I am sorely behind on updating this site with several tips from friendly readers about versions of “SJI” that are either new, or simply new to me. Rather say anything about Treme, which I’ve decided to give at least four episodes before I even attempt to form an opinion independent of the surreal media hype that’s led up to the show, I’m going to devote this week to catching up.
First up: Alex Rawls tipped me off back in January to the version recorded by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and “Yim Yames,” which is the name that Jim James of My Morning Jacket uses sometimes for reasons I’m not fully clear on. In any case, James/Yames recorded the track as part of a benefit album in which the Preservation Hall Jazz Band teamed up with a bunch of collaborators — Tom Waits, Annie DeFranco, Steve Earle, etc. — and recorded a slew of standards (and non-standards).
The most notable thing about this version of “SJI” is that it sort of isn’t “SJI” at all. What James/Yames sings is, almost word for word, the interpretation that Jimmie Rodgers recorded under the name “Those Gamblers’ Blues.” The lyrics to Rodgers’ version (after the jump), are related to and mixed together and modified some of those collected by Carl Sandburg in American Songbag. The version he settled on is notable among other things for not mentioning St. James Infirmary; the singer finds his baby in “the big infirmary.” [See Robert W. Harwood’s I Went Down To St. James Infirmary, particularly the appendix on Rodgers’ version, for more on Rodgers’ recording.] Lyrically, Yames does offer one interesting new tweak: In repeating the penultimate verse, he revises “she’s mine wherever she may be” to “she’s gone wherever she may be.” I like that, a lot.
What about the music? The Yames vocal is very subdued and distant, like he’s singing through a piece of cardboard or something. That sounds terrible, but I don’t mean it to: The take is pretty appealing and somehow sort of sexy. The arrangement is really strong, and most interesting as things build up at about the three-minute mark, when there’s a very impressive near-crescendo with the trumpet running through. Often “SJI” is, musically, all about the tension between the slow-and-somber (at first) and cacophonous (in the way some versions conclude it). Here the band just walks right along that line, in a really interesting way. A recommended take.
Jimmie Rogers “Those Gamblers’ Blues” lyrics
Ho, ho, hey hey
Hey ho hey
It was down in Big Kid’s barroom,
On a corner beyond the square.
Everybody drinking liquor;
The regular crowd was there.
I walked out on the sidewalk,
Began walking around.
I looked everywhere I thought she’d be,
But my baby couldn’t be found.
I passed by the big infirmary.
I heard my sweetheart moan.
Gee, it hurts me to see you here,
Cos you know you used to be my own.
I goes on out to see the doctor.
“Your gal is low,” he said.
I went back to see my baby.
Good God, she was lying there dead.
Hey ho ho ho
Oooh ooh ooh
Hey hey ho ho ho
Hey ho hey
So I strolled on back to the barroom.
I drank good whiskey ’til night.
Cos it hurt me so to see my gal
Lying there so cold so white.
She’s gone, she’s gone, God bless her.
She’s mine wherever she may be.
She has rambled this wide world over,
But she never found a pal like me.
Sixteen coal black horses,
All hitched up in line.
In that pretty buggy she’s riding.
Goodbye old gal of mine.