Well, the recording was a debacle. One would have expected no less. The lockup garage door had been firmly closed, with Madge Hortense, Rotten Ronnie Junior, Trixie La Belle and a few desultory musicians inside, and the Altona Constabulary outside . The Vicar, his wife, the French onion seller and the others had, mercifully, gone home to watch daytime TV. You can even watch it at night these days..
So… Trixie, having started by noting that there were no words, or chord charts available, suggested that Was He Handsome Was I Drunk and Did Momma Give Me Hell should be sung in French, to put the others off the scent. Turns out Trixie was the daughter of a Narre Warren gasfitter, and the french accent was a fake – so that was an idea that was never going to fly.
They all opened another cask of chardonnay, and Madge cracked a catering pack of Winnie Blues to take, as she put it, the edge off.
Rotten Ronnie Junior, already three sheets to the wind, offered to sing alto, as well as play with his saxophone. His Alto was a result of the nasty blow in the Ballarat region, of which, the less said the better. Hortense, wistful as ever, misheard the bit about playing with his saxophone, offered to help. Madge, not to be outdone, sat lugubrious with another bottle of chardy and a confused merchant seaman until she could stand no more, though whether it was of the seaman or the chardonnay no-one can really say. She waded into the melee fists and all before collapsing in a heap across the mixing desk. At which point, the dials lit up and the ancient reels started to turn…
They all wondered, (me included) at this point, how the confused merchant seaman got in. Except the confused merchant seaman, who was wondering how he was going to get out.
The dog, sick of being stood upon, lit up a mournful howl. Trixie told the dog to shut up. Ronnie told Trixie to shut up. They were all so busy shouting at each other that no-one noticed the Akai slowly turning. So the whole shebang got caught on quarter inch tape. Which is what one uses when recording in a lockup at the arse end of refinery Terrace. The result? A recording that was variously described as unusual, unique, aurally challenging, and as creating a newfound respect for the original “Was I Drunk, Was He Handsome, and Did Momma give me Hell”.
Georgia White’s 1936 recording:
Madeleine Peyroux’s 1996 recording of the same song: