialists get to discussing fine details, then the overall picture may be obscured. I still like to think of Mudcat as a resource for the curious, so, to briefly answer your question:

It's been accepted wisdom for many years in the folk revival that an English song called 'The Unfortunate Rake' was the precursor of 'St James Infirmary' partly because of the funeral arrangements with six pall bearers etc, but also because there were thought to be versions of the English song set in 'St James' Hospital'.

More recently, some researchers like Karen here have disputed this, on the grounds that no English versions of the song actually mention 'St James Hospital', a line that seems to been interpolated into the song by Bert Lloyd, from an Appalachian version.

There is a single Irish version (Tom Lenihan's) that does include the 'St James' line. But this was collected after the Louis Armstrong recording had become a hit, so the possibility arises that 'St James' went into the Irish version from America, not the other way round. There are plenty of examples of traditional singers being influenced by commercial recordings, but in this case there are strong reasons (as Jim and I have explained) to believe otherwise.

I don't know whether or not this will convince you that it's a matter of great import when the rest of the world is falling apart around our ears, but to those of us interested in this kind of stuff it certainly is.

"Not knowing a lot about music. I never really understood about how the Streets of Laredo related in any way to St James's Infirmary."

In many ways you'd regard them as different songs, but the basic plot is that someone has died and a funeral is being arranged. Then compare:

Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall

with:

Get six gamblers to carry my coffin
Six chorus girls to sing me a song

Too close to be coincidental, I would think. Then you have less well-known versions of the cowboy song that include the line: 'As I passed by Tom Sherman's bar room', which chimes with 'old Joe's bar-room'.

Just because it's a great recording, here's Tom Sherman's bar-room.

And, again because it's a wonderful performance that deserves its own blue clicky, here's Iron Head Baker's version, which includes verses that look like they belong to English, cowboy and jazz versions.

It's not easy to determine the exact sequence of events, but the three songs are very clearly entangled.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 04:48 AM

I agree Jim - its the fragmentary nature of our knowledge and insights that, if anything give a mythic power to folksong.

It poses many questions in particular the role of the singer in creating the song. It is easy nowadays to see footage of singers. But even someone as recent and even recorded people like Robert Johnson - we know very little - we can only guess at his techniques and the roots from which he distilled his art.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 17 - 04:26 AM

This entire discussion seems to be based on the idea that, if it hasn't been collected it has never existed.
A widespread and detailed knowledge of our song traditions does not predate the beginning of the twentieth century when field research began in earnest and the researchers insisted that they were dealing with a long term tradition that was on its last legs.
A folk song sung by 'shepherds' was reported as early as 1549, which indicates an oral tradition at least as early as that - that song was still in the oral tradition and being collected into the tatter half of the twentieth century
Hardly surprising that a single location can't be traced.
Our knowledge of the tradition represents a tiny blip of a long-standing and wide-ranging cultural activity
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM

I have Thorp and 2 editions of Fife. I have also done my own studies of all the versions at my disposal not particularly looking at the named locations as I know how fickle these can be in transmission. Looking back at my study apart from adding a few obscure versions I can't really add substantially to the discussions here.

My study is nowhere near as comprehensive as those carried out by Richie, being mainly concerned with similar versions and possible evolutions, but like Richie I do try to categorise different oecotypes using comparisons stanza by stanza and picking out obvious characteristics such as the gender of the main character.
He's about ready to start on a new song family and I could ask him to have a go at this one, but I doubt he'll be able to add any opinions other than those already expressed. He is, however very thorough and if there are any 'St James's' versions earlier than 1900 he's your man to find them.

The misleading title 'The Unfortunate Rake' introduced by Kidson/Broadwood and perpetrated by the likes of Bert Lloyd doesn't seem to be relevant here unless the two tunes can be seen to be related.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
Next Page

  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 18 January 1:03 AM EST

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.