Monday, September 6, 2010

“St James Infirmary”

Happy Monday folks!  Due to technical difficulties I’m not bringing you the Monday Morning Blues song I’d intended—I’m way behind on my amorphous & self-determined recording schedule, & yesterday afternoon’s prime recording time found me with nary a microphone stand in sight—they were all still in the car from Saturday’s gig & the car was not near at hand. 

Fortunately, I’m able to substitute a song that I recorded last year in place of the offering I had in mind for today.  This is my take on the great song “St James Infirmary.”  It’s a song many of you will know as it’s been recorded by countless artists—everyone from Dave Van Ronk to Bobby Bland, from Danny Barker to Janis Joplin, from King Oliver to the White Stripes. 

According to all the sources I’ve ever seen, the song dates back to a British folk tune called “The Unfortunate Rake”—interestingly, “The Unfortunate Rake” is also an ancestor of the old western song, “The Streets of Laredo.”  You will notice some similarity in the lyrics tho musically they are very different tunes both in terms of melody & harmony.  The song is sometimes credited to “Joe Primrose,” which was a pseudonym of Irving Mills.  However, there’s no evidence the song was “composed” by Mills any more than “Wabash Cannonball” was actually written by A.P. Carter.  For an industry that seems to enforce copyright so stringently, the music business has played pretty fast & loose with the rules when this was in its own interests.

Were I to record this song again, I’d probably do a few things differently, but all in all I can stand by the take.  It's funny
—I really don't get thrown by little glitches in live performance, but I sometimes think I'm too much of a perfectionist for my own recording good; I rarely come up with a recording that totally satisfies me.  I recently read on Ami Worthen's Ukulele Rockstar blog about thinking of each recording as a snapshot of one moment in time, & I'm thinking this is good advice.

By the way: Kat Mortensen will be this week's featured writer on the Writers Talk interview series.  I know many of you are familiar with Kat's work & won't want to miss this.  Kat's interview will be posting Thursday morning (US Mountain Time!)

& for now: hope you enjoy "St James Infirmary."


  1. Oh it's always been one of my favourite songs. This is a fine version indeed.

  2. Hi Alan: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Nice interpretation! I'm so used to hearing this performed N'Awlins-style - with wailing horns and honky-tonk piano (Dr. John does a killer version of this!) - that this was an interesting departure. Thanks!

  4. Hi Scotty & Roy

    Scotty: Thanks!

    Roy: Glad you liked it. I'm probably pretty endebted to Dave Van Ronk's various versions of this which are also done solo with fingerpicked guitar. Thanks!


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.