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St. James Infirmary Blues

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St. James Infirmary Blues


For few days now my thoughts are somehow floating around Eric Burdon and The Animals. Today I’ve listened to several pieces executed by The Lippa Jazz Band, a group that plays very traditional jazz.

Their personnel are equally traditional: a trumpet, a trombone, a clarinet, a banjo, a drums and a tuba. The last instrument gets my kicks the most, because it is very rarely used these days. Lippa Jazz Band is an Italian band founded in the Nineties. They’re enjoying quite a big success. I like the way they’re playing6 blues.


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Lippa Jazz Band


Commanding part of their repertoire is being performed on instruments. Vocal is being used on special occasions only. One of the ‘sung’ pieces is ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’. And that’s the blues that links Lippa Juzz Band with The Animals and Eric Burdon.


St. James Infirmary


The song is very old. Its source can be found in English folk music and it reaches XVIII century. As usual in similar cases the piece had many alternative versions of lyrics as well as titles.

In England the song was known as ‘The Unfortunate Rake’, ‘Unfortunate Lad’ and ‘The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime’. Those versions wheeled around whole english-speaking world.

Americans went their own way. They created two new variants called ‘The Streets of Laredo’ and ‘The Dying Cowboy’.


Eric Burdon & The Animals


Unfortunate Rake tells a story of a sailor man, who after paying a prostitute contracted a sexually transmitted disease leading to his death. In the States the song left its mark in taverns. Many times people tend to drink to the poor sailor’s health.

They lyrics and the melody evolved with time and eventually they reached a shape with an infirmary in St. James. This time the song relates about a young men sitting at the bar and telling a story of how he went to a hospital to visit his sweetheart. When he reached the hospital the girl was already dead. Very sad is this song.


St. James Infirmary


The piece has been recorded as early as in the Twenties. Many very talented artists have it in their repertory, e.g. Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Big Mama Thornton, ‘Spider’ John Koerner, Jack Teagarden, Poor Wendy, Billie Holiday, Josh White, Stan Kenton, Lou Rawls, Arlo Guthrie, Bobby Bland, Turk Murphy, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Animals, The Triffids, Dr. John, The Standells, Blues Creation, Isobel Campbell, Jools Holland, Van Morrison, Alec K. Redfearn and Maciej Malenczuk.


In my opinion Eric Burdon is the best. This song is kind of as if it was meant for him.


St. James Infirmary, lyrics


I went down to St. James Infirmary
To see my baby there,
She was lyin' on a long white table,
So sweet, so cool, so fair.

Went up to see the doctor,
"She's very low," he said;
Went back to see my baby
Good God! She's lying there dead.

I went down to old Joe's barroom,
On the corner by the square
They were serving the drinks as usual,
And the usual crowd was there.

On my left stood old Joe McKennedy,
And his eyes were bloodshot red;
He turned to the crowd around him,
These are the words he said:

Let her go, let her go, God bless her;
Wherever she may be
She may search the wide world over
And never find a better man than me

Oh, when I die, please bury me
In my ten dollar Stetson hat;
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So my friends'll know I died standin' pat.

Get six gamblers to carry my coffin
Six chorus girls to sing me a song
Put a twenty-piece jazz band on my tail gate
To raise Hell as we go along

Now that's the end of my story
Let's have another round of booze
And if anyone should ask you just tell them
I've got the St. James Infirmary blues



Last Updated (Wednesday, 11 March 2015 21:11)


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