78 of the week: Jesse Rodgers with Kama’s Moana Hawaiians

78_828_A_San Antonio Blues_Southern Folklife Collection (30001)_UNC Chapel Hill

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Two excellent sides for you by the great Jesse Rodgers (first cousin to Jimmie), from Southern Folklife Collection disc call no. 78-828. A successful musician who appeared on the “border-blaster” radio stations XERA and XERN in the late 20s and early 30s, Rodgers career took off in an unexpected direction after Jimmie’s untimely death in 1933. Always looking to repeat past successes, RCA-Bluebird picked up Jesse in hopes he would continue where Jimmie left off, even setting Jesse up to record with the great steel guitarist Charles Kama and his Moana Hawaiians who had recorded previous sides with Jimmie. These two tracks were recorded 28 Feburary 1936 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio. Kama’s guitar work is superb and his musical arrangement wonderfully compliments the tune. Listen to the solo in the second clip below and note Kama’s masterful accompaniment to Rodger’s blue yodeling. Fantastic. 

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78_828_Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal_Southern Folklife Collection (30001)_UNC Chapel Hill

Jesse Rodgers, the Cousin of the Father of Country Music

When Jimmie Rodgers finally succumbed to tuberculosis on May 26, 1933, the world of country music was left without it’s founding father, and Victor records was left without one of it’s biggest stars.  If an effort to fill the void, Victor quickly signed Jimmie’s cousin, Jesse Rodgers, to their Bluebird record label. Similarities between the two were emphasized, with rumors circulating that they had grown up in the same household (they hadn’t), and that Jimmie had taught Jesse to play the guitar (he probably didn’t). Sides were recorded with distinctly Jimmie Rodgers-esque titles (“Yodeling Railroad Blues”), and Jesse even signed his early promotional photographs with Jimmie’s trademark “Yodelingly Yours,”.

But as time wore on Jesse must have found the comparisons to Jimmie constricting, or perhaps waning commercial interest in Jimmie Rodgers imitators made them less desirable. He developed his own “singing cowboy” persona, and by 1938 had dropped the “d” from his last name in an effort to further distance himself from his cousin (and likely to associate himself with that other singing cowboy, Roy Rogers).

While he never came close to being the national star Jimmie was, the singing cowboy Jesse Rogers had a successful career as a featured performer on the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago and on WFIL’s Hayloft Hoedown in Philadelphia (where he would go on to host the children’s television show Ranger Joe). His recording career continued into the early ’60s, when emphysema forced him to retire.

Listen below to clips from two of Jesse Rodgers’ 1934 Bluebird recordings, the heavily Jimmie Rodgers-influenced “San Antonio Blues”:

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And the cowboy song “Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal”: 

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(Both sound clips from SFC 78-828; 1946 Bourne Music Publishers song folio from the SFC Song Folios Collection.)