In 1947, I was still foraging barns, attics, storerooms, trunks and even hen houses hoping to find Jimmie Rodgers records and beg, borrow, barter or buy them.
I had quite a collection but realized I knew little about the man, so I interrogated my mother, relatives and anybody who remembered his era and career. So far I had pieced together the following:
Jimmie, a former railroad brakeman disabled by tuberculosis was trying to make a living for his family by singing with his guitar in medicine shows, on street corners and in vaudeville. An extraordinary recording contract with Victor Records, (now R.C.A.), made him a star and the favorite singer of the Cajuns and the nation during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Every home had his records and hundreds of imitators paraphrased “America’s Blue Yodeler”. Among those were Jerry Berring, “Louisiana’s Blue Yodeler”, (my mom saw him in person at Rebstock’s Theater in 1929, the year I was born), Ernest Tubb, “Texas’ Blue Yodeler” (until a tonsillectomy removed his tonsils and his yodel, his advantage--in 1937 Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers became his manager and gave him Jimmie’s guitar), Rex Griffin, “Alabama’s Blue Yodeler”, (his granddaughter lives in Galliano), Canada’s Hank Snow, the “Singing Ranger”, Montana’s Wilf Carter, “Montana Slim”, and WWL’s “New Orleans’ Blue Yodeler” Roy Schaeffer, (mom also saw him at Rebstock’s).
No one was blatant enough to call themselves Mississippi’s Blue Yodeler because Jimmie was from Meridian, Mississippi and was to the world America’s Blue Yodeler.
I also learned that every Cajun boy with a guitar tried to imitate him and could be heard singing on front porch swings while courting their girlfriends. At age 9, I heard Dave Lathrop, who was locally considered the best, (not my dad, he brought fresh shrimp instead. I heard him sing, that would not have cut it!)
Maybe Jimmie’s singing was an aphrodisiac because the Kipsigis Tribe in Kenya, Africa were known to have considered him a god or mythical figure, half man, half fawn, pronounced “Chemiroche.”
His records were played at sexual rituals where their wails resembled his yodels. Strange as it seems, this is documented in two of Jimmie’s biographies and several encyclopedias.
I learned all that later, but at the time, besides my research, I knew diddely squat! (Is that expression still in vogue?) Then, inside of one week I received three omens which encouraged me to continue my quest.
The first I read in a Texas newspaper my dad brought home: “Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers and her daughter Anita Rodgers Court have sold their fabulous Kerrville mansion, “Blue Yodelers’ Paradise”, purchased during her husband’s glory days as a nationally famous Victor recording artist, and moved to a smaller house in San Antoine.”
My guess was the upkeep was no longer affordable since the depression had diminished record sales and therefore the royalties that had built it. I shouted: “She’s alive! She’s alive!” … a line I remembered from an old Frankenstein movie.
The second omen came two nights later when the radio was playing Camel Cigarette’s Jimmie Dorsey Hour, already in progress. I recognized the voice of guest star Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong saying: “No, no, Mr. Dorsey, Jimmie was not a hillbilly singer. We recorded a blues number. I blew blues behind him and my wife Lillian played blues on the piano.” The discussion ended but I knew he was talking about the historic Jimmie Rodgers record, “Blue Yodel No, 9”, recorded in Hollywood in 1929, the year I was born.
The third omen came two days later when I received my 50 business cards imprinted “The Jimmie Rodgers Appreciation Club”, “Leroy Martin, President”, an almost non-existing club with a certainly non-elected president. But it metaphorically lit an electric light bulb above my head, and I decided to enclose one in a letter I would write to: Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers, San Antoine, Texas, the only address I knew.
I knew this was probably a wish too far and clearer thinking would have prevented me sending it, but thinking clearly was not one of my virtues, so I mailed the letter and waited.
Next week, a big surprise. BYE NOW!
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Posted on Tue, November 17, 2015
by Leroy Martin, Contributing Writer