On A Cold, White Table

by wjw on May 4, 2010

It’s Dr. John and Eric Clapton doing a duet on “St. James Infirmary Blues.”

I mean, what a fine idea this is!

Dave Bishop May 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm

This is surely a tribute to the infinite plasticity of Anglo-American folk song.

In my youth I remember hearing the late, great English folk singer and academic A.L. (Bert) Lloyd singing an old (probably 18th century) English version of this song called 'St. James's Hospital'. That version depicts a soldier dying of venereal disease and I remember being deeply shocked by the graphic details:

"Had she but told me before she disordered me
If she had but told me in time
I might have got pills and salts of white mercury
But now I'm cut down in the height of me prime."


"Get 6 young soldiers to carry me coffin
6 young girls to sing me a song
And each of them carry a bunch of green laurel
So they don't smell me as they carry me along"

Later version were 'softened' (if that's the right word (!) by having the victim fatally wounded by gun shot.

In a note to the song Bert wrote:

"It's often said that a folk song has no fixed form: passing from mouth to mouth it's likely to take on various shapes adapted to sundry circumstances. Few songs illustrate this better than [this one] … sometimes called the 'Unfortunate Rake' it has become a sailor's song, a cowboy song, a jazz blues and even an unofficial anthem of the Royal Marine Commandos. In one version even the sexes get reversed.
It is known variously as: 'The Whores of the City', 'The Young Girl Cut Down in her Prime', 'The Streets of Laredo', 'Lee Tharis's Bar-room', 'St James's Infirmary' and 'The Dying Marine'."

And here it is in a groovy new version performed by some deeply cool musicians!

dubjay May 5, 2010 at 1:42 am

Wow. Fascinating to know that song is so old.

Major Major May 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Why isn't Gallegher singing along?

Joseph T Major

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