St. James Infirmary Blues“, sometimes known as “Gambler’s 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. The song was first recorded (as “Gambler’s Blues”) in 1927 by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra. This version mentions an infirmary, but not by name. The song was popular during the jazz era, and by 1930 at least eighteen different versions had been released by various artists.The Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded the song multiple times using pseudonyms such as “The Ten Black Berries”, “The Harlem Hot Chocolates” and “The Jungle Band”, whilst Cab Calloway performs a version in the 1933 Betty Boop animated film Snow White, providing both vocals and dance moves for Koko the clown.
In 1945, while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany, Tony Bennett recorded a version with his division’s military band. This was the very first studio recording Bennett ever did.
In 1956, Scatman Crothers released a version of “St. James Infirmary” as the fifth track of his album, Rock ‘N’ Roll With “Scat Man.
In 1959, Snooks Eaglin recorded a version of “St. James Infirmary” for the Folkways Records album “New Orleans Street Singer”.
In 1961, Bobby “Blue” Bland released a version of “Saint James Infirmary” on the flip side of his No. 2 R&B hit “Don’t Cry No More” (Duke 340) and included it in his album Two Steps From The Blues.
In 1963, Lou Rawls featured the song on his Capitol album, Back and Blue.
In 1965, Appalachian banjo player Dock Boggs recorded a version of the song entitled “Old Joe’s Barroom”.
In 1968, Eric Burdon and the Animals released a version on their album “Every One of Us“.
In November 1972, Joe Cocker published the album Joe Cocker (also billed as Something to Say) where appears this song performed live.
In 1981, Bob Dylan adapted the song when he wrote and recorded “Blind Willie McTell.” The song was written for his 1981 release, Infidels, but was not released until The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991 (Columbia, 1991). Source: Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, Michael Gray (Continuum, 2000), pp. 517-547.
Canadian Brass created a nostalgic version of this on their Basin Street CD recorded for Sony/CBS in 1984.
The James Solberg Band recorded a ‘blues’ version on their 1995 CD on the Atomic Theory label See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.
In 2006 The Devil Makes Three, covered the song on the album, A Little Bit Faster And A Little Bit Worse (under the title St James).
More recently, The White Stripes covered the song on their self-titled debut album, and Jack White says he and fellow band member, Meg White, were introduced to the song from a Betty Boop cartoon.
Isobel Campbell has also recorded a version of the song. In 2002 Jorma Kaukonen did a version for his Blue Country Heart album, on which he titled the song “Those Gambler’s Blues”, and erroneously credited it to Jimmie Rodgers.
In February 2012, Trombone Shorty and Booker T. Jones performed an instrumental version as the opening number of the “Red, White, and Blues” concert at the White House.
The song appears on Rickie Lee Jones‘ album, The Devil You Know.