Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

House Of The Rising Sun

Noelle Cristen

The House of the Rising Sun” is a folk song from the United States. Also called “House of the Rising Sun” or occasionally “Rising Sun Blues“, it tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans. The most successful version was recorded by the English rock group The Animals in 1964, which was a number one hit in the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden and Canada.

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new bluejeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunk

—— organ solo ——

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

Recorded in just one take on 18 May 1964, it started with a famous electric guitar A minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine.

The performance took off with Eric Burdon’s lead vocal, which has been variously described as “howling”, “soulful”, and “deep and gravelly as the north-east English coal town of Newcastle that spawned him.”

Finally, Alan Price’s pulsating organ part (played on a Vox Continental) completed the sound.

Burdon later said, “We were looking for a song that would grab people’s attention,” and they succeeded: “House of the Rising Sun” was a true trans-Atlantic hit, topping both the UK pop singles chart (in July 1964) and the U.S. pop singles chart (two months later in September 1964, when it became the first British Invasion number one unconnected with The Beatles); it was the group’s breakthrough hit in both countries and became their signature song.

Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of “The House of the Rising Sun” is uncertain. Some musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as the “Unfortunate Rake” of the 18th century which were taken to America by early settlers.

Alan Price of the Animals has claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel, and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting.

The oldest known existing recording is by versatile Appalachian artists Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster and was made in 1933. Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley. Alger “Texas” Alexander’s “The Risin’ Sun,” recorded in 1928, is sometimes mentioned as the first recording, but is a completely different song.

The song might have been lost to obscurity had it not been collected by folklorist Alan Lomax, who, along with his father, was a curator of the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress. On an expedition with his wife to eastern Kentucky Lomax set up his recording equipment in Middlesborough, Kentucky in the house of a singer and activist called Tilman Cadle. On September 15, 1937 he recorded a performance by Georgia Turner, the 16 year-old daughter of a local miner. He called it “The Risin’ Sun Blues.” Lomax later recorded a different version sung by Bert Martin and a third sung by Daw Henson, both eastern Kentucky singers. In his 1941 songbook Our Singing Country, Lomax credits the lyrics to Turner, with reference to Martin’s version. According to his later writing, the melody bears similarities to a traditional English ballad, “Matty Groves”, recorded of course by Fairport Convention.

In late 1948 Lead Belly recorded a version called “In New Orleans” in the sessions that later became the album Lead Belly’s Last Sessions (1994, Smithsonian Folkways).

“In New Orleans” – Lead Belly

 Joan Baez recorded it in 1960 on her eponymous debut album.

In late 1961, Bob Dylan recorded the song for his first album, Bob Dylan, released in March 1962. Dylan claims a writer’s credit for the song.

In an interview on the documentary No Direction Home, Dave Van Ronk said that he was intending to record it at that time, and that Dylan copied his version. He recorded it himself soon thereafter in 1964 on Just Dave Van Ronk.

I had learned it sometime in the 1950s, from a recording by Hally Wood, the Texas singer and collector, who had got it from an Alan Lomax field recording by a Kentucky woman named Georgia Turner. I put a different spin on it by altering the chords and using a bass line that descended in half steps—a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers. By the early 1960s, the song had become one of my signature pieces, and I could hardly get off the stage without doing it.
—Dave Van Ronk
In Suze Rotolo’s book that I am currently reading she is quoted as saying Dylan and Van Ronk had a big falling out over Dylan’s decision to record the song without discussiong it with Van Ronk, the book seems to be of the opinion that he (Van Ronk) never recorded it, evidently this is wrong.

Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Dave Van Ronk

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May 10, 2010 - Posted by | Blast from The Past, Blues, Books, Folk, Old Music, Video | , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. The lyrics

    Is when he’s on a drunk

    Are actually

    Is when he’s all a’drunk

    Comment by Martin Kelly | May 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Well spotted and thanks for dropping in.

      You just can’t get good staff anywhere these days!!

      HD

      Comment by thehelplessdancer | May 12, 2010 | Reply


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