Archie Shepp: Trouble in Mind (1980) Steeplechase


Selection: St James Infirmary


Archie Shepp (tenor and soprano saxophone) Horace Parlan (piano) recorded February 6, 1980 at Sweet Silence Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Music:

A companion volume to the previous year’s gospel infused  Goin’ Home album , Trouble in Mind  continues  the same pairing of Shepp and Parlan, but mining a different vein of  Afro-American musical expression: “The Blues” .

If some critics judged this the lesser of the two works it is perhaps because the blues formula is more limited, often a three chord 12-bar groove, leaving the tunes musically closer to each other than the gospel outing. That is how blues works, expression within a traditional format . The works are complementary.

Shepp once again works the interchange between a singing and an instrumental voice,  almost lead-guitar driven, clipped phrases culminating in a vibrato sustain, ascending the upper register to climax,  the tenor rasps with guitar-like distortion, and a “cry” only a breath-driven instrument can produce. .

The artistic intent is clearly to honour the blues tradition, and its roots in black history, without actually spilling over into a blues band performance. As a result Parlan  avoids any kitsch barellhouse blues manner, keeping an even hold on the songs with a grand concert style, still bluesy but leaving the blues voice principally  to Shepp, a finely judged balance.  It is a fitting companion to Goin’ Home, both are must have titles.

More on the Track Selection St James Infirmary:

Wiki tells us more about the song St James Infirmary. “Like most such folksongs, there is much variation in the lyrics from one version to another. This is the first stanza as sung by Louis Armstrong:

I went down to St. James Infirmary, Saw my baby there, Stretched out on a long white table, So cold, so sweet, so fair. Let her go, let her go, God bless her,Wherever she may be, She can look this wide world over, But she’ll never find a sweet man like me.

Well you can see why he had the Blues. His baby done gone.

The song was popular during the jazz era, and by 1930 at least eighteen different versions had been released by various artists, including The Duke Ellington Orchestra . “St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease”

Yup, I guess that’s enough to give you the blues too. I can’t help feeling that knowing  the lyrics are not helping me get to grips with the music, which is best left wordless. Fill in your own story.


Shepp’s cover portrait exudes expressiveness: musically articulate, emotional expression and dignity, Shepp is a giant, and a survivor.

Vinyl: SCS  1139 – Stereo -119 gram – Dutch pressing

Shepp-Trouble-in-Mind-WW-plant-symbol Danish Steeplechase pressings have always been exemplary quality. Which pressing plant  is the interlocking zigzag symbol? This is my first Dutch Steeplechase pressing and I am less impressed. Should you have a choice, my advice is send out for a Danish.



Collector’s Corner

Source: Ebay Buy it now option from a seller in Vienna, cheap as chips. Music this good should really be more expensive, people might value it more.

Shopping list, add more Archie Shepp.



Many years ago I wrote a modern Blues Song parody myself, which I found typed out among some personal memorabilia. It went like this (12 bar in E):

PC Blues

Woke up this mornin’, turn on my PC

Put in my password, but she don’t recognise me

Got the PC blues, whole systems gone down the pan

Found my spreadsheet’s been spreadin’ ,

for another man.

Not bad eh? I  do de blues too, man.

12 thoughts on “Archie Shepp: Trouble in Mind (1980) Steeplechase

  1. I was reading this when I realised I had been considering this record in my record store the same day. So I went back today to see if it was still there. Bought it, cleaned it on my Okki Nokki. Listening to it right now. Great music, and sound!
    It’s the original SteepleChase, so couldn’t be happier for £16 🙂 Another great tip from LJC, SteepleChase.

    • You are right about the lyrics- a tragic, sombre song. I had not heard the Lou Rawls version but I find it is a bit too jaunty considering the context. Van Morrison performed a suitably sober version at his recent Royal Albert Hall concert (also a studio version on What’s Wrong With This Picture). I think there may be a link the him doing it live in 2003 at the end of your YouTube clip.

      • Agreed but while the Armstrong version is probably the best I’ve heard, the Lou Rawls evokes the triumphant denial of the singer’s predicament which is suggested by the great line: ‘put a $20 gold piece on my watch chain so the boys’ll know I died standing pat.’
        Will check out the Van Morrison later.

        • Everyone here is entitled to their say, interesting. Seems to me from the comments, the music is a canvas, on which different artists have painted their own chosen picture. There is the sentiment which goes with the words, some might be moved by one set of words more than another. I am moved more by Shepp’s intonation and inflection than by Rawl’s lyrics , but then I tend not to listen to the narrative that underpins words. Seems to me that is the realm of literature rather than music, but I may be the only one here thinks that way.

          When it comes to Blues I tend to prefer the more artful lyrics. Case in point: the classic blues “Third Degree”

          “Got me accused of peeping
          I can’t see a thing
          Got me accused of forgery
          I can’t even write my name
          Got me accused of taxes
          I ain’t got a dime
          Got me accused of children
          And ain’t nary one of them was mine

          Bad luck
          Bad luck is killing me
          Well, I just can’t stand
          No more of this third degree”

          Now I think this gentlemen is an appropriate case of the blues, that anyone who has had an unpleasant and unwelcome enquiry from the Inland Revenue can immediately identify with.

  2. I have always been a great fan of Horace Parlan, never of Shepp. I have listened to all the songs on this LP, and I somehow like the feeling. But in this exposed situation – and allowing for all the tonal freedom that there is in jazz – there are just too many instances where Shepp, vis-a-vis Parlan’s piano, sounds plain wrong. Out of tune. It hurts. I love Ornette Coleman. Shepp is not my cup of tea.

  3. BY no means a rare record, but not one you see all that frequently, so well done in finding this. It is quite splendid. The duet LP with Abdulah Ibrahim (on Denon) is very fine too.

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