Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jimmie Rodgers: "The Blue Yodeler"

Jimmie Rodgers was born this day in 1897, he would have been 112 years old today.

He was known as "The Singing Brakeman", "The Blue Yodeler" and later and for always, "The Father of Country Music".

He had a penchant for entertaining, and at the age of 13 organized and starred in traveling shows. Of course his father would always wrangle him back in and bring him home, and Jimmie eventually began to work as a water boy on the railroad. He learned to pick and strum the guitar by the hobos who rode the rails. He was doomed to forever be a traveler and a singer of songs, and the world is forever lucky because of this.

He eventually came to hold the position of brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeast Railroad...until 1924 at age 27, he was diagnosed with TB, tuberculosis. This limited his job on the railroad to "switchman" and the lure of the guitar and the open road of entertaining became stronger.

In late July of 1927, he heard that Ralph Peer of the "Victor Talking Machine Company" was going to be holding open auditions in Bristol, Tennessee for new rural music recording artists. Rodgers and his band arrived and were told they would be recorded the next day. That night he and the other band members got into an argument over how they should be billed on the record. The band broke up and on August 4, 1927 from 2-4:20 in the afternoon, Jimmie recorded his first two songs...solo. He received $100 for his efforts and went on his way.
This was, by a side line, the same open audition which first recorded The Carter Family.
The records were released and had modest success, but enough that Jimmie was called up to New York to record 4 more sides. One of these was "T for Texas", which was his first "Blue Yodel", that sold over a million copies.
There was a time in the great depression when people would say, "We'd go to the store and could only afford the true essentials. A bottle of milk, a loaf of bread and the newest Jimmie Rodgers record."
Jimmie's TB got worse and worse, by a 1933 recording session Jimmie was so ill he would rest on a cot in the studio between takes.
His career only lasted 5-6 years, from 1927-1933. He died at the age of 35.
He set the foundation for what a signer-songwriter could be. Telling us personal stories and universal stories through song. Sad songs sometimes, but with a wry sense of humor telling us it was all gonna be OK.
Here he is in all his glory

Thanks Jimmie!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this piece on "the Singing Brakeman. I have been a fan since I first heard him. Seems I'm drawn to the travelin and hard livin'> Don't leave out Arlo Guthrie nor Hank Williams nor Jellie Roll - - Your Brother Bob

Jeff Overturf said...

Not to worry. In fact Hank Williams' birthday is coming up a week from Thursday...I'll be commemorating it. In fact I even have a "Jeffy Original Song" I wrote in tribute to him about 16 years ago as well as remembering his impact on us all.

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