James Charles Rodgers (September 8, 1897 – May 26, 1933), professionally known as Jimmie Rodgers, was an American country, blues and folk singer, songwriter and musician in the early 20th century, known most widely for his rhythmic yodeling. Rodgers, along with his contemporaries the Carter Family, was among the first country music stars, cited as an inspiration of many artists, and an inductee into numerous halls of fame. Rodgers was also known as "The Singing Brakeman", "The Blue Yodeler", and "The Father of Country Music".
According to tradition, Rodgers' birthplace is usually listed as Meridian, Mississippi; however, in documents signed by Rodgers later in life, his birthplace was listed as Geiger, Alabama, the home of his paternal grandparents. Yet historians who have researched the circumstances of that document, including Nolan Porterfield and Barry Mazor, continue to identify Pine Springs, Mississippi, just north of Meridian, as his genuine birthplace. Rodgers' mother died when he was about six or seven years old, and Rodgers, the youngest of three sons, spent the next few years living with various relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama, near Geiger. In the 1900 Census for Daleville, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Jimmie's mother, Eliza [Bozeman] Rodgers, was listed as already having had seven children, with four of them still living at that date. Jimmie ["James" in the Census] was next to the youngest at that time, and was probably born sixth of the total of seven children. He eventually returned home to live with his father, Aaron Rodgers, a maintenance-of-way foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, who had settled with a new wife in Meridian.
Rodgers' ancestral origins and heritage are uncertain, though records show his lineage to be of some measure of English American extraction.
Rodgers' affinity for entertaining came at an early age, and the lure of the road was irresistible to him. By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father. His father found Rodgers his first job working on the railroad as a water boy. Here he was further taught to pick and strum by rail workers and hobos. As a water boy, he would have been exposed to the work chants of the African American railroad workers known as gandy dancers. A few years later, he became a brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, a position formerly secured by his oldest brother, Walter, who had been promoted to conductor on the line running between Meridian and New Orleans.
In 1924 at age 27, Rodgers was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The disease temporarily ended his railroad career, but at the same time gave him the chance to get back to the entertainment industry. He organized a traveling road show and performed across the Southeastern United States until, once again, he was forced home after a cyclone destroyed his tent. He returned to railroad work as a brakeman in Miami, Florida, but eventually his illness cost him his job. He relocated to Tucson, Arizona, and was employed as a switchman by the Southern Pacific Railroad. He kept the job for less than a year, and the Rodgers family (which by then included wife Carrie and daughter Anita) settled back in Meridian in early 1927.
Rodgers decided to travel to Asheville, North Carolina, later that same year. On April 18, 1927, at 9:30 pm, Jimmie, and Otis Kuykendall performed for the first time on WWNC, Asheville's first radio station. A few months later, Rodgers recruited a group from Bristol, Tennessee, called the Tenneva Ramblers and secured a weekly slot on the station listed as "The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers".
In late July 1927, Rodgers' bandmates learned that Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company, was coming to Bristol to hold an audition for local musicians. Rodgers and the group arrived in Bristol on August 3, 1927, and auditioned for Peer in an empty warehouse. Peer agreed to record them the next day. As the band discussed how they would be billed on the record, an argument ensued, the band broke up, and Rodgers arrived at the recording session the next morning alone, or, as later stated in an on-camera interview by Claude Grant of the Tenneva Ramblers, Rodgers had taken some guitars on consignment and sold them but did not pay back the music stores that had supplied the guitars, and that the band broke up because they did not agree with that. The interview BL-16 to 19 is listed here:  On Wednesday, August 4, Jimmie Rodgers completed his first session for Victor in Camden, New Jersey. It lasted from 2:00 pm to 4:20 pm and yielded two songs: "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep". For the test recordings, Rodgers received $100.
The recordings were released on October 7, earning modest success. In November, Rodgers, determined more than ever to make it in entertainment, headed to New York City in an effort to arrange another session with Peer.
Rodgers requested that his sister-in-law, Elsie McWilliams, a musician, help him write some songs. She would become his most frequent "songwriting partner." She cowrote or wrote nearly 40 songs for Rodgers.
Rodgers returned to the Victor studios in Camden and recorded four more sides, including "Blue Yodel", better known as "T for Texas". In the next two years, this recording sold nearly half a million copies, rocketing Rodgers into stardom. After this, he got to determine when Peer and Victor would record him, and he sold out shows whenever and wherever he played.
Over the next few years, Rodgers was very busy. He did a movie short for Columbia Pictures, now under Sony, The Singing Brakeman (this is available on the DVD and VHS compilation "Times Ain't Like They Used To Be: Early Rural & Popular Music From Rare Original Film Masters 1928–35" and on YouTube), and made various recordings across the country. He toured with humorist Will Rogers as part of a Red Cross tour across the Midwest. On July 16, 1930, he recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9" with Louis Armstrong on trumpet and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano.
A song written by Clayton McMichen and recorded as "Prohibition Has Done Me Wrong" was not issued, possibly because of copyright conflicts with Columbia. According to Juanita McMichen Lynch, Peer thought it was "too controversial for the times." The master was put aside and then accidentally lost.
Rodgers' next-to-last recordings were made in August 1932 in Camden, and the tuberculosis clearly was getting the better of him. He had given up touring by that time, but did have a weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas, where he had relocated when "T for Texas" ("Blue Yodel Number 1") became a hit. Earnings from his recordings enabled Rodgers to build a great house for his family in Kerrville, Texas, a location chosen partly for health reasons. It was not in Rodgers' make-up to stay still, though, and his constant touring and recording schedule only hurt his chances of recovery.
With the country in the grip of the Great Depression, the practice of making field recordings was quickly fading, so in May 1933, Rodgers traveled again to New York City for a group of sessions beginning May 17. He started these sessions recording alone and completed four songs on the first day. When he returned to the studio after a day's rest, he had to record sitting down and soon retired to his hotel in hopes of regaining enough energy to finish the songs he had been rehearsing. The recording engineer hired two session musicians to help Rodgers when he came back to the studio a few days later. Together, they recorded a few songs, including "Mississippi Delta Blues". For his last song of the session, however, Rodgers chose to perform alone, and as a matching bookend to his career, recorded "Years Ago" by himself.
During his last recording session in New York City on May 24, after years of fighting the tuberculosis, Rodgers was so weakened that he needed to rest on a cot between songs.
Jimmie Rodgers died on May 26 from a pulmonary hemorrhage while staying at the Taft Hotel, aged 35. At the time of his death, Rodgers accounted for fully 10% of RCA Victor's sales in a drastically depressed record market.
When the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 1961, Rodgers was one of the first three (the others were music publisher and songwriter Fred Rose and singer-songwriter Hank Williams) to be inducted. Rodgers was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and, as an early influence, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. "Blue Yodel No. 9" was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Rodgers was ranked No. 33 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003.
Since 1953, Meridian's Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival has been held annually during May to honor the anniversary of Rodgers' death. The first festival was on May 26, 1953.
A song collected by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in 1950 from the Kipsigis tribe, titled "Chemirocha", was written in honor of Jimmie Rodgers. According to legend, tribe members were exposed to Rodgers' music through British soldiers during World War II. Impressed by his yodeling, they envisioned Rodgers as "a faun, half-man and half-antelope."
Both Gene Autry and future Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (said to have been author of "You Are My Sunshine") began their careers as Jimmie Rodgers copyists, and Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell later did tribute albums. Haggard's, titled Same Train, A Different Time: Merle Haggard Sings The Great Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers, was released in 1969. Haggard also covered "No Hard Times" and "T.B. Blues" on his best-selling live albums Okie from Muskogee (1969) and Fightin' Side of Me (1970).
Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)" was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd on its live album One More from the Road, later being sometimes announced by the band as "(Gimme A) T For Texas (T For Tennessee)". Ronnie Van Zant has also been quoted from a concert of July 13, 1977 intermission in Asbury Park, New Jersey as saying that they've "always been interested in old country music" like Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard before launching into playing "T For Texas". Lynyrd Skynyrd has also named both Haggard and Rodgers in their song "Railroad Song" ("I'm going to ride this train, Lord, until I find out, what Jimmie Rodgers and The Hag was all about") Tompall Glaser has also covered a version that was included on country music's first million-selling album, Wanted! The Outlaws.
In 1997 Bob Dylan put together a tribute compilation of major artists covering Rodgers' songs, The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, A Tribute (Sony – ASIN: B000002BLD). The artists included Bono, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Jerry Garcia, Dickey Betts, Dwight Yoakam, Aaron Neville, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and others. Dylan had earlier once remarked, "The songs were different than the norm. They had more of an individual nature and an elevated conscience... I was drawn to their power."
Fellow Meridian, MS native Steve Forbert's tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers, Any Old Time, was nominated for a 2004 Grammy in the best traditional folk category.
On May 24, 1978, the United States Postal Service issued a 13-cent commemorative stamp honoring Rodgers, the first in its long-running Performing Arts Series. The stamp was designed by Jim Sharpe (who did several others in this series), who depicted him with brakeman's outfit and guitar, giving his "two thumbs up" (as in of the famous pictures of him), along with a locomotive in silhouette in the background.
Rodgers' legacy and influence is not limited to country music. The 2009 book Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century tracks Rodgers influence through a broad range of musical genres, internationally. He was influential to Ozark poet Frank Stanford, who composed a series of "blue yodel" poems, and a number of later blues artists. Rodgers was one of the biggest stars of American music between 1927 and 1933, arguably doing more to popularize blues than any other performer of his time. Rodgers influenced many later blues artists, among them Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, and Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf. Jimmie Rodgers was Wolf's childhood idol. Wolf tried to emulate Rodgers's yodel, but found that his efforts sounded more like a growl or a howl. "I couldn't do no yodelin'," Barry Gifford quoted him as saying in Rolling Stone, "so I turned to howlin'. And it's done me just fine."
Rodgers' influence can also be heard in artists including Tommy Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and Mississippi John Hurt, whose "Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me" is based on Rodgers' hit "Waiting on a Train". Elvis Presley has also been quoted as mentioning Jimmie Rodgers as an important influence and stating that he was a big fan. Jerry Lee Lewis listed Rodgers as a major stylist and covered several of his songs. Moon Mullican, Tommy Duncan and many other western swing singers also were influenced by him. Gene Autry's earlier material largely copied Rodgers' blues records, & also included covers of his songs, for example "Jimmie the kid". Johnny Cash (who also covered Rodgers' "In The Jailhouse Now" and who said the first record he ever heard was Jimmie Rodgers) tried for to emulate Rodgers' signature yodel on a duet of "Hey, Porter" with Marty Stuart on his 1982 album Busy Bee Cafe with Earl Scruggs on banjo, but Cash admits, after coughing, that he can't yodel "like Jimmie Rodgers used to".
The 1982 film Honkytonk Man, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, was loosely based on Rodgers' life.
In "Cleaning Windows," Van Morrison sings about listening to Rodgers, but this more likely references blues singer Jimmy Rogers as Morrison mentions several blues singers in the song. Morrison does not name any other Country and Western singers, although Jimmie Rodgers' music was influenced very much by blues.
In the book, Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music, the song "T.B. Blues" is presented as one of the first truly autobiographical songs.
On May 28, 2010, Slim Bryant, the last surviving singer to have made a recording with Rodgers, died at the age of 101. They recorded Bryant's song "Mother, the Queen of My Heart" in 1932. The Union, a collaborative album between Elton John and Leon Russell, featured a song entitled "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream", which was a tribute to Rodgers.
In May 2010, a second marker, on the Mississippi Country Music Trail, was erected near Rodgers' gravesite, marking his role as The Father of Country Music, though he was an early innovator & not the first ever for to record it.
In 2013, Rodgers was posthumously inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.
|Title||Label number||Recording date||Recording location|
|"The Soldier's Sweetheart"||Victor 20864||August 4, 1927||Bristol, Tennessee|
|"Sleep, Baby, Sleep"||Victor 20864||August 4, 1927||Bristol, Tennessee|
|"Ben Dewberry's Final Run"||Victor 21245||November 30, 1927||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Mother Was a Lady"||Victor 21433||November 30, 1927||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)"||Victor 21142||November 30, 1927||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Away out on the Mountain"||Victor 21142||November 30, 1927||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Dear Old Sunny South by the Sea"||Victor 21574||February 14, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Treasures Untold"||Victor 21433||February 14, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"The Brakeman's Blues"||Victor 21291||February 14, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"The Sailor's Plea"||Victor 40054||February 14, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"In the Jailhouse Now"||Victor 21245||February 15, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Blue Yodel No. 2 (Lovin' Gal Lucille)"||Victor 21291||February 15, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Memphis Yodel"||Victor 21636||February 15, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Blue Yodel No. 3"||Victor 21531||February 15, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"My Old Pal"||Victor 21757||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"My Little Old Home Down in New Orleans"||Victor 21574||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"You and My Old Guitar"||Victor 40072||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Daddy and Home"||Victor 21757||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"My Little Lady"||Victor 40072||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Lullaby Yodel"||Victor 21636||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Never No Mo' Blues"||Victor 21531||June 12, 1928||Camden, New Jersey|
|"My Carolina Sunshine Girl"||Victor 40096||October 20, 1928||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Blue Yodel No. 4 (California Blues)"||Victor 40014||October 20, 1928||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Waiting for a Train"||Victor 40014||October 22, 1928||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"I'm Lonely and Blue"||Victor 40054||October 22, 1928||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Desert Blues"||Victor 40096||February 21, 1929||New York City|
|"Any Old Time"||Victor 22488||February 21, 1929||New York City|
|"Blue Yodel No. 5"||Victor 22072||February 23, 1929||New York City|
|"High Powered Mama"||Victor 22523||February 23, 1929||New York City|
|"I'm Sorry We Met"||Victor 22072||February 23, 1929||New York City|
|"Everybody Does It in Hawaii"||Victor 22143||August 8, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues"||Victor 22220||August 8, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Train Whistle Blues"||Victor 22379||August 8, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Jimmie's Texas Blues"||Victor 22379||August 10, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Frankie and Johnnie"||Victor 22143||August 10, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Whisper Your Mother's Name"||Victor 22319||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"The Land of My Boyhood Dreams"||Victor 22811||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Blue Yodel No. 6"||Victor 22271||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Yodelling Cowboy"||Victor 22271||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"My Rough and Rowdy Ways"||Victor 22220||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"I've Ranged, I've Roamed and I've Travelled"||Bluebird 5892||October 22, 1929||Dallas, Texas|
|"Hobo Bill's Last Ride"||Victor 22421||November 13, 1929||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|"Mississippi River Blues"||Victor 23535||November 25, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Nobody Knows But Me"||Victor 23518||November 25, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Anniversary Blue Yodel"||Victor 22488||November 26, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"She Was Happy Till She Met You"||Victor 23681||November 26, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Blue Yodel No. 11"||Victor 23796||November 27, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"A Drunkard's Child"||Victor 22319||November 28, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"That's Why I'm Blue"||Victor 22421||November 28, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"Why Did You Give Me Your Love?"||Bluebird 5892||November 28, 1929||Atlanta, Georgia|
|"My Blue-Eyed Jane"||Victor 23549||June 30, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Why Should I Be Lonely?"||Victor 23609||June 30, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Moonlight and Skies"||Victor 23574||June 30, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Pistol Packin' Papa"||Victor 22554||July 1, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Take Me Back Again"||Bluebird 7600||July 2, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Those Gambler's Blues"||Victor 22554||July 5, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"I'm Lonesome Too"||Victor 23564||July 7, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"The One Rose"||Bluebird 7280||July 7, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"For the Sake of Days Gone By"||Victor 23651||July 9, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues"||Victor 23503||July 10, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"The Mystery of Number Five"||Victor 23518||July 11, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Blue Yodel No. 8" (aka Mule Skinner Blues)||Victor 23503||July 11, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"In the Jailhouse Now, No. 2"||Victor 22523||July 12, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"Blue Yodel No. 9"||Victor 23580||July 16, 1930||Los Angeles|
|"T.B. Blues"||Victor 23535||January 31, 1931||San Antonio, Texas|
|"Travellin' Blues"||Victor 23564||January 31, 1931||San Antonio, Texas|
|"Jimmie the Kid"||Victor 23549||January 31, 1931||San Antonio, Texas|
|"Why There's a Tear in My Eye"||Bluebird 6698||June 10, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"The Wonderful City"||Bluebird 6810||June 10, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Let Me Be Your Sidetrack"||Victor 23621||June 11, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Jimmie Rodgers Visits the Carter Family"||Victor 23574||June 12, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Texas"||Bluebird 6762||June 12, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"When the Cactus Is in Bloom"||Victor 23636||June 13, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Gambling Polka Dot Blues"||Victor 23636||June 15, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Looking for a New Mama"||Victor 23580||June 15, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"What's It?"||Victor 23609||June 16, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"My Good Gal's Gone"||Bluebird 5942||June 16, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Southern Cannon-Ball"||Victor 23811||June 17, 1931||Louisville, Kentucky|
|"Roll Along, Kentucky Moon"||Victor 23651||February 2, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Hobo's Meditation"||Victor 23711||February 3, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"My Time Ain't Long"||Victor 23669||February 4, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Ninety-Nine Years Blues"||Victor 23669||February 4, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Mississippi Moon"||Victor 23696||February 4, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Down the Old Road to Home"||Victor 23711||February 5, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Blue Yodel No. 10"||Victor 23696||February 6, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Home Call"||Victor 23681||February 6, 1932||Dallas, Texas|
|"Mother, the Queen of My Heart"||Victor 23721||August 11, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Rock All Our Babies to Sleep"||Victor 23721||August 11, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Whippin' That Old T.B."||Victor 23751||August 11, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"No Hard Times"||Victor 23751||August 15, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Long Tall Mama Blues"||Victor 23766||August 15, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Peach-Pickin' Time Down in Georgia"||Victor 23781||August 15, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"Gambling Barroom Blues"||Victor 23766||August 15, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"I've Only Loved Three Women"||Bluebird 6810||August 15, 1932||Camden, New Jersey|
|"In the Hills of Tennessee"||Victor 23736||August 29, 1932||New York City|
|"Prairie Lullaby"||Victor 23781||August 29, 1932||New York City|
|"Miss the Mississippi and You"||Victor 23736||August 29, 1932||New York City|
|"Sweet Mama Hurry Home"||Victor 23796||August 29, 1932||New York City|
|"Blue Yodel No. 12"||Victor 24456||May 17, 1933||New York City|
|"The Cowhand's Last Ride"||Victor 24456||May 17, 1933||New York City|
|"I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now"||Victor 23830||May 17, 1933||New York City|
|"Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes"||Bluebird 7600||May 18, 1933||New York City|
|"Yodeling My Way Back Home"||Bluebird 7280||May 18, 1933||New York City|
|"Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel"||Bluebird 5281||May 18, 1933||New York City|
|"The Yodelling Ranger"||Victor 23830||May 20, 1933||New York City|
|"Old Pal of My Heart"||Victor 23816||May 20, 1933||New York City|
|"Old Love Letters"||Victor 23840||May 24, 1933||New York City|
|"Mississippi Delta Blues"||Victor 23816||May 24, 1933||New York City|
|"Somewhere Down Below the Dixon Line"||Victor 23840||May 24, 1933||New York City|
|"Years Ago"||Bluebird 5281||May 24, 1933||New York City|