I remember first hearing the song St. James Infirmary by Louis Armstrong and falling in love with it instantly. Little did I know it was one of those infamous blues songs handed down decade after decade from penny fetching street artists to full time recording artists. Even through so much passing on, many will attribute the song to Joe Primrose’s repretoire. The song started as a ballad of young English sailors losing all their money on protitutes and gambling and only having a veneral diesease to show for. It was originally called the Unfortunate Rake or Lad. However, not all the songs follow this same version. Many times, the American folk versions would be named The Dying Cowboy, The Streets of Laredo, or something western related that featured a man’s girl passing on after losing his money at the bar. Featured below is that same Louis Armstrong version, which is of the American Folk vein.
I went down to the st james infirmary
Saw my baby there
Stretched out on a long white table
So sweet…so cold…so fair
Let her go…let her go…god bless her
Wherever she may be
She can look this wide world over
But shell never find a sweet man like me
When I die want you to dress me in straight lace shoes
I wanna a boxback coat and a stetson hat
Put a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boysll know that I died standing flat
Honey Where You Been So Long went through a painstaking task of arranging a few mixes of nearly every known recording of the song, so definitely jump over there and check out the hours of covers. There’s an array of songs offered for free download, but if you register it is all at your disposal.
No Notes is another great site displaying an entire website and essay based on St. James Infirmary and New Orleans. I spent awhile on this one.
Below is the great Snooks Eaglin playing a fantastic version.