Jimmie Rodgers was born in 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi. His mother died when he was a very young leaving him the youngest of three sons. He was brought up by a series of relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama until he eventually returned home to live with his father and step mother. His aunt was a former teacher and introduced him to a number of different styles of music, including vaudeville, pop, and dancehall. He sang in a local talent at Meridian's Elite Theater and won. Thereafter young Jimmie was fascinated with traveling (medicine) shows and twice he ran away to make his fortune all before the age of 13. In both cases his father brought him home but realized Jimmy needed a job and started him working on the railroad, as water boy. He soon progressed and became brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. Aged 27 in 1924, Jimmie contracted tuberculosis which ended his railway career. The years he spent on the railroad were not wasted and he constantly picked up sounds, songs and met a series of incredible characters all of which would be incorporated into his performances. Ignoring medical advice he organized another traveling road show and performed across the southeast until a cyclone destroyed his tent. In 1927, Jimmy and his partner Otis Kuykendall sang on radio WWNC (Asheville) and it went down well. Soon after he teamed up with the Tenneva Ramblers and they sang regularly on radio as the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.
Jimmie’s style was to fuse hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk at a time when other singers were singing mountain/folk music. Rather than going traditional, Jimmie wrote many of his best songs. His recording career started in 1927 but early efforts enjoyed modest success. It was only when he was invited back to the Victor Talking Machine Company record studios in Camden ion New York and recorded "T for Texas," (released as "Blue Yodel") and "Away Out on the Mountain" that sales rocketed and put Jimmie well and truly in the public eye.
His Victor producer, Ralph Peer experimented and occasionally recorded Jimmie with two string instrumentalists. The producer also tried out a number of different backing bands, including a jazz group, orchestras, and a Hawaiian combo. When Jimmie recorded "Blue Yodel #9" (also known as "Standin' on the Corner") it was with Louis Armstrong and Louis’s wife, Lillian, played piano on the track.
Jimmie Rodgers’ lyrics were about rounders and gamblers, bounders and ramblers all of which he had met somewhere along the line. Jimmie made one short movie called The Singing Brakeman (1930).
By the age of 34, Jimmie was feeling the adverse effects of TB and gave up touring although he continued with his weekly radio show in San Antonio. In 1933 he went to New York and recorded his last session which included "Years Ago".
The "Singing Brakeman" died shortly after. Despite his short singing career, The Mississippi Blue Yodeler influenced so many other musicians as they grew to appreciate his music. Among them were Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Van Morrison.
Worth a listen:
The Soldiers Sweetheart (1927)
T for Texas. (released as Blue Yodel) (1927)
In The Jailhouse Now-No.2 (1930)
For The Sake of Days Gone By (1930)
Travellin' Blues (Shelly Lee Alley) (1931)
Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues (Waldo O'Neal and Bob Sawyer) (1931)
The Mystery of Number Five (1931)
Travellin’ blues (1931)
Jimmie the kid (1931)
Looking for a new mama (1931)
Blue Yodel #9 (also known as "Standin' on the Corner") (1931)
Ninety-nine Year Blues (Raymond E. Hall) (1932)
Why There’s a Tear In My Eye (1936)
The One Rose (Lani McIntire) (1937)