Jimmie Rodgers Saga
As told by Merle Haggard
More on the life, music and times of Jimmie Rodgers posted weekly
Like a locomotive,Jimmie Rodgers came into this world with a force that is still strong over one hundred years later. And like the trains that crisscrossed the country, Jimmie Rodgers’ legacy crosses over every aspect of the American music scene. His music echoes in tunes we hear today as his memory is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, where on his plaque it states, “The Man That Started It All.” Known as “The Father of Country Music”, he has garnished the W.C. Handy Blues Award and is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Songwriter Hall of Fame. No other entertainer in history can list these accomplishments.
The Jimmie Rodgers Saga will follow the musical trail blazed by this pioneer of the entertainment business. From the Minstrel and Medicine Shows of yesteryear, which traveled the roads by wagon to Bob Dylan’s Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers’ by way of the Internet—Jimmie’s presence is a legacy. In the Dylan liner notes of THE SONGS OF JIMMIE RODGERS: A TRIBUTE, he says, “Jimmie Rodgers of course is one of the guiding lights of the 20th Century whose way with song has always been an inspiration to
those of us who have followed the path. A blazing star whose sound was and remains the raw essence
of individuality in a sea of conformity, par excellence with no equal”.
Born September 8, 1897, it is a time when Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and trains, nearing 80 miles an hour began to connect the western territories with the populous eastern cities. Moving faster than the train, the technological inventions of the day such as the phonograph (talking machines), the radio (the wireless), and the big silver screen (flickers and talkies) would not only spur along Jimmie Rodgers’ career, but would give rise to the Entertainment Industry itself. James Charles Rodgers was three years old when the century became nineteen hundred.
Three years later his mother would die, and the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.
As the new century began there was only ten miles of pavement in the country, oil was discovered in Texas and the U.S. Steel Corp. was formed. Gibson began to make guitars and the first movie with a plot, “The Great Train Robbery” is released. At 13 years of age Jimmie Rodgers joined a Medicine Show. “Memphis Blues” had just become the first blues song written down and published, and Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” was the popular tune. We will see how the years Jimmie spent in the south playing music on the railroads, with ex-slaves and hobos effected the course of his music.
The year 1927, would become a big year in the life of Jimmie Rodgers. It'd become the year that he would make his first recording in Bristol Va-Tenn, where Ralph Peer had gone to record some of the new “race music”, also being called “hillbilly music” for Victor. August 4th became a historic day in the history of music in this country when Mr. Rodgers first recorded, two days prior The Carter Family did their first recording. Also, that year we saw sound brought to the movies with the release of "The Jazz Singer."
Soon Jimmie’s “T For Texas” sells over a million copies—a blockbuster even by today's standards. In 1929, Columbia/Victor Gem brings him to Camden, NJ to make a movie, then called a “short”. In 1930, he goes out to Hollywood and records some of his big hits. While there he becomes the first white man to record with a black man, when he records with Louis Armstrong. The 1930’s bring the Great Depression and Jimmie has hit a chord with the common man, even against the odds of times he rises to heights known by no entertainer before him, some say he became the "first superstar."
Jimmie Rodgers’ final years came all to quickly. He spends them in the Texas Hill Country—becoming an honorary Texas Ranger and touring with Will Rogers. The cowboy life in Texas begins to influence his music, and his disease is taking him further away from his stardom. In 1933 this young troubadour passes away at thirty-six.
His legend only grows. We will explore the innovative styles in music that he inspired from Gene Autry to Tanya Tucker, from Earnest Tubb to Jerry Lee Lewis, from Jerry Garcia to Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard and on and on...
The JIMMIE RODGERS SAGA is about a man and his influence, and it is
about a man and his dream, who was riding histories music train...