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. 

Relat­ed Con­tent

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukows­ki

A Brief His­to­ry of John Baldessari, Nar­rat­ed by Tom Waits

Tom Waits’ Clas­sic Appear­ance on Aus­tralian TV, 1979

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

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Comments (12)
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  • Hal Willner says:

    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…

  • Josh Jones says:

    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.

  • Douglas Faunt says:

    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.

  • larry abernathey says:

    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. :)

  • 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…

  • Peeter Jakobson says:

    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.

  • mallen says:

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

  • mallen says:

    up on, it’s all com­ing back.

  • Gary Sturdy says:

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

  • RudiKelle says:

    Tom’s voice has more grav­el that the beach …

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

  • Fabian says:

    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

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