‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me . . .’

It was ninety-three years ago today in Atlanta, on October 22, 1928 – according to the notes to the CD The Essential Jimmie Rodgers – that the Singing Brakeman recorded a song that I’d guess is one of his best-known: “Waiting For A Train.” The recording was released the following February as Bluebird 5163.

I imagine that my first exposure to the tune came with Boz Scaggs’ version, found on his 1969 self-titled album recorded in Muscle Shoals, a track highlighted by Duane Allman’s sweet work on dobro. (Also on the album, of course, is the epic “Loan Me A Dime,” which features Allman’s ferocious slide work.) I got the album in the spring of 1989, but I imagine I’d heard Scagg’s version of the tune long before, though I have no idea when.

Scaggs’ version is just one of more than eighty covers of the tune listed at Second Hand Songs. Three versions are listed from 1929, by Riley Puckett, by Ed (Jake) West, and by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, who recorded as the Jimson Brothers.

The most recent version of “Waiting For A Train” listed at the site was by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. They recorded the song in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room where Robert Johnson recorded twenty-three tracks during three sessions in November 1936. Bragg and Henry released their version in 2016 on the album Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad.

There was a surprise, though, waiting for me at Second Hand Songs. Listed with the versions of “Waiting For A Train” were thirteen versions of the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” with the words credited to Mississippi John Hurt. The website says that Hurt first recorded the song in 1966, a take that was included on the posthumous 1972 album Last Sessions.

I’ve noted here before that Second Hand Songs is a good place to start but not always complete. That’s the case here, as in the digital stacks here I find a version of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” that Hurt recorded in 1963 for the Library of Congress. That version was first released in 1982 on an album titled Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 and has been released on several anthologies since (as has the 1966 version) as shown by the photo in the video below.

Whichever came first, it’s a surprise and a delight to hear the same melody as Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” used as the basis for an entirely different song (as was frequently the case in the folk and blues tradition).

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply