You win some, lose some (it’s all the same to me)……………I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is the
Ace Of Spades the Jack Of Diamonds. Or depending where you are and who you’re listening to, the Jack O’ Diamonds.
Jack O’ Diamonds is a classic of its kind. A song about cards, gambling and losing. Which is one and the same I suppose. It was often sung as a lament on the lost highways, biways and plantations of the southern states whenever one unlucky gambler lost his lot playing Coon Can, an arguably politically incorrectly named version of a card game that we nowadays would call Rummy. Like most songs of its ilk, it has ancient roots, some stretching back to the Highlands of Scotland, others stretching less far back to the American Civil War. In 1926, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to cut a recording of it. You may never have heard it before, but you’ll know exactly how it sounds – deep southern blues with a petted lip and rudimentary knife-as-slide guitar, coated in what sounds like a thousand eggs frying outside Aldo’s chip shop on a Friday night. It’s quite possibly the oldest record I’ll ever put on here. It’s amazing that it exists at all, a fact highlighted by the eerie, ghostly state in which it is preserved.
Since 1926, it’s taken on a life of its own. Jack O’ Diamonds has been recorded a gazillion times by every two-bit country bluegrass and blues singer that ever lived. And the rest. Lonnie Donegan, the King Of Skiffle, released his version in 1957. A heady mix of hiccuping vocals, frantically scrubbed acoustic guitars and some fine Scotty Moore a-like electric pickin’, it sows the seeds for all future DIY punk aesthetists everywhere. Old tea chest and string as upright bass guitar. Washboard as rhythm section. School choir harmonies. It’s terrific! Without Lonnie Donegan, The Beatles might never have happened, Western pop music as we know it would be very different and we’d all be listening to Mongolian jazz. Probably. But you knew that already. Anyway, if you have the time, you might want to read this.
The best version of Jack O’ Diamonds is, to these ears, the 1966 version by The Daily Flash. Little-known outside of Seattle, The Daily Flash were a fantastic garage-punk band. All wailing harmonicas, fuzz bass and obligatory ear-bleeding guitar solo, their version sounds nothing like the other two. The rhythm underpinning it all brings to mind the rattle and roll rumble of the coal-laden Hunterston Power Station train as it thunders past my house in the wee small hours most nights. Terrifying, yes. Noisy, yes. And guaranteed to keep you awake just the same as that bloody train.