Tom Waits and Keith Richards Sing Sea Song “Shenandoah” for New Pirate-Themed CD: Listen Online

In 2006, Anti- Records, home of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Neko Case, Kate Bush (and so many more favorites of mine, this list is already too long), published the tons-of-fun compilation Rogue’s Gallery, a selection of sea shanties and pirate songs as interpreted by an ensemble of luminaries from the pop, indie, and folk worlds. The two-CD, forty-three track release is available on YouTube (I’d recommend Nick Cave’s “Fire Down Below,” but he’s an old hand at this kind of thing).

Both CDs are produced by Hal Willner and curated by Willner and Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski; Son of Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys is set for release on February 19th. Willner told Rolling Stone in December that this new release “seems happier—not as much about torture, sodomy and death.” Hard to imagine a sea song without those three things, but here we are, with “Shenandoah” (above), a nostalgic hymn to old Virginia, supposedly sung by Missouri River flatboatmen in the early 19th century, then exported ‘round the world on clipper ships. The version above by Tom Waits and Keith Richards turns the maudlin ballad into a drunken funeral dirge. A commenter on the video puts it perfectly: “If a song could smell like whiskey….” Richards’ spare electric guitar work near the end adds a clean, melodic counterpoint to Waits’ down-and-out growl. Wonderful stuff.

The song has long been a favorite of clean-shaven choral and vocal groups like the Statler Brothers and Mormon Tabernacle Choir and was the title theme of the 1965 Civil War film Shenandoah, with Jimmy Stewart. Waits and Richards do the song a much-needed service—they reclaim it for the drunken, dirty boatmen and rum-soaked, lonely sailors who sang it at sea.

* Correction: a previous version of this post stated that Rogue’s Gallery and Son of Rogue’s Gallery were associated with the Walt Disney company and part of the Pirates of the Caribbean promotional campaign. As you can see from producer Hal Willner’s comment below, neither project is associated with Disney or the marketing of the Pirates films. We apologize for the mistake. 

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Josh Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness



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  1. Hal Willner says . . . | January 25, 2013 / 10:59 am

    hi – i was sent this site today… wouldn’t normally do this but – i am the producer of both Rogues Gallery records and you’ll be happy to hear that they have NOTHING to do with Disney or in marketing of the PIRATES movies – - this was an outside project that Depp and Verbinski thought up as a separate project all together – look at the artists that are on the record – most are not exactly disney-friendly…. that said, thank you for the good words and support for these records…

  2. Josh Jones says . . . | January 25, 2013 / 11:06 am

    Thanks so much, Hal. There’s obviously a lot of misinformation out there about the project; everyone who has reported on it seems to think it’s a Disney thing. I’m very glad you wrote in to correct this. These Rogues records are amazing! Thank you for putting them out there.

  3. Douglas Faunt says . . . | January 25, 2013 / 11:20 am

    The first album carries a special place for me- I was crew of BOUNTY (which is in the 2nd and 3rd POTC movies) for the past few years. Several of my shipmates can be seen in the movies, too.
    I’ve ordered this new CD already.

  4. larry abernathey says . . . | January 26, 2013 / 3:57 am

    WOW! whoever thought this up deserves an award. this is a perfect use of the voices of waits and richards. i will be buying this set soon, thanks. :)

  5. Paul Brightwell says . . . | January 26, 2013 / 12:06 pm

    Great to hear this preview of the new Rogues’ Gallery set. If you like this approach to the shanty canon check out The Horrid Crew’s blog…

  6. Peeter Jakobson says . . . | January 26, 2013 / 2:52 pm

    Tom Waits, you have outdone yourself, it’s hard to keep a dry eye man. Long live the drinking piano. And of course to everyone that made this possible my thanks.

  7. mallen says . . . | January 26, 2013 / 7:20 pm

    the stuff we all grew uo on, yet they remind us and live it!

  8. mallen says . . . | January 26, 2013 / 7:22 pm

    up on, it’s all coming back.

  9. Gary Sturdy says . . . | January 27, 2013 / 2:02 am

    We are learning this at the moment in our Barber shop chorus its a wonderful piece of music!!!

  10. RudiKelle says . . . | January 27, 2013 / 4:33 am

    Tom’s voice has more gravel that the beach …

  11. Erwin Lingenfelder says . . . | February 4, 2013 / 8:13 pm

    Just keeps rolling along, reminds me of the peaty salt-soaked whiskies of Islay. A must-have!

  12. Fabian says . . . | February 27, 2013 / 10:21 am

    Keith Richards and Waits played in the mid 80′s together on one of Waits albums.
    I drawed Keith Richards in front of the Berlin Olympic stadium in Berlin when they closed their VOODOO LOUNGE TOUR in 1995. Here is the link
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coFFZRbigwc

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