HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN, THE

Latest update on 29/02/2016

Artist: Ashley & Foster
Author: traditional
Label: Vocalion
Year: 1934

Tom Clarence Ashley & Gwen Foster as The Rising Sun Blues, with a Jimmie Rodgers-alike guitar intro (who'd died a couple of months before) and leaving both possibilities open: was it a whorehouse or was it a prison? ("...to spend the rest of my weary life beneath that rising sun"). Tom was part of the same Medicine Show Roy Acuff was in (Doc Hauer's). Tom taught him the song and knew it from his grandmother Enoch Ashley. Although Ashley & Foster sang it from a male perspective, the song is made to be sung by women. The Library of Congress knew about its existence since 1925, although that version lacked any reference to New Orleans. Never published dirty versions from the Ozark Mountains, kept alive among local miners since at least 1905, reveil the bordello background entirely (syfilis included) and situate said house in Baxter Springs (just across the border with Kansas). Historically Related to Lord Barnard And Lady Musgrove, a song from Suffolk, England. Besides, the melody shows some similarities with English ballad Matty Groves (1600s). Alan Lomax (see footnote) once heard folksinger Harry Cox (from Norfolk) sing: "If you go to Lowestoft and ask for the Rising Sun, there you'll find two old whores, and my old woman's one". Guess what? There once was a Rising Sun pub in that fishing town, situated so far east in England it has been nicknamed The Town Of The Rising Sun. But don't underestimate the possibility Cox smuggled that Lowestoft verse in his recording to get rid of Lomax and to confuse his theories. Since 2007 this song's the sole subject of a book: Chasing The Rising Sun by Ted Anthony (Simon & Schuster).

Covers:

1935:

Homer Callahan [as Rounder's Luck; one of the Callahan Brothers, raised on gospel and traditional ballads in North Carolina]

1937:

Georgia Turner [as The Rising Sun Blues; Alan Lomax recording in Middlesboro, Kentucky finally released on Lomax's Popular Songbook cd ('03); this was the version that circulated among New York folk revivalists, although heirs of Georgia cashed a mere $117.50 royalty check]

1938:

Roy Acuff

1941:

Almanac Singers [Alan Lomax recording]

1941:

Woody Guthrie [as The Rising Sun Blues]

1942:

Josh White [first solo, later as guitarist for Libby Holman; he was black, she was white; touring together seeked controversy; banned by the BBC]

1942:

Libby Holman [well placed to sing such a sad song: her first husband got killed, her lover died in a plane crash, her second husband committed suicide, her son died while climbing Mount Whitney and she committed suicide in her own Rolls Royce]

1948:

Lead Belly

1949:

Weavers [vocal: Ronnie Gilbert]

1953:

Hally Wood [on album O' Lovely Appearance Of Death; learned it from the Georgia Turner recording]

1957:

Glenn Yarbrough

1959:

Lonnie Donegan

1960:

Charlie Byrd

1960:

Joan Baez

1961:

Nina Simone [Live At The Village Gate; before Dylan and The Animals, even before Dave Van Ronk]

1961:

Carolyn Hester

1962:

Doc Watson [along with the original Tom Clarence Ashley]

1962:

Sundowners [first British band with a version; boycotted by the BBC]

1962:

Bob Dylan [who learned it from Dave Van Ronk; after hearing The Animals' version, Dylan cut his own electric version (finally released on his interactive cd-rom Highway 61 Interactive)]

1963:

Rambling Jack Elliott

1963:

Marie Laforet [in English, pre Animals and Johnny Hallyday]

1964:

Animals [n°1 UK & US; knew the Josh White version (banned by the BBC!) and probably knew the Nina Simone version too; hearing The Animals' version and the folk purists' reactions was all Dylan needed to decide to go electric]

1964:

Dave Van Ronk [learned it from the Hally Wood version]

1964:

Johnny Hallyday [as Le Penitencier]

1964:

Marianne Faithfull

1964:

Donald Byrd

1964:

Ventures

1964:

Lone Star [as La Casa Del Sol Naciente; hit Sp.]

1965:

Tracy Nelson

1965:

Marcellos Ferial [as La Casa Del Sole]

1966:

Duane Eddy

1966:

Gil Bateman [as Daddy Walked In Darkness; lyrics: Hoyt Axton]

1967:

Everly Brothers

1967:

Tim Hardin

1969:

Chambers Brothers

1970:

Frijid Pink

1973:

Jody Miller

1978:

Santa Esmeralda

1979:

Barbarians

1981:

Dolly Parton

1983:

Eric Burdon

1987:

Buster Poindexter

1989:

Frank Tovey

1990:

Tracy Chapman

1993:

Rage

1994:

Walkabouts

1996:

Mac Benford & The Woodshed All-Stars

1997:

Wyclef Jean [melody in Sang Fezi]

1999:

Snakefarm [with Anna Domino as Rising Sun]

2000:

EverEve

2001:

Blind Boys Of Alabama [as Amazing Grace to the melody of The House Of The Rising Sun]

2001:

Coco Jr. & Vibes Alive

2002:

Toto

2002:

Muse

2003:

Be Good Tanyas

2003:

Helmut Lotti

2005:

Roxy Perry

2005:

Moaners [as Paradise Club]

2010:

Brendan Croker & Bruno Deneckere

2015:

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin [as In New Orleans (Rising Sun Blues)]

"There is a house in New Orleans..." According to songcatcher Alan Lomax many so called jazz musicians from New Orleans have known this song for ages (ante WW I) and no wonder: the old city center was literally cradled with Houses of the Rising Sun: there was a Rising Sun Coffee House at #9, Old Levee Street (nowadays 115 Decatur), there was the Rising Sun Hotel in Conti Street (burned down in 1822 but recent archeological excavations reveil a more than average amount of lipstick & rouge recipients along with masses of empty liquor bottles) and there was the bordello of Madame Marianne du Soleil Levant at #826-830 St. Louis Street, reputed not only for it's carnal attractions, also for spiritual ceremonies, symbolized by two ritual voodoo altars, still standing. The house the song refers to is in most cases unmistakeably a whorehouse, but the original house, the one all these Houses Of The Rising Sun where named after, may have been something completely different. Just like a pub called Under The Tower refers to a church nearby, the ball & chain-verse at the end of most song versions and the French translation by Johnny Hallyday (Le Pénitencier) don't exclude a jail either. Dave Van Ronk, the man responsible for learning Bob Dylan the song, told me he once was shown a photograph of the old Parish Prison of New Orleans (demolished in 1895) with the entrance of the woman's wing adorned with a sandstone engraving of a rising sun motiv, like in the flag of Japan when Japan is (was) at war (The Land of the Rising Sun). Which - still according to Van Ronk - makes it absolutely acceptable for entire segments of the late 19th century proletarian population of New Orleans, to use the expression: "He/she's in the House of the Rising Sun" while having to admit a family member was in jail. A long newspaper article about the demolishing of said building (in the Times Democrat of March 10th 1895) neither mentions the sandstone, nor the nickname, which of course doesn't mean anything: potential readers were not necessarily familiar with the lingo of potential jailbait. The old Parish Prison was a doomed building: in 1891 the scene of the lynching of 11 Sicilians by fellow inmates. In those days, along with the Irish, Italian immigrants were like the niggers of New Orleans. The prison bordered Storyville, filling the block formed by nowadays St. Ann Street, Tremé, Orleans and Marais. It stood more or less where later the Municipal Auditorium was build (with Congo Square nearby). The Williams Research Center (410 Chartres Street) holds a special map about the prison, with fotos. The same rising sun motiv still adorns many a French Quarter private house, more precisely in the lakeside/downtown quarter bordered by Bourbon, Dumaine, Burgundy and Barracks. Little wood houses in particular, survivers from the French era, which feeds two theories: either these rising sun motives worked like a discreet marker for prostitution in days before Storyville (houses one could stay til the sun comes up), or were just a hint to the French king Louis XIV, nicknamed the Sun King. After all, he gave his name to the state of Louisiana. All things well considered, his Palais at Versailles may well deserve to be entitled the Real House Of The Rising Sun.

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