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St. James Infirmary Blues - Arlo Guthrie

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Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 158
Topic starter  

A good workout for a nice slow blues timing, and some optional barre work up the neck.
The lyrics here are the ones I use myself, and were derived from several different 'traditional' versions.
The chords I use are from Arlo Guthrie's version...he does capo up two frets, so actually plays this in Bm.
Almost all internet chord versions, for whatever reason, leave out some of the chords.
If you like, it's fine to substitute F major for that Fmaj7, and even Dm/F sounds not bad long as that " bottom F" can be heard.

St. James Infirmary Blues

Intro: Instrumental over Verse

It was [Am] down at [E7] old Joe's [Am] bar room [E7]
On the [Am] cor-ner [Fmaj7] of the [C] square [E7]
They were [Am] serv-ing [E7] drinks as [Am] us-u-al [Am/G]
And the [Fmaj7] us-u-al [E7] crowd was [Am] there [E7]

On my left stood big Joe Mac-Kin-ney, /
His eyes were blood-shot red; /
And he turned to the crowd a-round him, /
These were the ve-ry words he said : /

“I went down to St. James In-firm-ary /
I saw my ba-by there, /
(She was) stretched out on a long, white tab-le /
So young, so cold, so fair. /

Let her go. Let her go, God bless her /
/ Wher-ever she may be; /
She may search this wide world o-ver /
And nev-er find an-oth-er man like me.” /

Sev-en-teen coal black hor-ses /
Hitched to a rub-ber-tired hack ; /
Sev-en girls goin' to the grave-yard /
On-ly six of them is com-ing back. /

Instrumental Verse x2

/ When I die please just bur-y me /
In my high top Stet-son hat /
Put a twen-ty-dol-lar gold piece on my watch chain, /
To let the Lord know I died stand-ing pat. /

I want six gamb-lers carry-in' my cof-fin, /
A chor-us girl sing-in' me a song; /
Put a jazz band on my hearse wag-on /
To raise Hell as we roll a-long. /

Now that you've heard my sto-ry /
I'll take an-oth-er shot of booze; /
And if any-one here should ask you, /
You've heard my Saint James In-fir-mar-y Blues /

to Coda...your choice :wink:

Here are a few nice YouTube versions to help you out...there's lots more...
Simon Prager :
Bob a Long & McGann :
..or perhaps Arlo himself :

"A child of five could understand this...send someone to fetch a child of five !"--Groucho Marx

Eminent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 15

Is there someone who knows the picking pattern to this song?
I like the song and would like to play fingerpick style.


Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 158
Topic starter  

There is no single fingerpick pattern for any song, any fingerpicking style can be utilized, and there are many styles.
IMHO, it would be very difficult to identify a tab which is specific to your fingerpicking style, not knowing what it is.
Right now, I'm using a two-finger style, thumb and index only, as used by Elizabeth Cotten, Rev. Gary Davis, and Doc Watson.

The YouTube clips I referred to, all show variations of three finger styles.
Did you take a look at some of those YouTube versions ?
You will see quite a difference between the styles of Simon Prager, Mac McGann, and say,the version of "rightsaidshane", which is linked to the same series.

"A child of five could understand this...send someone to fetch a child of five !"--Groucho Marx

Famed Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4338

Thanks for this! Perfect timing, too! One of the bands I hang with does a version of "Sixteen Tons" followed by "Stray Cat Strut" and I've always thought that "St. James Infirmary" would be another natural to follow "Strut" (same feel for all three!). Now, I'm going to learn this one and show them that it is, indeed, a natural follower!

I've always thought of "St. James Infirmary" as more of a jazz thing than a blues thing, though! Probably because I LOVE Cab Calloway.

Speaking of "St. James Infirmary".... Do any of you remember the old Saturday Night Live with Lily Tomlin and Howard Shore with his "All Nurse Band" doing this tune? It aired in Nov. 1975 and was hilarious!! :D

..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ .·´
-:¦:- ((¸¸.·´ -:¦:- Elecktrablue -:¦:-

"Don't wanna ride no shootin' star. Just wanna play on the rhythm guitar." Emmylou Harris, "Rhythm Guitar" from "The Ballad of Sally Rose"

Prominent Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 715


This is just beautiful,

Thanks for all the great version clips too. Arlo Guthrie's version is just great.

I hoping to go jamming with my brother Rodders this afternoon. I think I'll take this with me as Rod is a great blues fan.


The guitar is all right John but you'll never make a living out of it! (John Lennon's Aunt Mimi)

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 108

A fingerpicking version can be found at,%20Arlo%20-%20St.%20James%20Infirmary.htm

Scroll down to get the instrumental picking

If the above URL doesn't work go to /chords.htm and scroll down to the "G" listing for Arlo Guthrie

Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2801

This is such a cool song to play. Thanks for posting it.


“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn” - David Russell (Scottish classical Guitarist. b.1942)