This week’s tune marks a change of tempo after three recent ballads. When I played Hoagy’s Carmichael’s Heart and Soul awhile back, my distant cousin, Therese -- and I do mean distant, as in beautiful Seattle – said that her favorite Carmichael tune was Limehouse Blues.
Hoagy may well have performed it, but it turns out that he didn’t write it. Credit for that goes to one Phillip Braham (apparently one of the lesser Brahams). All of the phrases have the same basic rhythm, duh duh duh DAH, which if you respect it, forces a kind of old fashioned two-beat feel. (The tune, it should be added, comes by this naturally, having been written in 1922). Most musicians like the song though, I think, for the oddly minor and slightly eerie chord changes at the beginning, and it has remained a lesser staple and has been played in all sorts of ways.
I never knew the lyrics, which I’ve amended slightly for modern sensibilities. Who knew it was about Chinatown? Maybe the Chinese theme accounts for the vaguely mysterioso harmony. My version below, is more 1920’s than 2000 aughts. To hear it, click on the title. The lyrics are below.
Oh! Limehouse kid Oh! oh! oh! Limehouse kid
Going the way that the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom and nobody's child
Haunting and taunting, you're just kind of wild
Oh! Limehouse blues, I've the real Limehouse blues
Learned from the Chinese those sad China blues
Rings on your fingers and tears for your crown
That is the story of old Chinatown.