Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

Cover Story – House Of The Rising Sun

Sandi Thom made a pilgrimage to New Orleans to research the origins of her latest single “House Of The Rising Sun” – and discovered it is probably a Scottish folk song.

The singer, from Banff, has recorded a documentary of her travels after seeking out the inspiration and roots of the song made famous by famous artists including The Animals, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone.

Sandi’s research led back to 18th century Scottish church services and the coal mines of Lowestoft.

She said: “My brother Chris and I went out to New Orleans. We talked to historians and librarians who had researched the origins of the song and we interviewed the guy who runs the House Of The Rising Sun B&B and discovered he was an Englishman from Romford, in Essex, who has lived there for 25 years.

“His wife is from the Appalachian mountains and they do historical talks. He has about 50 versions of the song, including my own, on his website. These people are all fanatical about the song and its origins.”

Sandi’s journey took her right back to the late 1700s.

She said: “Bob Dylan was fascinated with the version by Georgia Turner back in 1937 and she heard it from her grandmother.

“The song goes back as far as the late 1700s and is most likely to be Scots Irish. So much of the music that arrived with all the Scots-Irish migrants came from Scotland and became the foundation for popular music.”

Sandi’s latest version of the song is available on the deluxe version of her current album Merchant & Thieves and as a download single.

To buy the Sandi Thom version click HERE

Sandi’s fascination for the Sixties classic is down to Sandie Shaw, who asked her to sing it at a festival.

Sandi said: “Sandie Shaw invited me to sing House Of The Rising Sun at the Vintage music festival in Surrey alongside Sophie Ellis Bextor and Micha Paris.

“We did it with the Heritage Orchestra. I’d sang it on my own on guitar but I had never sung it with an orchestra and it sounded great. Micah was adamant I should record it. I got the band together and went into a studio in North London.

“When you release a song, you have to register it. The song is listed as traditional which means it is public domain. I was like, ‘who the hell did write it?’ Nobody knows. Something in me said, ‘let’s go to New Orleans.’

“We interviewed dozens of people about it from hobos to bands busking in the street. It is really colourful and very cool. The whole thing has grown arms and legs.”

Despite her transatlantic search, the origins of the song remain shrouded mystery – and no-one is more pleased than Sandi.

She said: “The song has been covered by so many people and stands the test of time. It is very mysterious. I met Eric Burdon of The Animals. He has done a lot of research and believes it is a Scots-Irish song too.

“We just concluded in the end that it is better not to know, because the intrigue keeps it alive.

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February 10, 2011 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Blues, Cover Stories, New Releases, Video | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

May 10, 2010 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Blues, Books, Folk, Old Music, Video | , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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