Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Friday, November 18, 2011

A.L. Lloyd and SJI

This interesting illustration accompanied Lloyd's article in Keynote Magazine, 1947.
Well, it feels good to be back on this SJI blog. I have been so busy over the past year renovating the small house Pam and I now live in, here in remote Southern Saskatchewan, that I have had no time to pursue much in the way of other interests. The main house, at a little over 800 square feet, is too small to comfortably accommodate visitors, and so I have worked hard over the summer to turn a shed into a comfortable living area. But winter is descending, the temperature today is -15C (5F), and it is too cold for me to work on further renovations to the small cabin which will eventually serve as our guest house. And so here I am, back at I Went Down To St. James Infirmary, after a pretty long absence.

Correspondent Alan Balfour (thank you Alan!), from the UK, recently wrote a comment on this blog mentioning that he has a copy of the original article that the revered music historian, A.L. Lloyd, wrote for the January, 1947 edition of Keynote: The Music Magazine. Although I had tried, I was never able to find the original article, but did read it through secondary accounts. Alan sent me scans of the original document.

Now, I have to emphasize that this article was a pivotal event in our understanding of the history of "St. James Infirmary." Written twenty years after the song was first recorded (and who knows how many years after it first appeared), A.L. Lloyd crystallized the notion that "St. James Infirmary" was a direct descendent of the much older song "The Unfortunate Rake." According to Lloyd "The Unfortunate Rake" also gave rise to the archetypal cowboy song "Streets of Laredo" (aka "The Cowboy's Lament," etc.) as well as to "St. James Infirmary." Since then the history of SJI has been traced, with nary a doubt, from "The Unfortunate Rake" to "Streets of Laredo" to "Saint James Infirmary."

Re-reading this article I was again struck by Lloyd's peculiar logic, for he concentrates on the relation (which is, I am sure, indisputable) between "The Unfortunate Rake" and "Streets of Laredo." Then, through some process of, uhm, magical thinking, inserts "St. James Infirmary" into the mix with very little in the way of transitional or supportive argument. Even so, this is the moment that SJI became fixed in history as a direct descendent of "The Unfortunate Rake."

But A.L. Lloyd was mistaken.


Rob Walker said...

Hey there Mr. Harwood. Good to see you back in (blog) action! And with the notorious A.L. Lloyd article in hand no less -- what a coup. (Love that illustration, actually... )

Enjoying "Nothin But A Double Barrel Shot-gun" as I type...

All the best... and welcome back (and stay warm...!)

Robert W. Harwood said...

Yep. Good to be back. And congrats on the sixth anniversary of !!!

Karen Heath said...

Hello. I have a copy of the A L Lloyd "Sing" article referred to on the Liner notes to the Folkways Unfortunate Rake LP. This is in the Janey Buchan collection of song curated at Glasgow (Scotland) University.

Karen Heath said...

I have a copy of the Sing Magazine article referred to on the liner notes to The Unfortunate Rake LP. It is in an archive at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
It adds some detail to knowledge of the version sung by Lloyd on that LP, and confirms what I had begun to suspect, that he took the tune used from the fragment collected in Corke and called My Jewel My Joy. His rationale is to the effect that this is a bit similar to a version collected in the USA. I have played both versions and there isn't a similarity that I can see. He says how much he likes the My Jewel My Joy version, and that he finds the Streets of Loredo melody unremarkable.

I have come to the conclusion that the song he sings on this LP is a composite that he made up himself, and believe one can trace where and work out why he got the various bits.

Robert W. Harwood said...

Thanks!! And thanks for sending!