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.)
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!
Jimmie Rodgers posing with his 1930 Model A Ford in Kerrville, Texas. This and many other vintage photos of Rodgers can be seen in the SFC’s current exhibit Jimmie Rodgers: The Father of Country Music, showing on the 4th Floor of Wilson Library through July 13.
Please join us Tuesday evening, April 13th, for the opening of the new Southern Folklife Collection exhibit Jimmie Rodgers: The Father Of Country Music, celebrating the music and legacy of Jimmie Rodgers, one of the most popular and influential musicians of the 20th century.
The event starts with a reception at 5:00 PM, followed by a 5:45 talk by Jocelyn R. Neal, author of The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Legacy In Country Music. Dr. Neal will be delivering a talk based on her research, “The Secrets of the Songs: Jimmie Rodgers and His Legacy.”
Following the talk, old-time musician Matt Kinman will be performing songs originally popularized by Rodgers and his contemporaries.
The opening event will be held on the 4th floor of Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!
This photo was probably taken in 1931, when the cowboy humorist and the singing brakeman toured the drought-stricken Midwest for a series of Red Cross benefit concerts. During performances, Will Rogers would sometimes introduce Jimmie as “my distant son”.