A recent item about Tom Jones going on tour next year mentions in passing his 2004 album with Jools Hollland: “The set finds the Welsh pop idol and the former Squeeze keyboardist … tackling a hodgepodge of classic and not-so-classic material, including ‘St James’ Infirmary Blues’ ….”
A long time ago — in August of 2005, in fact — a generous person named Stefan Kolle dropped me a line to say he’d stumbled upon my “SJI” essay online. Seems he’d become interested in the tune to do a little poking around the web after hearing the Jones/ Holland version.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of that version, and Mr. Kolle ended up sending it to me. It’s on this album, but the above video link has the hammy Jones, and a slightly sheepish looking Holland doing the tune, over a quite appealing drum tattoo. It’s fairly faithful to what they did in the recorded version, although in the latter you can actual hear Holland’s playing a lot better.
Mr. Kolle also pointed out a couple of quirks in this take. Jones uses the version of the lyrics that has the singer/narrator conversing briefly with “the doctor,” before the “she’s lying there dead” moment. (This happens in other takes, including the Jimmie Rodgers “Gambler’s Blues” version.) Then the narrator goes down to Old Joe’s barroom — and it’s Old Joe who gives the “she’ll never find a man like me” declaration, followed by the funeral request.
Now, it makes no particular sense for the narrator to see his dead lover and then go to a bar where some other guy starts talking about his departed love who won’t find another man like him. There is another version that does this, though: The Little Pink Anderson take that I wrote about here. (See that earlier post for my theorizing about how to reconcile two guys in the same song telling different parts of the same story — and an even better theory offered by reader Neal, in the comments to the post.)
I believe that the Little Pink Anderson version was actually released in 2005 (after the Jones/Holland version). But it seems more likely that it took cues from Anderson’s famous bluesman father (Pink Anderson) than from Tom Jones.
It would be interesting, in other words, to know how Jones and Anderson each arrived at this version of the lyrics.