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The Texas Troubadour

The Texas Troubadour

“I’ll ride this train, ‘till I find out, what Jimmie Rodgers was all about.” Lynyrd Skynyrd

“There’s only been 3 stylists in the 20th century, Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers and me.” Jerry Lee Lewis

“Jimmie Rodgers was one of my greatest influences.” Elvis Presley

“Jimmie Rodgers was no hillbilly. On our record, he sang jazz.” Louis Armstrong to Johnny Cash on TV

“Jimmie Rodgers’ songs helped ease the hardship of the Great Depression.” Will Rogers on the death of the man he called “my distant son.” They had toured together in 1929, flying the nation to help flood victims. Will was to die in a plane crash in Alaska two years later.

This concludes my columns about my friendship with Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers and what it meant to me. It was a memorable experience in my life.

The Search Begins:

When the Cajuns’ beloved “Blue Yodeler” died in 1933 it left a big hole and a big shovel was needed to fill it. Sorry, that’s a crude metaphor to illustrate my point, but please remember, you’re not reading Hemmingway here.

Before finding it, however, they considered Gadsen Alabama’s Rex Griffin, a great imitator, but despite his self-penned “The Last Letter”, considered by many to be the greatest country song ever written, they moved on.

Gene Autry and Tex Ritter were considered, but they were more movie cowboys than country singers.
Elton Britt’s “There’s a Star Spangled Flag Waving Somewhere” and Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packing Mama” were monster hits during World War II, but they were one hit wonders and soon faded away.

Then there was Bob Wills’ “Texas Playboys”, but this was a different genre called Western Swing and not the solo artist they sought.

Then in 1941 they found him, and the “Kajuns” “Krowned” a new “King”, (sic).

He came from Texas to the tune of the William Tell Overture, wearing a mask, on a “fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust a hearty Hi Yo! Silver!” … Wait-wait, whoa, horse! Wrong Texian! (I sometimes confuse my heroes. That comes with the unwanted burden of age, which is still better than the alternative.)

This one came in an old Chevrolet Coupe with a platform on top and a “Gold Chain Troubadour” sign on the sides, stopping to climb up with a guitar to sing the praises of Gold Chain Flour. This was Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubadour.

Then one day he caught the brass ring because a certain lady heard him on the radio.

“Of all the artist I’ve auditioned since the passing of my husband, Ernest Tubb is my choice to sponsor. I am proud to extend him the privilege of using Jimmie’s guitar.” (Ad in trade magazines by Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers, 1936.)

Carrie, the Blue Yodeler’s widow summoned him to her home. She offered to manage his career, lend him Jimmie’s guitar and tuxedo, get him a recording contract with Victor Records and promote a tour on which she would accompany and introduce him.

It sounds great, but unfortunately the records didn’t sell, the tour failed and the tuxedo, worn by someone who called himself The Texas Troubadour? No way! At 29 his career was in free fall.

In 1939, struggling singer Ernest Tubb was selling Lone Star beer from his old pickup truck and had a tonsillectomy that took away his tonsils, and his yodel. Now he would have to find another style of singing. That he did, in spades.

In 1940, Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers came to his rescue again with another recording contract, this time with Decca (Now MCA) records. After recording original songs “Blue Eyed Elaine”, “Try Me One More Time,” and several others, he wrote and recorded a million seller and a lifelong theme song, “Walking the Floor Over You”.

It brought him fame, wealth, a worldwide audience, years on the Grand Ole Opry, and in the next thirty years, never a year without his records being in the top 10 or 20, sometimes 8 at the same time. All that from a singer with a voice that his critics criticized as being coarse and always flat. Go figure!

Next week, “walking the floor” to a lifetime career.
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