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Jimmie Rodgers Biography

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essential jimmie rodgers album cover

Jimmie Rodgers - 'The Essential Jimmie Rodgers' (1997)

Image courtesy of RCA Records
Jimmie Rodgers's blue yodel and rambling persona became trademarks that were emulated by future country stars. His wide range of material -- culled from folks songs, Tin Pan Alley, and the blues -- laid the foundation for future country music styles.

Trivia about Jimmie Rodgers:

  • Rodgers recorded over 110 songs during his lifetime.
  • The singer was the first inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
  • Rodgers sung a song, "T.B. Blues," about the disease that later took his life.
  • Jimmie Rodgers was known by many nicknames, including "America's Blue Yodeler," "the Singing Brakeman," and, after his death, "the Father of Country Music."
  • In 1930, the singer recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9" with a young Louis Armstrong.

Basic Facts:

James Charles Rodgers was born in Meridan, Mississippi, on September 8, 1897. He died on May 26, 1933, in New York City at the age of 35.

Bob Dylan Quote on Jimmie Rodgers

"He was a performer of force without precedent with a sound as lonesome and mystical as it was dynamic. He gives hope to the vanquished and humility to the mighty."

Early Years: Working on the Railroad:

Jimmie Rodgers was raised by his father Aaron Rodgers, who worked on the railroad. Before long, Jimmie joined his father on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. He worked as a water boy, flagman, and brakeman. During these early years he traveled around the country and picked up songs wherever he could find them, taking his influence from itinerant blues musicians and railroad work gangs.

Death Sentence?:

At age 27, Jimmie Rodgers contracted tuberculosis. The disease jeopardized his life as a railroad man. To make ends meet, Rodgers turned to exercising his skills as an entertainer.

During the mid-1920s, Jimmie Rodgers played as an amateur. His career got a boost when he found a spot on the Asheville, North Carolina, radio station WWNC, in April 1927. He formed a group called the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers from a preexisting group, the Tenneva Ramblers.

First Country Music Star:

Jimmie Rodgers got his first foothold on fame when he was discovered by record scout Ralph Peer. Peer was auditioning musicians in Bristol. In their first session together, Rogers recorded the solo numbers "Sleep Baby Sleep" and "The Soldiers Sweetheart," both of which gained popularity. This led to another session which resulted in the hit "Blue Yodel (T for Texas)."

Rodgers was much in demand but his tuberculosis hindered his touring schedule.

During the Depression, his rambling, world-weary songs of hobos and brakemen struck a chord with struggling Americans.

Last Recording Session:

Jimmie Rodgers died two days after finishing his final recordings in New York City, at the Hotel Taft on May 26. He had to rest to gather up his strength between takes where a cot was made available. Among the songs recorded on the final session were "Mississippi Delta Blues" and "Years Ago."

He Influenced Everybody:

Before Jimmie Rodgers, country music was largely a group-based music with fiddles as the predominant instrument. After him, the solo performer with his guitar became a hallmark of country music.

His influence had its most direct impact on the singers Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Lefty Frizzell, and Merle Haggard.

About the Songs:

Recommended Recordings

  • The Essential Jimmie Rodgers (RCA Records, 1997): This one-disc set features all of Rodgers's essential songs, including "In the Jailhouse Now," "Waiting for a Train," and "Blue Yodel No. 2."

Books about Jimmie Rodgers

  • Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America's Blue Yodeler by Nolan Porterfield (University of Mississippi Press, 2007): This is the first and so far best major biography of Rodgers.
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