“One place you’re going to find a lot of doctors is St. James Infirmary. This song’s history is convoluted and fascinating. Louis Armstrong recorded it as early as nineteen and twenty-eight, but it goes back much further. According to one study it got its start as a ballad called ‘The Unfortunate Rake’…”
– Bob Dylan (Theme Time Radio Hour, Doctors)
The Best Songs: St. James Infirmary blues
“St. James Infirmary Blues” is an American folksong of anonymous origin, though sometimes credited to the songwriter Joe Primrose (a pseudonym for Irving Mills). Louis Armstrong made it famous in his influential 1928 recording.
There are hundreds of recordings and it has been difficult to choose my favourites. I’ve tried to pick some for their historic significance and some just because they are so incredibly good.
“St. James Infirmary” is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”), about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease.
My first pick is an a cappella version of The Unfortunate Rake done by Ian McShane from the TV-series Deadwood (we can also clearly hear the melody that became Streets of Laredo):
“The song is about the transformative power of love and that’s what it has always meant to me and that’s what it will always mean to the Cash children.”
– Rosanne Cash
“Ring of Fire” or “The Ring of Fire” is a country music song popularized by Johnny Cash and co-written by June Carter Cash (wife of Johnny Cash) and Merle Kilgore. The single appears on Cash’s 1963 album, Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. The song was originally recorded by June’s sister, Anita Carter, on her Mercury Records album Folk Songs Old and New (1963) as “(Love’s) Ring of Fire”.
Anita Carter – Love’s Ring of Fire:
According to the Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs, June Carter wrote this song while driving around aimlessly one night, worried about Cash’s wild man ways – and aware that she couldn’t resist him.
“There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns”
Not long after hearing June’s sister Anita’s take on the song, Cash had a dream that he was singing it with Mariachi horns. Cash’s version became one of his biggest hits, and his marriage to June 4 years later helped save his life. The song was maybe inspired by the poem Love’s Ring Of Fire, and it was originally recorded in a more folksy manner by June Carter’s sister, Anita, as “Love’s Fiery Ring.”/”Love’s Ring of Fire”. Cash held back on his single to give her version a chance to chart. Continue reading Today: Johnny Cash recorded Ring of Fire in 1963→