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.)
On this date 102 years ago Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy”, was born in Tioga Springs, Texas. While perhaps best remembered today as a movie cowboy and the singer of holiday classics like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”, Autry’s success began in the early thirties as “The Oklahoma Yodeling Cowboy”, singing country songs in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, as you can hear in this clip of “The Cowboy Yodel”, from the Bear Family box set That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine (SFC CD-6008), collecting his 1929-1933 recordings: Cowboy Yodel
By the time of his death at the age of 91, the former railroad station telegraph operator who sang “I have no cares like millionaires/ no grief to make me blue” had gone on to become one of the richest men in America, the owner of radio stations, Hollywood production studios, and a major league baseball team.
Additional Gene Autry recordings and material can be found in the SFC 78 rpm Recordings Database, the SFC Song Folio Collection (above), and the Library catalog.
We recently received a copy of Way Out There: The Complete Recordings 1934-1943 (SFC CD-7810), the new Sons of the Pioneers/Roy Rogers box set from German label Bear Family Records. Bear Family boxes are always overstuffed with great material, and this one is no exception, with six CDs and a 160 page hardcover book featuring dozens of photographs and poster reproductions. SFC staff were happy to assist the folks at Bear Family with remote access to material from our 78 rpm record collection during the production of this set.
Listen to the Sons of the Pioneers performing “Way Out There” (from SFC 78-7047): way-out-there
The holdings of the SFC are particularly strong in Sons of the Pioneers material, most notably the Sons of the Pioneers Transcription Discs Collection, featuring many non-commercial recordings from the Lucky-U Ranch radio programs of the 1950’s, and the Elizabeth Drake McDonald Collection on the work of songwriter Bob Nolan.