“Jimmie Rodgers, ‘The Father of Country Music’, a heavy load for a scrawny, tubercular ex-railroader who set out only to prove to Meridian, Mississippi, that he wasn’t the shiftless no-count they all thought he was.” - Professor Nolan Porterfield.
“His was the music of America. He sang the songs the people loved. We listened. We understood.” - H.B. Teeter.
“Jimmie Rodgers is one of the guiding lights of the 20th Century, the man who started it all.” - Bob Dylan.
“His voice reached a million hearts and dried a million tears.” - Mary Beth Faget.
Great stuff, but he had died in 1933 at age 35 and was totally forgotten by 1940. I had been mesmerized by his records as a youth but all I knew about him was from his widow’s 1935 biography, “My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers”, which she had sent me in 1947 when we became friends.
In the 1960s, I wrote a song that Vin Bruce recorded called “Forgotten”.
It was a love song, but with three words taken out, it would reflect this period of Jimmie’s post-mortem career.
Maybe I was sub-consciously writing about him. The lyrics:
“Forgotten, I am so easily forgotten; every love I’ve ever gotten; has always forgotten me.
Remember, I am so hard to remember; my flames leave never an ember; they never remember me.
Someday, will I be remembered in some way; will I find somebody someday? To really love and adore, and be forgotten no more.”
It was no “Crazy” but Vin and made a few bucks on it.
In 1979 Professor Nolan Porterfield wrote his definitive biography, “Jimmie Rodgers, The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler”.
He wrote: “Jimmie couldn’t read a note, keep time, play the right chords or write lyrics that fit.”
I cringed, but he continued: “All he could do was reach the hearts of millions of people around the world.”
The book was impeccably researched and an award winning bestseller, a “must” read for any lover of country music.
Porterfield pointed out that Mrs. Rodgers’ 1935 biography idolized his life and left out important facts including his first marriage to Stella Kelly in 1917 and their daughter Kathryn.
He wrote that “every one of his records featured yodels but ironically within a decade it was dead, on music history’s scrap heap, killed by the wretched excesses of a horde of imitators wailing and warbling from every phonograph and radio, an object of derision separating Jimmie from modern audiences.”
A long quote, but I couldn’t express it as well as him. One of those imitators was a Texian named Ernest Tubb.
Dr. Nolan Porterfield’s book has never been out of print since its release in 1979. It’s available on Amazon priced from $1.00 used to $15.00 new.
To placate Mrs. Rodgers, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb, RCA, with little enthusiasm or expectation, released the “Jimmie Rodgers Memorial” LP in 1950.
Amazingly, it sold over 60,000 copies.
RCA suddenly realized that in their dusty vault lay a gold mine and they began re-issuing LPs until all 105 of his recordings were available. Then they issued LPs of Jimmie coupled with other artists and Jimmie’s voice tracts backed by Hank Snow’s band, all good sellers.
That opened the floodgates for more biographies, books and tribute records from Hank Snow, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Bono, Bob Dylan (yes, Bono and Dylan), and Dolly Parton.
In 1961, the Country Music Hall of Fame, in which he was the first inductee as the “Father of Country Music”, even re-issued his widow’s 1935 biography, “My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers”. (I have an autographed first edition.)
He was inducted in two more Halls of Fame, the Rock and Roll for his 1930 recording with Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1986), and the Songwriters (1970).
I was a personal friend of Mrs. Jimmie “Carrie” Rodgers from 1947 until her death on November 29th 1961, when a phone call from Ernest Tubb, honoring her request, brought me the tragic news that she had passed away … a sad day for me.
Next week: Enter “The Texas Troubadour”.
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Posted on Tue, December 15, 2015
by Leroy Martin, Contributing Writer