Friday, January 24, 2014

Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Jack of Diamonds" (Is A Hard Card To Play) sound file and lyrics

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases the Blues song "Jack of Diamonds" (Is A Hard Card To Play) as recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926. Information about Blind Lemon Jefferson and that Blues man's lyrics for this song are also included in this post. This post also includes some comments about the meaning of certain lines of this song.

Click for a companion post of folk singer Odetta's version of this song.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

SHOWCASE EXAMPLE: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Jack of Diamonds"

TheLadyEmerald, Uploaded on Jul 19, 2011

Jack of Diamonds is a traditional folk song. It is a Texas gambling song that was popularised by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926.
Here's information about Blind Lemon Jefferson from
"Blind" Lemon Jefferson (Lemon Henry Jefferson; September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) was an American blues singer and guitarist from Texas. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s, and has been titled "Father of the Texas Blues".[3]

Jefferson's singing and self-accompaniment were distinctive as a result of his high-pitched voice and originality on the guitar [3] Although his recordings sold well, he was not so influential on some younger blues singers of his generation, who could not imitate him as they could other commercially successful artists.[4] Later blues and rock and roll musicians attempted to imitate both his songs and his musical style."

(as recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson)

Jack O' Di, Jack O' Diamond,
Jack O' Diamond's a hard card to play.

Jack O' Diamonds once in time,
He did rob a friend of mine.
Jack O' Diamonds is a hard card to play.

Jack O' Di, Jack O' Diamond,
Jack O' Diamonds a hard card to play.

Bet the Jack against the Queen,
It's gonna turn your money green.
Jack O' Diamond is a hard card to play.

Bet the Jack agin the Four,
You're gonna win right in the dough.
Jack O' Diamonds is a hard card to play.

Jack O' Di, Jack O' Diamond,
Jack O' Diamond's a hard card to play.

Jack O' Diamonds made me cry,
I expect to gamble until I die.
Jack O' Diamonds is a hard card to play.

Jack O' Di, Jack O' Diamond,
Jack O' Diamond's a hard card to play.

Jack O' Di, Jack O' Diamond,
Jack O' Diamond's a hard card to play.
*These lyrics were given as subtitles in the sound file that is embedded in this post.

COMMENTS ABOUT THIS SONG [revised January 25, 2014]
According to
"It [Jack o'Diamonds] was sung by railroad men who had lost money playing Coon can.[2]."
"Conquian (also known as "Cooncan", "Coon Can", and "Coon-Can") is generally regarded as the earliest form of Rummy (see Rummy History). It features all of the basic features common to all Rummy games.
Note that the name "Coon Can" isn't related to the [now always highly derogatory] referent for Black people "coons".

"Jack of Diamonds is a hard card to play"


02-01-2001, 12:14 PM puddleglum
"...since the Jack is the lowest of the face cards it is hard to play because for it to win all of the other face cards have to have been played and by then someone might have run out of diamonds and use the trump. So it is a card that looks important but has little real value. Also it is a one eyed jack. It seems the metaphor is of feeling of having something but of not having enough to make a difference."

Johnny Angel
"I'm with puddleglum on this. The significance of the Jack of Diamonds is that it's the lowest ranked face card, and therefore a tempting but lousy bet. Like the old song says:

Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds, well I know you of old
Robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold.
If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
I'd dive to the bottom and never come up.
But the ocean ain't whiskey and I ain't a duck.
I play Jack of Diamonds and trust to my luck."
for information about & analysis of the Jack of Diamonds song that includes the line "
Here's a brief excerpt from that page: [This is] "A 19th century American folk song, with the melody based on the Scottish song “Farewell to Tarwathie.”.

"Put [or "keep"] your Jack on your Queen/ It'll will turn your money green"

I think that the verse signifies that in the card game of coon can (the card game that this song is said to refer to as per the Wikipedia article cited above) the Jack of Diamonds beats the Queen (note that in the United States all paper money is the color green) and the person playing the Jack would therefore win the money that was betted.

Click for a discussion about these lines. Here's one entry from that discussion that was posted by blueshome; February 08, 2009, 03:08:01 PM:
"In Bob Campbell's "Dices Blues" he has the line:
"My buddy played the Jack when he give me that hard-luck queen"

and in the following stanza:
"Jack o'diamonds, jack o'diamonds will turn your money green"

This would seem to refer to the same game with the jack beating the queen."

Click for the song "Grizzly Bear" that refers to "Jack Of Diamonds". In that song "Jack Of Diamonds refers to a particular man and not a card.

Thanks to Blind Lemon Jefferson for his musical legacy. Thanks also to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Note: The song "Jack O' Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Find" as recorded by Scottish skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan in 1957 has the same structure as Blind Lemon Jefferson's song, but has different verses. Click for lyrics for that song.

  2. According to
    "The lyrics [to "Jack Of Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Play"] may originate in the American Civil War song "The Rebel Soldier" and the melody from the Scottish song "Robie Donadh Gorrach", known by Nathaniel Gow as "An Old Highland Song".[7] "

    That information may be accurate, but I wonder if anyone else but me thinks that the tune for the "Jack O' Diamond" verses (such as "Jack O' Diamonds once in time/He did rob a friend of mine) sound like the verses to the African American Spiritual "You Better Mind" (You better mind how you talk/you better mind what you talkin about).

    Click and for posts about that song. I also think that a floating verse that I recall singing for "You Better Mind" ["if religion was a thing that money could buy/the rich would live and the poor would die") also sounds like the "Jack Of Diamond" verses. That "if religion etc. verse is found in Peter, Paul and Mary's rendition of "All My Trials".

  3. The comment about "Jack of Diamonds" (JOD)deriving its tune from "Farewell to Tarwathie" does not sound right. The verse quoted is a completely different song sharing few of the original lyrics of JOD.
    The old "Barrel House" tunes like JOD all have a distinctive feel to them. Tarwathie" was a fo'c'sle sea shanty, also with a distinct feeling. Both tune and meter are completely different. Tarwathie" is 3/4 while JOD is in 4/4.
    Rhyming lines were often ported from song to song even with very different styles and tunes. The "if the ocean were whiskey" couplet is repeated in numerous 20s, 30s and 40s blues songs.
    The Tarwathie melody was borrowed for many folk songs and in this case, it is an entirely new song borrowing a few lines from the old Jack of Diamonds lyrics.

    1. J Salicco.

      Thanks for sharing that information with me and other pancocojams readers.

      I appreciate it.