"St. James Infirmary Blues" or "Gambler's Blues" is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song called "The Unfortunate Rake" (also known as "The Unfortunate Lad" or "The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime"), about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease. Variations typically feature a narrator telling the story of a young man "cut down in his prime" (occasionally, a young woman "cut down in her prime") as a result of morally questionable behavior. For example, when the song moved to America, gambling and alcohol became common causes of the youth's death. There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world. It evolved into other American standards such as "The Streets of Laredo", which has a different melody
SEE MY BLOG: http://jopiepopie.blogspot.nl/2013/08/cowboys-lament-1927-streets-of-laredo.html
"St. James Infirmary" (aka "The Gambler's Blues") surfaces around 1900. "The Gamblers Blues" appeared in a published collection in 1920 with composer's credits going to E.V. Body (meaning everybody - author unknown).
In her book "On The Trail Of The Negro Folk-Songs" (1925) Dorothy Scarborough wrote down a song with a striking resemblance to "St James Infirmary".
The song "How Sad Was The Death Of My Sweetheart" is on page 94 of that book
Already in 1926 Phil Baxter and his Texas Tommies had the song on their repertoire:
Their version "Gambler's Blues" was credited to Phil Baxter and Carl Moore and published in 1925.
Carl Sandburg collected a few versions in his American Songbag (1927):
And the first recorded version seems to be:
Stanley “Fess” Williams (v)
accompanied by David “Jelly” James (tb), 2 unknown (as,ts), Otto Mikell (bar), Henry “Hank” Duncan (p), Clinton Walker (bb). One of the saxophonists also plays oboe.
New York, February 25, 1927
Gambler’s Blues (Carl Moore-Phil Baxter)
released on Vocalion 1087
Part of the SJI-tune is quoted clearly in a song called Charleston Cabin (composed by Roy Reber), frequently recorded as an instrumental:
on March 21, 1924 by Whitey Kaufman's Original Pennsylvania Serenaders,
in August 1924 by The Carolina Club Orchestra (with Hal Kemp),
on July 6 1924 by Saxi Holtsworth's Harmony Hounds
and on July 22, 1924 by Ray Miller's Orchestra
Listen to a version by Whitey Kaufman here:
And Ray Miller's version is here: (the SJI part starts at 59 seconds)
Recorded July 22, 1924.
Released on Brunswick 2666.
The song is also mentioned in Carl Sandberg's American Songbag (1927) as "Those Gambler's Blues".
The Irish tune "Bard of Armagh" is also closely associated with the tune of "St James Infirmary"
Already in 1920 John McCorrmack recorded "Bard of Armagh" for the Victor label
Victor matrix B-23792. The bard of Armagh / John McCormack - Discography of American Historical Recordings
While on most versions, the composer for "St James Infirmary" is listed as Joe Primrose (a pseudonym for Irving Mills), there is no doubt that the Louis Armstrong version was plucked from the tree of "The Unfortunate Rake" folk-song and is a first cousin to "Streets of Laredo".
Before Irving Mills copyrighted the song in 1929, Louis Armstrong had already recorded the song on December 12, 1928 for the Okeh-label (credited to Don Redman !!).
Don Redman played clarinet in the Savoy Ballroom Five.
(c) Buell Kazee 1928 (as "Gambling Blues")
Recorded in New York City January 16, 1928
Released on Brunswick 218
(c) Hokum Boys 1929 (as "Gambler's Blues (St. James Infirmary Blues)")
Recorded October 1929 in Chicago
Released on Paramount 12897
(c) Hokum Boys 1929 (as "Gambler's Blues no 2)
Recorded October 1929 in Grafton, Wisconsin
Released on Paramount 12919
(c) Kansas City Frank (=Frank Melrose) and his Footwarmers 1929
Recorded November 1929
Released on Paramount 12898
This record was issued on Broadway records as Harry’s Reckless Five.
(c) George E. Lee and his Orchestra 1929
Recorded in Kansas City on November 6, 1929
Released on Brunswick 4684
(c) Goebel Reeves (The Texas Drifter) (1930) (as "Blue Undertaker's Blues")
Recorded on January 3, 1930
Released on Okeh 45408
Goebel Reeves - When The Clock Struck Seventeen / Blue Undertaker's Blues (Shellac) at Discogs
(c) Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys 1930
When you consider the lineup, it is kind of a supergroup. Along with Rube on the piano, he engaged Manny Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Adrian Rollini on bass saxophone, Stan King on drums and vocalist Roy Evans at the microphone.
Recorded January 16, 1930
Released on Columbia 2103-D
(c) Mattie Hite 1930 (as "St. Joe's Infirmary")
Recorded January 27, 1930 Mattie Hite on the Columbia-label:
Credits on this version go to the above mentioned E.V. Body (meaning everybody - author unknown).
(c) King Oliver 1930
Recorded January 28, 1930
Released on Victor 22298
(c) Gene Austin 1930
Recorded January 28, 1930
Released on Victor 22299
(c) Ten Black Berries 1930
Recorded January 29, 1930
Plaza recording session, New York City
This was in fact the Duke Ellington Orchestra
With vocals by Sonny Smith (=composer Irving Mills )
(c) Mills Merry Makers 1930
Mills Merry Makers (created by composer Irving Mills for recording purposes only), with musicians including Charlie and Jack Teagarden, Harry Goodman (brother of Benny), and Ruby Weinstein, recorded a version on January 31, 1930 in New York.
Vocalist Buddy Edwards = Charlie Teagarden.
It was released the Harmony label (#1104) and Velvet Tone label (# 2104)
(c) Harlem Hot Chocolates 1930
Recorded March 1930
This was in fact the Duke Ellington Orchestra
With vocals by the composer Irving Mills
(c) Jimmie Rodgers 1930 (as "Those Gamber's Blues")
Recorded in Los Angeles July 5, 1930
Released on Victor 22254
(c) Emmet Mathews (1931) (as "St. James Infirmary")
Recorded May 1931 in Grafton, Wis.
Released on Paramount 13087
(c) Cab Calloway 1931 (as "St. James Infirmary") (credited to Joe Primrose=Irving Mills)
Recorded in New York on December 23, 1930
Released on Brunswick 6105 and Melotone 7-06-05
In 1933 Cab Calloway sang "St. James Infirmary" in the Betty Boop cartoon "Snow-White"
Cab sings "St. James Infirmary" in the rotoscoped guise of Koko the Clown.
SEE NEXT YT (after 4 minutes and 20 seconds)
"St. James Infirmary" was Cab's original signature tune, but he wanted something written specifically for himself, so he and Irving Mills wrote "Minnie the Moocher" to supplant "St. James Infirmary" The two melodies are extremely similar.
SEE NEXT YT (after 1 minute and 35 seconds)
Both melodies also bear a close resemblance to "Prohibition Blues"
Missourians - Prohibitionn Blues (1930)
On November 5, 1940 Blind Willie McTell (under supervision of Alan Lomax) recorded "Dying Crapshooter's Blues", which is also a clear variant of "Gambler's Blues".
McTell's "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" was also the inspiration for Bob Dylan to write "Blind Willie McTell" for the 1983 Infidels-sessions.
But "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" was already recorded 13 years earlier by at least 3 artists.
Essay - Tracing The Origins of Dying Crapshooters Blues - Chapter I
-Martha Copeland (May 5, 1927 on Columbia 14227-D)
The composer of "Dyin'Crap Shooter's Blues" (Porter Grainger) accompanies Copeland on piano on this recording !!)
-Nannie McKinney (June 24, 1927 , Brunswick unissued)
Accompanied by the composer of "Dyin' Crap Shooter's Blues" (Porter Grainger)
-Viola McCoy (August 26, 1927 on Cameo 1225,
(as Fannie Johnson on Romeo 453)
(and as Susan Williams on Lincoln 2690)
-Rosa Henderson (September 20, 1927 on Pathe Actuelle 7535 and Perfect 135
(c) Josh White (1944) (as "St James Infirmary Blues")
Recorded in 1944
Released on the Asch-label (Asch 358)
Josh White - Folk Songs Sung By Josh White (Shellac, Album) at Discogs
Josh White - St. James Infirmary / No. 12 Train (Shellac) at Discogs
(c) Bobby Bland 1961
(c) Janis Joplin (around 1962)
(c) Johnny Kendall and the Heralds 1964
(c) Eric Burdon & The Animals 1968
(c) Joe Cocker 1972
And on his album: "Joe Cocker on A&M:
(c) Bob Dylan 1983 (as "Blind Willie McTell").
As I said before Blind McTell's "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" was also the inspiration for Bob Dylan to write "Blind Willie McTell" for the 1983 Infidels-sessions.
(c) The Band (1993) (as "Blind Willie McTell")
(c) White Stripes 1999
On the next album: http://www.discogs.com/White-Stripes-The-White-Stripes/master/10338
(c) Hugh Laurie 2011
And here are more versions: