"The House of the Rising Sun" is a traditional folk song, sometimes called "Rising Sun Blues". It tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans; many versions also urge a sibling to avoid the same fate. The most successful commercial version, recorded in 1964 by the English rock group The Animals, was a number one hit.
Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of "The House of the Rising Sun" is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century, and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. But that's only a theory. " Unfortunate Rake" only bears a thematical resemblance to "House Of The Rising Sun".
The house the song refers to is in most cases unmistakeably a whorehouse, but the original house, the one all these Houses Of The Rising Sun where named after, could also have been a prison, as the ball & chain-verse at the end of most song versions implies.
There is also a mention of a house-like pub called the "Rising Sun" in the classic Black Beauty published in 1877, set in London, England, which may have influenced the title.
In February or March 1925 William S Burroughs send a song, he had learned from a "southerner", to Robert Winslow Gordon, who included it in a 1925 edition of his Adventure magazine column "Old Songs That Men Have Sung". The lyrics are almost identical to the lyrics of the 1964 Animals hit version. Except for the fact that in the course of time the "rounder" became a "rambler" and finally a "gambler".
The oldest known existing recording of the song is by Appalachian artists Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster and was made in 1933.
Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.
Ashley & Foster: Gwen Foster, h/g; Thomas C. Ashley, g/v.
Recorded in New York, September 6, 1933
Released on Vocalion 02576
In 1935 Homer Callahan (a member of the Callahan Brothers) recorded "Rounder's Luck" as a solo-effort.
Calling the song “Rounder's Luck” wasn't the Callahans' idea. Homer doesn't remember its original title; though he ended up calling it “House of the Rising Sun" himself, he's not sure if he picked that up after it became popular. As for “Rounder's Luck,” says Callahan, “I have no idea why. I didn't like that title too much. But they didn't ask me.” Callahan figures the longer title wouldn't do commercially. In that context, he says, house was a loaded term that implied the word whore preceded it. This was, remember, the year that Hollywood began enforcing the Hays Code, making movies far tamer than they had been. The two other known versions recorded commercially in the 1930s—by Ashley & Foster and Roy Acuff—reinforce this theory. They were called, respectively, “The Rising Sun Blues” and “Rising Sun” on their labels.
(c) Homer Callahan, v/y; acc. own g;
Recorded in New York, April 11, 1935
Released on Perfect 6-02-59
The song might have been lost to obscurity had it not been collected by folklorist Alan Lomax, who, along with his father, was a curator of the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress. On an expedition with his wife to eastern Kentucky, Lomax set up his recording equipment in Middlesborough, Kentucky in the house of a singer and activist called Tilman Cadle.
On September 15, 1937 he recorded a performance by Georgia Turner, the 16 year-old daughter of a local miner. He called it "The Rising Sun Blues".
(c) Georgia Turner (1937) (as "Rising Sun Blues")
Lomax later recorded a different version sung by Bert Martin and a third sung by Daw Henson, both eastern Kentucky singers.
(c) Bert Martin (October 1937) (as "Rising Sun Blues")
(c) Daw Henson (October 1937) (as "Rising Sun Blues")
In his 1941 songbook Our Singing Country, Lomax credits the lyrics to Turner, with reference to Martin's version. According to his later writing, the melody bears similarities to the traditional English ballad "Matty Groves.". To me that's also only a theory.
SEE MY BLOG: http://jopiepopie.blogspot.nl/search/label/Little%20Mattie%20Groves%20%281941%29
A page from "Our Singing Country" (1941)
Roy Acuff, who recorded the song on November 3, 1938, may have learned the song from Clarence Ashley, with whom he once worked on his medicine shows.
(c) Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys (1938) (as "The Risng Sun")
Roy Acuff, v; Clell Summey, sg; Jess Easterday, g/sb; Red Jones, g/sb; Bob Wright, g.
Recorded November 3, 1938 in Columbia, SC.
Released on Vocalion/Okeh 04909
Sometime between 1941 and 1942 Josh White was the first artist to record a version with the more common title "House Of The Rising Sun".
It was released on the Keynote-label (#K542) as part of the 3 part 78 RPM album "Strange Fruit".
Lonnie Donegan, who launched the British skiffle craze in the 1950s - which was the sound of the early Beatles, said in a 1999 interview with Jennifer Rodger of The Independent, "Josh White's 'House of the Rising Sun' inspired me to go into music. This was the first American folk song I heard and the experience kicked off my career, started me singing American blues and folk. I believe Josh started the British rock scene."
Libby Holman, with guitar accompaniment by Josh White, also recorded a version with the familiar title "House Of The Rising Sun".
Libby and George recorded their version in New York on March 23, 1942.
It was released on the Decca-label (# 18306) and was part of the 3 part 78 RPM album "Blues Till Dawn"
On July 7, 1941 the Almanac Singers also recorded a version with the common title: "House of the Rising Sun" at Reeves Sound Studios, New York, NY. Producer: Alan Lomax.
WOODY GUTHRIE, harmonica/leadvocal; PETER HAWES, guitar; PETE SEEGER, banjo.
It was released as record # 5020B on the General-label as a three 78 rpm record set titled "SOD-BUSTER BALLADS" (General Album G-21)
(c) Leadbelly (1944) (as "In New Orleans") / (1948) (as "House Of The Rising Sun")
Lead Belly recorded two versions of the song in February 1944 and in October 1948, called 1. "In New Orleans" and 2. "The House of the Rising Sun" respectively.
1. "In New Orleans" was on the B-side of "(Black Gal) Where Did You Sleep Last Night".
Recorded in New York City, February 17, 1944
Released in 1944 on Musicraft 312,
Re-released in 1954 on Allegro Elite 4027:
And also on Royale 18131:
The Lonesome Blues Singer, Leadbelly - Blues Songs Sung By The Lonesome Blues Singer (Vinyl, LP, 10") | Discogs
The melody on this version is a little bit different from the common version.
2. "The House Of The Rising Sun" was on the Folkways album "The Last Sessions Vol 2"
Recorded in New York City, october 1948.
Released in 1953 on the Folkways-label (FP 242)
On April 25, 1944 (Matrix MA96) Woody Guthrie recorded "House of the Rising Sun" again. This time it was a solo effort for Moses Asch in New York City.
It was finally released in 1962 on the Folkways album "Woody Guthrie sings Folk Songs" (Folkways FA 2483), maybe as an answer to Bob Dylan's 1962 debut-album which contained "House of the Rising Sun".
On May 19, 1944 Woody made yet another recording of "House Of The Rising Sun" (MA107).
(c) Hally Wood (1953)
Hally Wood had got it from the Alan Lomax field recording by Georgia Turner.
Released in November 1953 on the album "O' Lovely Appearance of Death" (Elektra EKL-10)
Production: Jac Holzman and Kenneth S Goldstein.
10-inch LP. Credited to the Elektra-Stratford Record Corp.
Lawless lists this as being titled 'American Folksongs of Sadness and Melancholy', which is the title on the label but the subtitle on the sleeve.
(c) Pete Seeger (1958) (as "House Of The Rising Sun")
Released on the album "American Favorite Ballads Vol 2" (Folkways FA 2321)
Seeger probably was the first one to sing about a gambler instead of a rounder or rambler.
(c) Lonnie Donegan (1959)
In 1960 Miriam Makeba recorded the song on her eponymous RCA album.
(c) Joan Baez (1960)
Joan Baez recorded the song on her debut-album
(c) Bob Dylan (1962)
In late 1961, Bob Dylan recorded the song for his eponymous debut album released in March 1962. There is no songwriting credit, but the liner notes indicate that Dylan learned his version of the song from Dave Van Ronk. Literally it says: "House of the Risin' Sun" is a traditional lament of a New Orleans woman driven into prostitution by poverty. Dylan learned the song from the singing of Dave Van Ronk: "I'd always known 'Risin' Sun' but never really knew I knew it until I heard Dave sing it."
In an interview on the documentary "No Direction Home", Van Ronk said that he was intending to record the song, and that Dylan copied his version. He recorded it soon thereafter on "Just Dave Van Ronk".
"I had learned it sometime in the 1950s, from a recording by Hally Wood, the Texas singer and collector, who had got it from an Alan Lomax field recording by a Kentucky woman named Georgia Turner. I put a different spin on it by altering the chords and using a bass line that descended in half steps—a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers. By the early 1960s, the song had become one of my signature pieces, and I could hardly get off the stage without doing it".
(Dave Van Ronk)
An interview with Eric Burdon revealed that he first heard the song back in 1959 in a club in Newcastle, England, where it was sung by a Northumbrian folk singer called Johnny Handle .
Eric Burdon also said once that the Animals heard Josh White perform the song in Europe and decided to cover it.
The Animals were on tour with Chuck Berry and chose it because they wanted something distinctive to sing.
This interview denies assertions that the inspiration for their arrangement came from Bob Dylan. The band enjoyed a huge hit with the song, much to Dylan's chagrin when his version was referred to as a cover—the irony of which was not lost on Van Ronk, who went on record as saying that the whole issue was a "tempest in a teapot", and that Dylan stopped playing the song after The Animals' hit because fans accused Dylan of plagiarism. Dylan has said he first heard The Animals' version on his car radio and "jumped out of his car seat" because he liked it so much.
So in December of 1964 Dylan's producer, Tom Wilson, took an alternate take of Dylan's own original 1961 recording session of "Rising Sun" and overdubbed an electric studio band onto it, later included on the Highway 61 Interactive CD-ROM (released in 1995).
So it's a bit unclear where The Animals inspiration came from. 3 possible sources are mentioned: Johnny Handle , Josh White and Bob Dylan.
But in my opinion a 4th source is possible too.
In April 1961 (so even before Dylan's version) Nina Simone recorded a live-version in New York at the Village Gate (the Animals had recorded 2 other songs that were recorded by Nina Simone before: "Don't let me be misunderstood" and "I put a spell on you").
The Nina Simone Database - LP At the Village Gate
The Nina Simone Database - House of the Rising Sun
And here's the version that made the song world famous in 1964: The Animals hit the Top of the Charts in the UK and then the USA.
The arranging credit went only to Alan Price. According to Burdon, this was simply because there was insufficient room to name all five band members on the record label, and Alan Price's name was first alphabetically. However, this meant that only Price received songwriter's royalties for the hit, a fact that has caused bitterness ever since, especially with Hilton Valentine, who was responsible for the famous electric guitar A minor chord arpeggio, which starts "House of the Rising Sun".
Released in October in 1964, Johnny Hallyday's version "Le Pénitencier" was a French #1 Hit
Listen here to Johnny:
Even the Beatles sang it at the Let It Be sessions on January 9, 1969.
Get Back/Let It Be sessions: complete song list | The Beatles Bible
Wyclef Jean used the melody (especially the organ-part) of HOTRS in "Sang Fezi" (1997)
Many many more versions of HOTRS are here:
Alger "Texas" Alexander's "The Risin' Sun" recorded in 1928, is sometimes mentioned as the first recording, but is a completely different song.
Texas Alexander - The Risin' Sun / Tell Me Woman Blues (Shellac, 10", 78 RPM) | Discogs
And in 1927 Iva Smith recorded "Rising Sun Blues", which is also a different song
Also different versions are
Darby and Tarlton's "Rising Sun Blues" (1930) (on the Columbia-label) and
King David's Jug Band's "Rising Sun Blues" (1930) (on the Okeh-label).