“St. James Infirmary” was copyrighted in 1929 by one Joe Primrose whom Walker confirms was a pseudonym for music publisher Irving Mills, an associate of Duke Ellington. The melody is the Armstrong version, although there are other melody lines (one of which is “Streets of Laredo”) which Walker discovered on a disc entitled The Unfortunate Rake: A Study In The Evolution of A Ballad, containing 20 songs and extensive notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein. The “Streets of Laredo” melody appears as “St.James Hospital ” on a disc by musicologist Alan Lomax.
It was down in Old Joe's barroom, On the corner by the square, Drinks were being served as usual, And a goodly crowd was there.
When up steped old joe McGuinny His eyes were bloodshot red; As he poured himself more wiskey, This is what he said:
I went down to the St. James Infirmary I saw my baby there, Streched out on a cold white table, So sweet, so cold, so fair.
So Let her go, let her go, God bless her; Wherever she may be **see note** She may search this wide world over but she'll never find a sweet man like me.
When I die, want you to dress me in straght laced shoes A box back coat and a Stetson hat; Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain So the boys know I died standin' pat.