The Essential Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers

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The Father of Country Music Sings (and Yodels)

Enjoyment of this, the first single-disc career survey of country music forefather Jimmie Rodgers, depends somewhat on your taste for tales of trouble and woe punctuated by yodeling. Known as the "Singing Brakeman" and the "Mississippi Blue Yodeler," the Mississippi-born Rodgers was a colorful figure who began working on the railroad at age fourteen. He performed in blackface as a young man, toured endlessly, and maintained an admirable work ethic: During his last recording session, he was so sick with tuberculosis he rested on a cot between takes. He died two days later.

His work as a brakeman had exposed him to all sorts of music—he absorbed blues and gospel and old-time folk songs, and allowed each to inform his own singing. The result was the sound we now know as "country"—firm and forthright declarations with hints of heartache (and the bittersweet blues) creeping in.

Rodgers deepened the emotions in his songs by yodeling. On his second session for RCA, in 1927, Rodgers did a blues-based song he wrote called "T for Texas" ("T for Texas, T for Tennessee, T for Thelma, that gal that made a wreck out of me") that was renamed "Blue Yodel No. 1" by RCA. On it, he punctuates each verse with a spry, gregarious yodel, an exotic torn-apart sound that Rodgers infects with twinges of the blues. The yodel became Rodgers's signature, and though he used the same techniques as the Swiss and others who relied on yodeling to communicate across mountain peaks, his tone is often mournful, sometimes emulating the sound of a train whistle in the distance.

Rodgers is revered for more than just that vocal flourish, which he once described as "curlicues." His original songs express a wry sense of humor and a deep connection to the lives of working people—among his famous tunes are "In the Jailhouse Now," "Pistol Packin' Papa," and "Waiting for a Train." Even more critical to country music is his ear for nuance. Rodgers taught everyone who followed him—Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, the whole crew—the gentle art of conveying feelings beyond words.

Genre: Country
Released: 1997, RCA. (Original recordings made between 1927 and 1931.)
Key Tracks: "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T For Texas)," "In the Jailhouse Now," "Memphis Yodel," "My Little Old Home Down in New Orleans," "Waiting for a Train"
Catalog Choice: The Singing Brakeman
Next Stop: Woody Guthrie: Dust Bowl Ballads
After That: Ernest Tubb: The Definitive Collection
Book Pages: 652–653

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Comments:

#1 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 12/01/2008 12:16

This album (combined with the Carter Family sides) contains the essence of much country (American) music.  Rambling around, getting put in jail, traveling, hard living, the need to go back home.  All in a style that complements the lyrics.  And, oh, is that Louis Armstrong on this album?

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