My quest researching Jimmie Rodgers was an attempt to rescue him from the obscurity where American music history had delegated him. I was not Captain Ahab seeking the white whale because Jimmie had already been harpooned … by tuberculosis.
Jimmie Rodgers, his wife Carrie and daughter Anita, played a major part in my “life” and “time” (pun intended!) and musical career.
In 1946, I was busy preparing for my Golden Meadow High School graduation, (total classmates: 26 with few survivors today), and collecting the long forgotten phonograph records of a short, balding, plain looking, obscure singer who had died at age 35 when I was three but whose records had mesmerized the Cajuns, the world and now me.
It began at the house of my neighbor John Adams, later owner of John Adams’ Supermarket in Golden Meadow, formerly Theriot’s, later Piggly Wiggly and Frank’s, and eventually destroyed by fire.
He introduced me to old recordings of the 20’s and the 30’s when I first heard Jimmie Rodgers. The others were country artists, called “Hillbilly” then, but this singer stood out because his music was hard to label.
In a career that only lasted from 1927 to 1933, he recorded with solo guitar, solo piano, string bands, swing bands, jug bands, ragtime, country, (called hillbilly then), jazz, Hawaiian, and Hollywood studio bands. He sang ballads, black blues, war songs, sea chants, popular songs present and past, dialogue comedy, duets, trios (with the Carter family), and surprisingly was one of the first ten inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 where he is ranked no. 10 in the “Influences, Pre-Rock” category.
Rolling Stone Magazine ranks his 1929 recording with Louis “Sachmo” Armstrong, “Blue Yodel No. 9”, as one of the songs that shaped Rock and Roll. To categorize him as just country would be like calling his friend Will Rogers just a comedian or John Wayne just a cowboy movie star.
There were more post mortem accolades, tributes, honors and awards before and after this one.
John and I enlisted others to our get togethers, my Uncle Roy Callais, my cousin Lorris “Jun” Callais and the Duet brothers and cousins, “Le Petit”, Cliff, “Yeff”, “Pupe”, “Romalle”, and “Fee-ran”, most of whom were veterans just returning from the war.
We also played Jimmie Rodgers imitators Jimmy Davis, Rex Griffin, Elton Britt, who had the biggest hit record of World War II, “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere”, Bob Will’s Tommy Duncan and Ernest Tubb who had became the Cajuns’ top country singer with “The Soldier’s Last Letter”, and “Walkin’ The Floor”.
He made frequent visits to the Stage Coach Lounge and the Bellvue Hall, (later the Safari) in South Lafourche.
While collecting Jimmie’s records I memorized and sang every song I acquired but I lacked the vocal cord gimmic it took to yodel, so I never became an imitator. But that didn’t stop me from singing for the next 40 years and to many people’s surprise, getting paid for it.
I learned a few chords on John’s old guitar and convinced my mom to buy me a Gene Autry $12.95 guitar from her Sears and Roebuck catalog.
I once wrote that most Cajun homes, including ours, had three pictures hung on the wall, Jesus, President Roosevelt and Huey Long, but every Cajun home had a Sears catalog which was a basic necessity like fly swatters, coal oil lamps and a cistern. It was thumbed through until the pages became thin and unreadable and then it was used for probably the most useful purpose of all. (This is a family newspaper … figure it out.)
I soon received my guitar from Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck.
One day I got an idea. From the back cover of a comic book I ordered for $1 a pack of 50 business cards which read “The Jimmie Rodgers Appreciation Club”, I also added “Leroy Martin, President”.
Of course there was no official club or president so it was the easiest election I ever won. But one of those cards opened a very important door for me, but that’s next week.
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Posted on Tue, November 10, 2015
by The Lafourche Gazette