Let A Deck Of Cards Be My Tombstone
Posted in 1940s,Field Recording,Piedmont Blues on 11.28.07

Even though I seem to be the only one obsessed with this song, I’m going to keep posting versions of Dying Crapshooter Blues until it becomes the “new” Stagolee. This version was recorded by John Lomax in 1940 on one of his trips to Atlanta. Blind Willie McTell is in fine form here – and he lays claim to writing this song, which is a dubious claim at best – however the lyrics and the story in this version differs significantly from the traditional takes on the song. McTell’s delivery on this song might be the best I’ve heard from him, which is saying a lot as I think he had the best delivery in pre-war blues.

Blind Willie McTell – Dying Crapshooter’s Blues (1940)


31 Comments so far
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By L. on 11.29.07 5:51 am

McTell is simply wonderful – I like him more as I hear him more. I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of that book about him.

By Rob Hutten on 11.29.07 11:30 am

You’re not the only one – it’s a great tune. Oh, just to be pedantic, it was John Lomax who recorded this 1940 session, not Alan.

By Peter Patnaik on 11.29.07 9:53 pm

fixed. when are you bringing your blog back?

By Gary Cole on 11.30.07 12:11 am

I, too, am a big fan of this song as well as a lover of McTell’s music. How many more versions of this song do you know about? I was introduced to it on a McTell CD. I didn’t know anyone els had recorded it. Why do you think his claim to have written it is dubious? And, thanks!

By Dixon on 11.30.07 3:15 pm

Willie didn’t write this tune, despite what he may have said . . . or remembered! Martha Copeland recorded a version of it in the 20s. She recorded from 1923-28 & the lyrics to her version are pretty much exactly the same as Willie’s.

By Peter Patnaik on 11.30.07 6:15 pm

i posted martha copeland’s version earlier this year here:


it still a bit different from this recording of mctell. and i think cab calloway did the first major recording of the song in 1919 and maybe the first as “dying crapshooter blues” as opposed to st. james infirmary.

By Dixon on 12.02.07 10:29 am

St. James Infirmary does appear to be the source of Crapshooter but it’s different enough to be its own song . . . Calloway didn’t record as early as 1919 as far as I know . . . maybe ’29 . . . Here are some other versions:
Martha Copeland, w/clarinet an piano, 5 May 1927
Nannie McKinney, w/piano, 24 June 1927
Viola McCoy, w/cl, piano, late August 1927
Rosa Henderson, w/piano, late Sept 1927
Willie McTell, 5 Nov 1940

By Propboss on 12.02.07 5:05 pm

I think the book L refers to is “Hand Me My Travelling Shoes – In Search Of Blind Willie McTell” This is first rate – thoroughly recommended

By Peter Patnaik on 12.02.07 10:29 pm

wait. is there a place to by that book in the states? i’ve only seen it for sale from european booksellers.

By Rusty Nail on 12.03.07 4:24 am

According to some historians, McTell himself said of his most strikingly original composition, “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues”, “I had to steal music from every which way you could get it to get it to fit.”

I’m not sure whether he is the original author of ‘Dying Crapshooter’s Blues’ or not. However, if he did, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that maybe parts of the song were stolen from ‘St. James Infirmary’. And some researchers have theorized that ‘St James infirmary’ dates all the back to the 16th century. All interesting stuff. Of McTell’s songs, I like ‘Travelin’ Blues’ the best, followed by ‘Statesboro Blues’. I recently posted some ‘St James Infirmary’ covers on my blog: http://www.dembluez.com hope that doesn’t sound or look like spam, I didn’t mean it to.

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By Jason Hathaway on 12.04.07 2:39 pm

I love this song, too! It really is one of Blind Willie McTell’s best. Check out the version of this song on “Atlanta 12-String,” McTell’s last album, recorded in 1949. Before I listened to it, I thought since he was older at the time, it would be sloppier than earlier recordings, but he was still at the top of his game. The fingerpicking was still spot on, yet his delivery in songs like “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues” and “Kill It Kid” is as sharp as a razor. It served as the perfect swan song for a blues legend.

By Ray on 12.06.07 11:23 am

Atlanta 12-String wasn’t McTell’s swan song. Last Session (Bluesville) was recorded seven years later. He was still pretty good in 1956, too.

By Nick on 01.05.08 12:57 pm

Just listened to Dyin’ Crapshooters Blues after being recommended in UK newspaper The Guardian. Fantastic

By Geoff uk on 02.07.09 5:51 am

I’m a great fan of pre-war blues…….have been for years…………how can I register on to this site ?



By Filip on 03.03.11 9:48 am

If you listen to what McTell says before recording this song he says he made it from three different tunes.

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By Takumi on 12.23.15 3:22 am

What a great way to end a great tour for two heroes of music! I was at the show in Florence and cerdisoned even this week-end to pick-up three tickets for the last three dates in London and book a quick return flight with EasyJet or some other low-cost. In the back of my mind, after all the critique of HM’s Voice, the thought that Bob may be considering throwing the towel when it comes to touring live, and that this Monday’s show could well be the very last ever, since there are no shows planned at all for the moment. But after Florence I felt that that was a great show and sufficient for me for this year, hoping for other tours to come in 2012 or after. After seeing this clip and seeing the moving way Mark honored the Master of Lyrics and also seeing the way Bob returned the same favor at the end and seeing that they closed the whole tour with the song with which my wife and I once announced the birth of our daughter to the whole world, Forever Young, one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written, I now know I most certainly should have been at this show, no doubt! These closing 6 minutes would have worth the cost of traveling there by plane and paying for the last show of the tour for me without any hesitation. A very memorable moment and as good as it gets! May Bob’s song always be sung! I’m pretty sure it will be .thanks for posting, Hans in France.

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