Friday, August 07, 2015
Funeral Rites Revisited
In a 2013 post I juxtaposed the self-glorifying funeral instructions left by Oscar Thibault, the patriarch in Roger Martin du Gard's multi-volume novel Les Thibaults, with the intricate and preposterous obsequies commanded by the "wealthy eccentric" Grent Oude Wayl in Harry Mathews's 1962 novel The Conversions. Above is one more: Willie McTell's 1956 rendering of "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues," which tells how the last wishes of the gambler Jesse Williams were carried out.
Though McTell recorded the song three times, the version above being the last, his repeated claim to have written it is open to question. Elements of the lyrics can be traced back to at least the 18th century (blues scholar Max Haymes has untangled some of the tangled strands of its prehistory), and Robert W. Harwood has attributed the song's creation in the form in which we know it to the elusive African-American composer and bandleader Porter Grainger. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that McTell's versions are the definitive performances.