Jimmie Rodgers

By Patrick Wall - pwall@iol.ie - Posted Sept. 8, 2002
           Jimmie Rodgers would be 105 if he was alive today. He died in 1933 but his music has lived on for what is now nearly 70 years and nobody has come up with anything as influential since. Rodgers combined blues, country and oldtime pop/jazz styles and was not only the unsung father of western swing [which I give him 100% credit to creating] but also a direct influence on bluegrass and honky tonk.
           Songs like "Waiting for a train", "Blue yodel 1", "Mother the queen of my heart", "Brakeman's blues", etc. all have become major standards in country music. Other songs - such as Moon Mullican's "I left my heart in Texas" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "39 and holding" - have been deliberately written in a Jimmie Rodgers style.
           Rodgers did more than anyone else to make 12 bar blues and yodelling a style to be adapted by thousands of artists from the 1920s onwards. His influences cam from many races and his legacy has also had an impact on many [from black Delta bluesmen to hillbilly bluesmen to pure country balladeers alike - and some who did all these styles]. His influence is obvious in such artists as Gene Autry, Moon Mullican, Blind Boy Fuller, Jimmie Davis, Tommy Duncan, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard. Even Bing Crosby was influenced by him.
           While many rockabilly artists weren't old enough to remember Jimmie, they were - even when unaware of Jimmie themselves - indirectly influenced by Jimmie. Eddie Cochran is an artist that I don't particularly like because he sang a lot of silly stuff - but I heard that Cochran did an interview with bluegrass/western swing/cowboy songwriter Johnny Bond and Bond saw a link between what was called rock 'n' roll and Jimmie's music [he played a blues song from Jimmie to prove his point].
           Comparing Cochran with Jimmie is infeasible - but just compare Jimmie with Jerry Lee [Jimmie is one of JLL's favorite artists] and Elvis and you can see the huge similarities. The liner notes of an early Elvis LP said that Elvis was the most important/successful folk artist since Jimmie Rodgers. Presley and Rodgers were indeed originators of movements.
           Without Rodgers, there would have been no Hank, Moon, bluegrass, Jerry Lee, Elvis, Haggard, honky tonk, etc. Jimmie took a seemingly limited, rather repressive genre known as hillbilly and turned it on its head. Pre-Rodgers hillbilly was stiflingly religious, sometimes racist and definitely redneck. It was the music of the white population of America. Jimmie comes along and changes all that - he sings blues, adds in a yodel to a blues style and works with black bands. Country revisionalists like the Solemn old Judge on the Opry are embarrassed by Jimmie's use of jazz and blues instrumentation - but to young aspiring singers in the 1930s like Aubrey Mullican or Tommy Duncan he was god almighty. He was reinforcing their own beliefs in a multi racial music genre.
           Jimmie's use of black musicians in a band was repeated by Moon Mullican later. Moon and all his peers in western swing all took up the bluesy style of country music Jimmie pioneered.
           Jimmie also discovered the great songwriter Shelley Lee Alley, who wrote "Travelling blues" for Jimmie and would later write a lot of songs for Moon ["I'll keep thinking of you", "Broken dreams", "I don't know what to do", etc.].
           Jimmie's country revolution spawned western swing and bluegrass and its climax was in the days of Hank Williams. After Williams' death, there was the first major void in country music - no new artists were emerging that could fill that gap. Then, in 1954 Presley came along and then Lewis, who - along with Jones and Haggard - provided the [as yet] last truly great country music era in the 1960s to early 1980s. Today, country music just needs someone like any of these mentioned here. Alan Jackson and all the rest just are so limited. None of these could tie in the blues and country and jazz as the oldtimers did. I don't think that there will ever be anyone as effective and influential as Jimmie was ever again.

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