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James Charles Rodgers (September 8, 1897 - May 26, 1933), known as Jimmie Rodgers, was an American country singer in the early 20th century known most widely for his rhythmic yodeling. Among the first country music superstars and pioneers, Rodgers was also known as The Singing Brakeman, The Blue Yodeler, and The Father of Country Music.

Biography

Early years:

Rodgers' traditional birthplace is usually given as Meridian, Mississippi; however, in documents signed by Rodgers later in life, his birthplace was listed as Geiger, Alabama, the home of his paternal grandparents. Historians who have researched the circumstances of that document, however, including Nolan Porterfield and Barry Mazor, continue to identify Pine Springs, Mississippi, just north of Meridian, as his genuine birthplace. Rodgers' mother died when he was about six or seven years old, and Rodgers, the youngest of three sons, spent the next few years living with various relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama, near Geiger. (In the 1900 Census for Daleville, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Jimmie's mother, Eliza Bozeman Rodgers, was listed as already having had seven children, with four of them still living at that date. Four living sons were listed in the Census. Jimmie "James" in the Census was next to the youngest at that time, and was probably born sixth of the total of seven children.) He eventually returned home to live with his father, Aaron Rodgers, a Maintenance-of-Way foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, who had settled with a new wife in Meridian.

Performing career:

Rodgers' affinity for entertaining came at an early age, and the lure of the road was irresistible to him. By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father. His father found Rodgers his first job working on the railroad as a water boy. Here he was further taught to pick and strum by rail workers and hobos. A few years later, he became a brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, a position formerly secured by his oldest brother, Walter, a conductor on the line running between Meridian and New Orleans.

In 1924 at the age 27, Rodgers contracted TB. The disease temporarily ended his railroad career, but at the same time gave him the chance to get back to the entertainment industry. He organized a traveling road show and performed across the Southeastern United States until, once again, he was forced home after a cyclone destroyed his tent. He returned to railroad work as a brakeman in Miami, Florida, but eventually his illness cost him his job. He relocated to Tucson, Arizona and was employed as a switchman by the Southern Pacific Railroad. He kept the job for less than a year, and the Rodgers family (which by then included wife Carrie and daughter Anita) settled back in Meridian in early 1927.

Success:

Rodgers decided to travel to Asheville, North Carolina, later that same year. On April 18, at 9:30 p.m., Jimmie, and Otis Kuykendall performed for the first time on WWNC, Asheville's first radio station. A few months later Rodgers recruited a group from Bristol, Tennessee called the Tenneva Ramblers and secured a weekly slot on the station listed as "The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers."

In late July 1927, Rodgers' bandmates learned that Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company, was coming to Bristol to hold an audition for local musicians. Rodgers and the group arrived in Bristol on August 3, 1927, and auditioned for Peer in an empty warehouse. Peer agreed to record them the next day. That night, as the band discussed how they would be billed on the record, an argument ensued, the band broke up, and Rodgers arrived at the recording session the next morning alone. On Wednesday, August 4 Jimmie Rodgers completed his first session for Victor. It lasted from 2:00 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. and yielded two songs: "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep". For the test recordings, Rodgers received $100.

The recordings were released on October 7 earning modest success. In November, Rodgers, determined more than ever to make it in entertainment, headed to New York City in an effort to arrange another session with Peer. Peer agreed to record him again, and the two met in Philadelphia before traveling to Camden, New Jersey, to the Victor studios. Four songs made it out of this session, including "Blue Yodel", better known as "T for Texas". In the next two years, this recording sold nearly half a million copies, rocketing Rodgers into stardom. After this, he got to determine when Peer and Victor would record him, and he sold out shows whenever and wherever he played.

Over the next few years, Rodgers was very busy. He did a movie short for Columbia Pictures, The Singing Brakeman, and made various recordings across the country. He toured with humorist Will Rogers as part of a Red Cross tour across the Midwest. On July 16, 1930, he recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9" with jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose wife, Lillian, played piano on the recording.

A song written by Clayton McMichen and recorded as "Prohibition Has Done Me Wrong" was not issued, possibly because of copyright conflicts with Columbia. According to Juanita McMichen Lynch, Peer thought it was "too controversial for the times." The master was put aside and then accidentally lost.

Final years:

Rodgers' next-to-last recordings were made in August 1932 in Camden, and it was clear that the tuberculosis was getting the better of him. He had given up touring by that time, but did have a weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas, where he had relocated when "T for Texas" became a hit. Earnings from his recordings enabled Rodgers to build a large house for his family in Kerrville, Texas, a location chosen partly for health reasons. But it was not in Rodgers' make-up to stay still, and his constant touring and recording schedule only hurt his chances of recovering from TB.

With the country in the grip of the Depression, the practice of making field recordings was quickly fading, so in May 1933, Rodgers traveled again to New York City for a group of sessions beginning May 17, 1933. He started these sessions recording alone and completed four songs on the first day. When he returned to the studio after a day's rest, he had to record sitting down and soon retired to his hotel in hopes of regaining enough energy to finish the songs he had been rehearsing. The recording engineer hired two session musicians to help Rodgers when he came back to the studio a few days later. Together they recorded a few songs, including "Mississippi Delta Blues". For his last song of the session, however, Jimmie chose to perform alone, and as a matching bookend to his career, recorded "Years Ago" by himself.

During his last recording session in New York City on May 24, 1933, after years of fighting the tuberculosis, Rodgers was so weakened that he needed to rest on a cot between songs. Jimmie Rodgers died two days later on May 26, 1933 from a pulmonary hemorrhage while staying at the Taft Hotel; he was only 35 years old.

Legacy

When the Country Music Hall of Fame was established in 1961, Rodgers was one of the first three (the others were Fred Rose and Hank Williams) to be inducted. Rodgers was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and, as an early influence, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. "Blue Yodel No. 9" was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Rodgers was ranked #33 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003.

Since 1953, Meridian's Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival has been held annually during May to honor the anniversary of Rodgers' death. The first festival was on May 26, 1953.

Both Gene Autry and future Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (author of "You Are My Sunshine") began their careers as Jimmie Rodgers copyists, and Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell later did tribute albums. In 1997 Bob Dylan put together a tribute compilation of major artists covering Rodgers' songs, "The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, A Tribute" (Sony - ASIN: B000002BLD). The artists included Bono, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Jerry Garcia, Dickey Betts, Dwight Yoakam, Aaron Neville, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and others. Dylan had earlier once remarked, "The songs were different than the norm. They had more of an individual nature and an elevated conscience... I was drawn to their power."

In 1969, country singer Merle Haggard released Same Train, A Different Time: Merle Haggard Sings The Great Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers. Haggard also covered "No Hard Times" and "T.B. Blues" on his best-selling live albums "Okie From Muskogee" (1969) and "Fightin' Side of Me" (1970). "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)" was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd (sometimes announced as "(Gimme A) T For Texas (T For Tennessee)" later on) on their live album One More from the Road. Ronnie has also been quoted from a July 13th, 1977 concert intermission in Asbury Park, New Jersey as saying that they've "always been interested in old country music" like Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard before launching into playing "T For Texas". Lynyrd Skynyrd has also named both Haggard and Rodgers in their song "Railroad Song" ("I'm going to ride this train, Lord, until I find out, what Jimmie Rodgers and The Hag was all about") Tompall Glaser has also covered a version that was included on country music's first million-selling album, Wanted! The Outlaws.

On May 24, 1978, the United States Postal Service issued a 13-cent commemorative stamp honoring Rodgers, the first in its long-running Performing Arts Series. The stamp was designed by Jim Sharpe (who did several others in this series), who depicted him with brakeman's outfit and guitar, giving his "two thumbs up", along with a locomotive in silhouette in the background.

Rodgers' legacy and influence is not limited to Country music. The 2009 book "Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century" tracks Rodgers influence through a broad range of musical genres, internationally. He was influential to Ozark poet Frank Stanford, who composed a series of "blue yodel" poems, and a number of later blues artists. Rodgers was one of the biggest stars of American music between 1927 and 1933, arguably doing more to popularize blues than any other performer of his time. Rodgers influenced many later blues artists, among them Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, and Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf. Jimmie Rodgers was Wolf's childhood idol. Wolf tried to emulate Rodgers's yodel, but found that his efforts sounded more like a growl or a howl. "I couldn't do no yodelin'," Barry Gifford quoted him as saying in Rolling Stone, "so I turned to howlin'. And it's done me just fine."

Rodgers' influence can also be heard in artists including Tommy Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and Mississippi John Hurt, whose "Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me" is based on Rodgers' hit "Waiting On A Train".Elvis Presley has also been quoted as mentioning Jimmie Rodgers as an important influence and stating that he was a big fan.Jerry Lee Lewis listed Rodgers as a major stylist and covered many of his songs. Moon Mullican, Tommy Duncan and many other western swing singers also were influenced by him. Gene Autry's earlier material largely copied Rodgers' blues records.

The 1982 film, Honkytonk Man, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood was loosely based on Rodgers' life.

In "Cleaning Windows," Van Morrison sings about listening to Rodgers.

In the book, Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music, the song "T.B. Blues" is presented as one the first truly autobiographical songs.

On May 28, 2010, Slim Bryant, the last surviving singer to have made a recording with Rodgers, died at the age of 101. They recorded Bryant's song "Mother, the Queen of My Heart" in 1932. The Union, a collaborative album between Elton John and Leon Russell, featured a song entitled "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream", which was a tribute to Rodgers.

in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the state. In May, 2010, a second marker, on the Mississippi Country Music Trail, was erected near Rodgers' gravesite, marking his role as The Father of Country Music.

Recordings

Title

Record #

Recording date

Recording location

"The Soldier's Sweetheart"

Victor 20864

August 4, 1927

Bristol, Tennessee

"Sleep, Baby, Sleep"

Victor 20864

August 4, 1927

Bristol, Tennessee

"Ben Dewberry's Final Run"

Victor 21245

November 30, 1927

Camden, New Jersey

"Mother Was a Lady"

Victor 21433

November 30, 1927

Camden, New Jersey

"Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)"

Victor 21142

November 30, 1927

Camden, New Jersey

"Away out on the Mountain"

Victor 21142

November 30, 1927

Camden, New Jersey

"Dear Old Sunny South by the Sea"

Victor 21574

February 14, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Treasures Untold"

Victor 21433

February 14, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"The Brakeman's Blues"

Victor 21291

February 14, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"The Sailor's Plea"

Victor 40054

February 14, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"In the Jailhouse Now"

Victor 21245

February 15, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Blue Yodel No. 2 (Lovin' Gal Lucille)"

Victor 21291

February 15, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Memphis Yodel"

Victor 21636

February 15, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Blue Yodel No. 3"

Victor 21531

February 15, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"My Old Pal"

Victor 21757

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"My Little Old Home Down in New Orleans"

Victor 21574

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"You and My Old Guitar"

Victor 40072

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Daddy and Home"

Victor 21757

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"My Little Lady"

Victor 40072

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Lullaby Yodel"

Victor 21636

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"Never No Mo' Blues"

Victor 21531

June 12, 1928

Camden, New Jersey

"My Carolina Sunshine Girl"

Victor 40096

October 20, 1928

Atlanta, Georgia

"Blue Yodel No. 4 (California Blues)"

Victor 40014

October 20, 1928

Atlanta, Georgia

"Waiting for a Train"

Victor 40014

October 22, 1928

Atlanta, Georgia

"I'm Lonely and Blue"

Victor 40054

October 22, 1928

Atlanta, Georgia

"Desert Blues"

Victor 40096

February 21, 1929

New York, New York

"Any Old Time"

Victor 22488

February 21, 1929

New York, New York

"Blue Yodel No. 5"

Victor 22072

February 23, 1929

New York, New York

"High Powered Mama"

Victor 22523

February 23, 1929

New York, New York

"I'm Sorry We Met"

Victor 22072

February 23, 1929

New York, New York

"Everybody Does It in Hawaii"

Victor 22143

August 8, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues"

Victor 22220

August 8, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Train Whistle Blues"

Victor 22379

August 8, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Jimmie's Texas Blues"

Victor 22379

August 10, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Frankie and Johnnie"

Victor 22143

August 10, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Whisper Your Mother's Name"

Victor 22319

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"The Land of My Boyhood Dreams"

Victor 22811

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Blue Yodel No. 6"

Victor 22271

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Yodelling Cowboy"

Victor 22271

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"My Rough and Rowdy Ways"

Victor 22220

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"I've Ranged, I've Roamed and I've Travelled"

Bluebird 5892

October 22, 1929

Dallas, Texas

"Hobo Bill's Last Ride"

Victor 22421

November 13, 1929

New Orleans, Louisiana

"Mississippi River Blues"

Victor 23535

November 25, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"Nobody Knows But Me"

Victor 23518

November 25, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"Anniversary Blue Yodel"

Victor 22488

November 26, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"She Was Happy Till She Met You"

Victor 23681

November 26, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"Blue Yodel No.11"

Victor 23796

November 27, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"A Drunkard's Child"

Victor 22319

November 28, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"That's Why I'm Blue"

Victor 22421

November 28, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"Why Did You Give Me Your Love?"

Bluebird 5892

November 28, 1929

Atlanta, Georgia

"My Blue-Eyed Jane"

Victor 23549

June 30, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Why Should I Be Lonely?"

Victor 23609

June 30, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Moonlight and Skies"

Victor 23574

June 30, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Pistol Packin' Papa"

Victor 22554

July 1, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Take Me Back Again"

Bluebird 7600

July 2, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Those Gambler's Blues"

Victor 22554

July 5, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"I'm Lonesome Too"

Victor 23564

July 7, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"The One Rose"

Bluebird 7280

July 7, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"For the Sake of Days Gone By"

Victor 23651

July 9, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues"

Victor 23503

July 10, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"The Mystery of Number Five"

Victor 23518

July 11, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Blue Yodel No. 8"

Victor 23503

July 11, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"In the Jailhouse Now, No. 2"

Victor 22523

July 12, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"Blue Yodel No. 9"

Victor 23580

July 16, 1930

Los Angeles, California

"T.B. Blues"

Victor 23535

January 31, 1931

San Antonio, Texas

"Travellin' Blues"

Victor 23564

January 31, 1931

San Antonio, Texas

"Jimmie the Kid"

Victor 23549

January 31, 1931

San Antonio, Texas

"Why There's a Tear in My Eye"

Bluebird 6698

June 10, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"The Wonderful City"

Bluebird 6810

June 10, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Let Me Be Your Sidetrack"

Victor 23621

June 11, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Jimmie Rodgers Visits the Carter Family"

Victor 23574

June 12, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Texas"

Bluebird 6762

June 12, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"When the Cactus Is in Bloom"

Victor 23636

June 13, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Gambling Polka Dot Blues"

Victor 23636

June 15, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Looking for a New Mama"

Victor 23580

June 15, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"What's It?"

Victor 23609

June 16, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"My Good Gal's Gone"

Bluebird 5942

June 16, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Southern Cannon-Ball"

Victor 23811

June 17, 1931

Louisville, Kentucky

"Roll Along, Kentucky Moon"

Victor 23651

February 2, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Hobo's Meditation"

Victor 23711

February 3, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"My Time Ain't Long"

Victor 23669

February 4, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Ninety-Nine Years Blues"

Victor 23669

February 4, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Mississippi Moon"

Victor 23696

February 4, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Down the Old Road to Home"

Victor 23711

February 5, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Blue Yodel No. 10"

Victor 23696

February 6, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Home Call"

Victor 23681

February 6, 1932

Dallas, Texas

"Mother, the Queen of My Heart"

Victor 23721

August 11, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"Rock All Our Babies to Sleep"

Victor 23721

August 11, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"Whippin' That Old T.B."

Victor 23751

August 11, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"No Hard Times"

Victor 23751

August 15, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"Long Tall Mama Blues"

Victor 23766

August 15, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"Peach-Pickin' Time Down in Georgia"

Victor 23781

August 15, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"Gambling Barroom Blues"

Victor 23766

August 15, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"I've Only Loved Three Women"

Bluebird 6810

August 15, 1932

Camden, New Jersey

"In the Hills of Tennessee"

Victor 23736

August 29, 1932

New York, New York

"Prairie Lullaby"

Victor 23781

August 29, 1932

New York, New York

"Miss the Mississippi and You"

Victor 23736

August 29, 1932

New York, New York

"Sweet Mama Hurry Home"

Victor 23796

August 29, 1932

New York, New York

"Blue Yodel No. 12"

Victor 24456

May 17, 1933

New York, New York

"The Cowhand's Last Ride"

Victor 24456

May 17, 1933

New York, New York

"I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now"

Victor 23830

May 17, 1933

New York, New York

"Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes"

Bluebird 7600

May 18, 1933

New York, New York

"Yodeling My Way Back Home"

Bluebird 7280

May 18, 1933

New York, New York

"Jimmie Rodger's Last Blue Yodel"

Bluebird 5281

May 18, 1933

New York, New York

"The Yodelling Ranger"

Victor 23830

May 20, 1933

New York, New York

"Old Pal of My Heart"

Victor 23816

May 20, 1933

New York, New York

"Old Love Letters"

Victor 23840

May 24, 1933

New York, New York

"Mississippi Delta Blues"

Victor 23816

May 24, 1933

New York, New York

"Somewhere Down Below the Dixon Line"

Victor 23840

May 24, 1933

New York, New York

"Years Ago"

Bluebird 5281

May 24, 1933

New York, New York

Footnotes

^ Petition for Membership (dated: 20 Oct. 1930), Bluebonnet Lodge No. 1219, San Antonio, Texas; and Interview (6/2006) with James A. Skelton, Pres. of the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Foundation, Meridian, MS.,

^ "USA « Mademoiselle Montana's Yodel Heaven". Mademoisellemontana.wordpress.com. http://mademoisellemontana.wordpress.com/category/usa/. Retrieved 2011-12-31. ,

^ "Jimmie Rodgers: The Father of Country Music | Mississippi History Now". Mshistory.k12.ms.us. 1933-05-26. http://mshistory.k12.ms.us/articles/39/jimmie-rodgers-the-father-of-country-music. Retrieved 2010-08-20. ,

^ Barretta, Scott (2008-08-29). "Jimmie Rodgers - This Week on Highway 61". highway61radio.com. http://www.highway61radio.com/?p=275. Retrieved 2008-11-16. ,

^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 186. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. ,

^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08oiras-irA,

^ Fry, Robbie. ""Big Bill" Broonzy". www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2489. Retrieved 2008-11-04. ,

^ Taylor, B. Kimberly. "Howlin' Wolf Biography". www.musicianguide.com. http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608000661/Howlin-Wolf.html. Retrieved 2008-11-04. ,

^ Matthew-Walker 1979, p.3,

^ Brown, Ida. "Meridian Star - Jimmie Rodgers honored with Blues Trail Marker". www.meridianstar.com. http://www.meridianstar.com/local/local_story_123235658.html. Retrieved 2008-05-29.


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