St. James Infirmary

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St. James Infirmary (traditional) aka “St. James Infirmary Blues”. The song derived lyrically from the traditional English folk song “The Unfortunate Rake” which is also known under the titles “The Unfortunate Lad”, “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”, and the gender-modified version “The Bad Girl’s Lament”. Variants and relatives after adoption by blues musicians include “Gambler’s Blues”, and “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues”. The American folk song “The Streets of Laredo” or “Cowboy’s Lament” also derives from the same English origins.

For those interested in the origins and discussion of various versions you might begin with the following links to threads at the folk music discussion group and database The Mudcat Café:

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From the page mudcat.org: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues:

Related threads:
Lyr/Chords Req: St. James Infirmary (22)
Lyr Add: The Unfortunate Lad (#350 / Rake’s Lamen (8)
Help: St. James Infirmary – by Rolling Stones? (19)
Lyr Req: St. James Infirmary (24)
Tune Req: St. James Infirmary (12)
Lyr Req: Bright Shiny Morning (9)
(origins) Tune Req: St. James Infirmary Blues (17)
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)

DigiTrad (lyrics)
LOCKE HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES INFIRMARY
THE UNFORTUNATE RAKE

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1928 St. James Infirmary-Louis Armstrong & his Savoy Ballroom Five-OKeh 86571928 St. James Infirmary-Louis Armstrong & his Savoy Ballroom Five-OKeh 41180

Louis Armstrong & his Savoy Ballroom Five — recorded on 12 December 1928, matrix# 402225; issued on OKeh 8657, b/w “Save It Pretty Mama,” B-side recorded by Louis Armstrong & his Hot Five; also issued on OKeh 41180 with the same flip side

personnel on “St. James Infirmary,” according to the Louis Armstrong Discography at MichaelMinn.net:
Armstrong, Louis (trumpet, vocal)
Robinson, Fred (trombone)
Strong, Jimmy (clarinet, tenor saxophone)
Redman, Don (clarinet, alto saxophone)
Hines, Earl (piano)
Carr, Mancy (banjo)
Singleton, Zutty (drums)

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George E. Lee and his Novelty Singing Orchestra – 1929

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Seger Ellis – 1929

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King Oliver and his Orchestra — recorded 28 January 1930 in NY — King Oliver, Red Allen, Bubber Miley (c,t) James Archey (tb) Bobby Holmes (cl, ss) Glyn Paque (cl, as) Walter Wheeler (ts) Don Frye (p) Arthur Taylor (bj) Jean Stultz (g) Clinton Walker (bb) Carroll Dickerson (vln,  ld) Frank Marvin (d, v)

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Harlem Hot Chocolates, vocal: Irving Mills — recorded in New York City in March 1930, under the direction of Duke Ellington

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Cab Calloway and his Orchestra

animated Fleischer Brothers short, Snow White, featuring Betty Boop (1933)

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In the feature film Hi-De-Ho (1947)

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Dying Crapshooter’s Blues


Blind Willie McTellDying Crapshooter’s Blues

In the third version of his article tracing the history of SJI, Robert Walker wrote:

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.”

1935

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Undated

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1956

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more versions of St. James Infirmary, and Gambler’s Blues:

Artie Shaw and his Orchestra, vocal: Oran Alfred “Hot Lips” Page – 1941

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Dave Van Ronk (Gambler’s Blues) – 1959

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Louis Armstrong – 1959

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Snooks Eaglin – from the album New Orleans Street Singer, 1959

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Danny Barker – date unknown

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Giovani
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 10:31:55

    I need the piano sheet of this song (a good one). Do you have it?

    Thank you.

    Reply

  2. Megan Meagher
    May 29, 2014 @ 21:00:15

    Is there any way I can find an instrumental to use for this song? I really want to cover this song but can’t find one.. I like the Snooks Eaglin version the best and would love to use a guitar instrumental since my only instrument is my voice! :)

    Reply

    • doc
      May 29, 2014 @ 22:46:38

      Megan,
      Have you tried YouTube or other video libraries? I just tried a few Google video searches on “St. James Infirmary guitar,” “(title) guitar solo,” and “(title) instrumental.” There were many results to choose from. If you want a recording by a specific artist then add the name to your search. However, if you’re looking for a recording by a specific artist with the vocal track removed, that might be more difficult. Perhaps including “karaoke” in your search would help. If I were to do such a search I’d try various keyword combinations, aiming to narrow or focus the search as much as possible.

      Reply

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