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”: SanAntonioBluesclip
And the cowboy song “Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal”:  OldPintoclip
(Both sound clips from SFC 78-828; 1946 Bourne Music Publishers song folio from the SFC Song Folios Collection.)

Two New Radio Streams: Jimmie Rodgers and New Orleans

Fans of SFC streaming radio will be happy to hear we have two new streams up and running:
Jimmie Rodgers, The Father of Country Music, will be streaming in concurrence with the exhibit of the same name (on view at Wilson Library until July 13th). This stream features original recordings by Rodgers, cover versions, and songs by Rodgers-inspired contemporaries .
New Orleans, the first in an upcoming series of geographically-oriented radio streams, features the distinctive jazz, R&B, barrelhouse boogie, and brass bands of New Orleans, Louisiana, and surrounding areas.
The links work best with iTunes, Winamp, or VLC media players. Happy listening!

New Addition: The Eugene Earle Collection


After almost a year in process, the latest addition to the Eugene Earle Collection finding aid is now available. The addition of July 2009 contains over 9,500 items from the collection of discographer, record collector, and founding president of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation, Eugene Earle (pictured, ca. 1960).
Included in the addition are hundreds of live recordings of performances by old-time and bluegrass musicians including  Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, the Osbourne Brothers, and the Country Gentlemen.
The collection also includes posters, films, printed music, photographs, serials, record label catalogs, promotional materials, and papers relating to Earle’s discographical and record collecting activities.
Processing of the Eugene Earle Collection has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the ongoing digitization project Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music.

A Stack o’ "Stack O’Lee"

Well, it seems there really was a Stetson hat.  And one cold night in 1895, William “Billy” Lyons and Lee Shelton (otherwise known as “Stack Lee”) fought over that hat in what would become one of the most infamous altercations in folk history.  You know which one of them walked away, because Mississippi John Hurt, Ma Rainey, Champion Jack Dupree, Woody Guthrie, The Fruit Jar Guzzlers, Furry Lewis, and countless others immortalized the story in song.
The Southern Folklife Collection has recordings of the grim tale by at least 30 different musicians; there’s a version for every taste.  In the mood for a little Hawaiian guitar? Sol Hoopii recorded an instrumental version in 1926:
Sol Hoopii – Stack O Lee Blues clip
(Clip from SFC FC-4006, Master of the Hawaiian Guitar)
Want something with a little more blues flavor? Try Ma Rainey’s iconic 1925 telling of the tale:
Ma Rainey Stack O Lee clip
(clip from SFC CD-3845, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Mississippi John Hurt got in on the act in 1928, and brought the song to live audiences throughout the country in the 1960s:
Mississippi John Hurt Stagolee
(clip from SFC CD-4025, Before The Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene)
Maybe that’s where Doc Watson heard it – he recorded his own old-timey version in 1967:
Doc Watson Stackolee clip
(clip from SFC FC-14460, Ballads From Deep Gap)
Many more versions can be found in the Southern Folklife Collection’s online catalog, and you can read more about the true story in Cecil Brown’s Stagolee Shot Billy.

Leadbelly: The Hindenburg Disaster

73 years ago today the German airship Hindenburg exploded in flames while attempting to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 and pretty much ruining transatlantic zeppelin rides for everyone. Since the sinking of the Titanic almost exactly 25 years earlier had generated a raft of folk ballads on the subject, one might think the Hindenburg disaster would have received similar treatment. However, the world had changed a lot in that quarter century, and apparently there wasn’t great demand for folk ballads on a disaster that had been covered extensively by live radio reports and newsreel footage (you can watch a Pathe newsreel of the disaster here).
But folk singer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, gave it a shot. Recorded by Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress in June of 1937, here’s a clip of one of Leadbelly’s takes on “The Hindenburg Disaster”:
Hindenburg Disaster
(Clip from Leadbelly: The Library of Congress Recordings, FC-188 in the Southern Folklife Collection.)