|Sheet Music. Photo Original|
Another mournful folk song similar to The House of the Rising Sun would be St. James Infirmary Blues. St. James Infirmary is another sad song depicting a drunken gambler who is forlorn due to the loss of the woman he loved in a hospital named St. James. Much like The House of the Rising Sun, St. James Infirmary Blues is the product of an 18th century English folk-song, possibly a Joe Primrose. The original version of this song was named The Unfortunate Rake, and occasionally, The Unfortunate Lad, and The Young Man Cut Down in his Prime. The early rendition of this tune discussed the life of an English soldier who frittered his money away on alcohol and prostitutes. The song ends when the soldier dies due to complications of a venereal disease. When the song migrated to America, the tune instead dealt with the loss of a significant other or one's own struggle with gambling and alcohol addiction. Strangely, however, the song, St. James Infirmary Blues was named after an English leprosy hospital in London that closed its doors in 1532. During the 1800's the song would be transcribed in different ways, played in major and minor keys, and even evolved into songs such a The Streets of Laredo.
Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Cab Calloway's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Arlo Guthrie's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Eric Clapton's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Joe Cocker's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Doc Watson's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Click here to listen to Hugh Laurie's version of St. James Infirmary Blues.
Since 1900, the song has been recorded dozens of times by famous musicians. The song has also adapted a certain tonality that each musician tweaks and augments to fit their own style. The first known recording of St. James Infirmary Blues was by Louis Armstrong in 1928. Since then the song has been recorded by legends such as Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Son House, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Hank Williams Junior, Jerry Lee Lewis, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Eric Clapton, Doc Watson, Van Morrison, James Booker, Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Danny Barker, Jerry Reed, and many others. Recently, the song has been recorded by Hugh Laurie and in February of 2012 was played by Trombone Shorty, and Booker T. Jones as an instrumental version at the "Red, White, and Blue" concert at the White House in Washington D.C. Below, check out my piano version of this song and St. James Infirmary lyrics.
St. James Infirmary Blues Lyrics
It was down in Old Joe's barroom,
On the corner by the square,
Drinks were being served as usual,
And a goodly crowd was there.
When up steped old joe McGuinny
His eyes were bloodshot red,
As he poured himself more wiskey,
This is what he said:
I went down to the St. James Infirmary,
I saw my baby there,
Streched out on a cold white table,
So sweet, so cold, so fair.
So Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
She may search this wide world over,
but she'll never find a sweet man like me.
There are sixteen cold black horses,
Hitched to her rubber tired hack,
There are seven women goin' to that graveyard,
and only six of 'em are coming back.
When I die, want you to dress me in straght laced shoes,
A box back coat and a Stetson hat,
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
So the boys know I died standin' pat.
I want six crap-shooters for my pall bearers,
And a chorus girl to sing me a song,
Put a jazz band on my hearse wagon,
Just to raise hell as we roll along.
Now that you'v heard my story,
pour me one more shot of booze,
And if anyone comes askin' about me,
Tell 'em I got, Saint James Infirmary blues.