Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Carl Sandburg version - What did it sound like?


In recent posts we have seen that bits of the "St. James Infirmary" lyric can be found in songs from as far back as 1902. The earliest evidence of the written music, though, is from Carl Sandburg's 1927 collection of American folk songs, The American Songbag.

By 1929 - after Louis Armstrong became the third person to record the song (preceded by Fess Williams and Buell Kazee) the song had crystallized into a bluesy melody with a fox trot rhythm. But what did it sound like to the people who sent the song to Carl Sandburg?

This afternoon, with my digital reorder in hand, I asked Bill to play the Sandburg version on an electric keyboard. What I have posted here is only sixteen seconds long, but the song is basically that sixteen seconds repeated over and over again, perhaps with variations. Some think of it as repeated choruses, others as "one little rhythmic verse and a series of endless words." So, there is enough music in these few seconds to let us know how the entire song sounded to Sandburg and his song-collecting collaborators.

To hear this sample of the music for Sandburg's version of the song from "The American Songbag" click on: Those Gambler's Blues. And . . . Bill, many thanks for doing this!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Let Her Go, God Bless Her" mp3 - Willie Trice

Willie (or Welly, depending upon your source) Trice made two recordings under his own name in 1937, and then not again until 1970. His take on the "Let Her Go" theme is from 1937, with both he and his brother Richard playing guitars.

Document Records had a CD called Carolina Blues (1937-1947) that featured a couple of songs, including this one, by "Welly" Trice - but that's a rare find nowadays. The four disk Blind Boy Fuller Volume 2 from JSP records features the two songs by Welly and eight by Richard Trice.

Although the recording quality is good, the lyrics can be difficult to make out. One verse, for instance, sounds something like, "Oh Scarbird wants your body / And Megalon wants it too / Oh Scarbird turned his long-headed since / She was gone and she won't come back." If you can make more sense of this, please drop me a line.

To hear this song, click on "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" MP3.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Let Her Go, God Bless Her" mp3 - the Louvin Brothers

This is a bit of fun. The Louvin Brothers once recorded a song called "Let Her Go, God Bless Her." It's from a 1956 album titled Tragic Songs of Life, and completely different from the song posted above. From some of the recent posts here, one gets the impression that the "Let Her Go" chorus from "St. James Infirmary" served as the structural cornerstone for a number of songs.

Well, that SJI chorus is here in full, and you will also recognize, unchanged, a verse from Leadbelly's "Good Night, Irene."

This is an infectious little ditty. To hear this song click on: "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" MP3.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Carl "Deacon" Moore - "A Woman Gets Tired" mp3 - and Margie Moore turns 93!


A recent photograph of Marjorie Moore, with her daughter Carol

As readers of this blog, or of the book, know - Carl Moore was credited as co-composer of "Gambler's Blues" when it was recorded by Fess Williams in 1927. "Gambler's Blues" would soon become known as "St. James Infirmary" - and credit for authorship would change; first to Don Redman, and then to Joe Primrose.

But Carl Moore (along with Phil Baxter) was the first of these. He is one of the most interesting of the characters that I explore in
I Went Down to St. James Infirmary. After many years as a big band leader - and dapper, tuxedoed, comical hillbilly hick - he became one of the first (and one of the most popular) country music djs. Although he retired in 1969, Dave Sichak's website Hillbilly-Music dawt com announced that in 2008 Carl "Squeakin' Deacon" Moore had the most visited page of the many disk jockeys the site features.

Carl Moore was born in Paragould, Arkansas in 1902. He died in
Huntington Beach, California, in 1985. I telephoned his wife, the lovely Margie Moore, a few days ago. She celebrated her 93rd birthday this past weekend!

Happy Birthday Marjorie!!

In celebration of Margie's birthday, I am posting the fourth - and last - song of Carl's complete recorded output. Much of Carl's inspiration came from the vaudeville and minstrel stages, and this song - written by Paul Carter and C.H. Barker (who are today as obscure as songwriters can get) - was popular on vaudeville. Deacon drawls, the orchestra swings.

To hear this song, click on: "A Woman Gets Tired" MP3. Be warned that a few seconds in it might sound like the recording skips a beat. I edited the file a bit in order to removed a loud click.

New book review in "penguin eggs"

The Canadian magazine devoted to folk and roots music, penguin eggs, publishes four times a year. The spring issue has just been delivered to stores, and contains a review of I Went Down to St. James Infirmary.

I consider penguin eggs to be one of the best magazines of its type, and am flattered that they chose to review my book. Here is an excerpt:

“[I Went Down to St James Infirmary] is a fascinating study and anyone who has an interest … in the way songs evolve and are passed along through history will find it an utterly compelling read. This critic confesses to a weakness for this type of book and devoured it with relish over a few days, though it will retain a favourtie place in his library and remain a reference for years to come.” — Barry Hammond, Penguin Eggs, Spring 2009

The complete review can be read here: Penguin Eggs book review.