Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Illustration

A few years ago, while working on the first iteration of I Went Down to St. James Infirmary (which I had titled A Rake's Progress and of which perhaps a dozen copies are still in existence), I  created an illustration that brought together some of the principal characters in the SJI story. Albert Gleizes' 1913 painting "Women Sewing" was the inspiration for the underlying art work; onto this I layered photographs of various SJI personalities, and included myself and my wife (the book's designer) as, I guess, observers of the drama.

So here, in no particular order (the illustration should enlarge if you click on it), you can find Jimmie Rodgers, Porter Grainger, Dan Emmett, Mamie Smith, Irving Mills, Don Redman, Phil Baxter, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Carl "The Deacon" Moore, Bob Dylan, Bessie Smith, Emmett Miller, and Blind Willie McTell.

Speaking of Blind Willie McTell, he will be (part of) the subject of our next entry.

Friday, January 13, 2012

MP3 Monologue 3 & 4 - Charleston Cabin; Mattie Hite

Since I have, so far, received no objections to these monologues, here are the 3rd and the 4th installments of this oral exploration of (some aspects of) St. James Infirmary.

A few years before "St. James Infirmary" entered the recording studio a song with completely different lyrics but using part of the SJI melody was popular. I wrote about this briefly in an earlier post. To listen to a (two minute) discussion of a precursor to the recorded SJI, "In A Charleston Cabin," click here: "Charleston Cabin" MP3

In 1930, within a day of each other, the smooth crooner Gene Austin and the blues singer Mattie Hite both recorded SJI. They borrowed the lyrics from Carl Sandburg's transcript, and each of them seemed to be insisting that the song should be in the public domain. To listen to something about them (three minutes), click here: "Mattie Hite and SJI" MP3

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Recommendation - Max Morath in concert!

I have mentioned the name Max Morath a couple of times in recent posts. His name will come up at least once or twice more in the near future because he is a really interesting individual with much to offer fans of "St. James Infirmary" and the period in which the song originated.

 Max has a DVD, available at places like eBay, that I watched this evening and which I recommend wholeheartedly. Morath is a well-known ragtime pianist, but is also a remarkable raconteur and performer. On this DVD, a one-man show recorded in concert in 1992, Morath is clearly in his element, talking, jesting, educating, playing, singing. I was utterly impressed with the way Max inhabits the songs he sings and plays. He knows how to get to the center of a tune, how to transcend the notes and get to the heart of the characters he sings about. It's been a long time since I have enjoyed so many belly laughs in such a short time (the film runs about 116 minutes). For a well-spent fifteen dollars, you will learn a lot about the popular music of the early 20th century, and thoroughly enjoy yourself in the process. A delight!

Friday, January 6, 2012

MP3 Another Porter Grainger Song: "Song From A Cotton Field"

I was going to post a 1927 recording by Porter Granger entitled, suitable for this time of year, "I Wonder What This New Year's Gonna Bring To Me." Unfortunately I have been unable, so far, to render a listenable mp3 from the 78 rpm record. So, instead I am posting this:

Back in November I posted a Porter Grainger song - one that, as far as I am aware, has never been made available since its release in 1927. Here is the other side of that record, "Song From A Cotton Field" as performed by "The Singin' Piano Man" himself, Porter Grainger. This one has a more serous lyric:

Ain't no use kickin' 'cause I'll be pickin'
'Til all my chillun is grown
By then I'll shuffle and skimp and scuffle
To have a field of my own

All my life I've been makin' it
All my life white folks takin' it
This old heart they jus' breakin' it
Ain't got a thing to show for what I've done done

What follows is a direct transfer, using my turntable, of a 78 rpm record that is 84 years old. What you hear has been saved at 128 kbps, which is the lowest sound resolution I find tolerable.

So, to hear The Singin' Piano Man" Porter Grainger, click on "Song From A Cotton Field" MP3

You can follow the full lyric in the post below.

Lyric: Porter Grainger's "Song From A Cotton Field"


Mmmmm mmmmm
Hay Hee Hi Ho Pickin' Cotton all day
Hay Hee Hi Ho Just a-pickin' away
The white folks knows I'm workin'
They knows won't be no shirkin'
Hee Hi Ho I knows I'll get my pay
Ain't no use kickin' 'cause I'll be pickin'
'Til all my chillun is grown
By then I'll shuffle and skimp and scuffle
To have a field of my own
All my life I've been makin' it
All my life white folks takin' it
This old heart they jus' breakin' it
Ain't got a thing to show for what I've done done
Things gets brighter and load gets lighter
So I'll keep a-pluggin' away
Sing my song like I'm happy and gay
All day
Jus' tell the world for me
My soul done set me free
That's the song I'll sing 'til they puts me under the clay
Ohhh chillun stop your grumblin'
No no, 'cause that's a block for stumblin'
Mmmm mmmm Jus keep on workin' and prayin'
You'll see that you'll conquer some day

Ain't no use kickin' 'cause I'll be pickin'
'Til all my chillun is grown
By then I'll shuffle and skimp and scuffle
To have a field of my own
All my life I've been makin' it
All my life the white folks takin' it
This old heart they jus' breakin' it
Ain't got a thing to show for what I've done done
But things gets brighter and load gets lighter
So I'll keep pluggin' away
Sing my song like I'm happy and gay
All day
Jus' tell the world for me
My soul done set me free
That's the song I'll sing 'til they puts me under the clay