Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

Synopsis

In the nearly eight decades since his death from tuberculosis at age thirty-five, singer-songwriter Jimmie Rodgers has been an inspiration for numerous top performers-from Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Beck. How did this Mississippi-born vaudevillian, a former railroad worker who performed so briefly so long ago, produce tones, tunes, and themes that have had such broad influence and made him the model for the way American roots music stars could become popular heroes?

In Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, the first book to explore the deep legacy of "The Singing Brakeman" from a twenty-first century perspective, Barry Mazor offers a lively look at Rodgers' career, tracing his rise from working-class obscurity to the pinnacle of renown that came with such hits as "Blue Yodel" and "In the Jailhouse Now." As Mazor shows, Rodgers brought emotional clarity and a unique sense of narrative drama to every song he performed, whether tough or sentimental, comic or sad. His wistful singing, falsetto yodels, bold flat-picking guitar style, and sometimes censorable themes-sex, crime, and other edgy topics-set him apart from most of his contemporaries. But more than anything else, Mazor suggests, it was Rodgers' shape-shifting ability to assume many public personas-working stiff, decked-out cowboy, suave ladies' man-that connected him to such a broad public and set the stage for the stars who followed him.

Mazor goes beyond Rodgers's own life to map the varied places his music has gone, forever changing not just country music but also rock and roll, blues, jazz, bluegrass, Western, commercial folk, and much more. In reconstructing this far-flung legacy, Mazor enables readers to meet Rodgers and his music anew--not as an historical figure, but as a vibrant, immediate force.

Excerpt

Nashville, October 5, 1970.

The most influential, original performer in American music history pushes his way through the swinging doors of the flimsy saloon set, shedding, fast as he can manage—and that is still fast—the too-cute fourteen-gallon hat that someone has thought appropriate for this occasion. He grips it in one hand as he waves to the welcoming crowd at the Ryman Auditorium.

Rather dilapidated now, the “Mother Church of Country Music” will still be, for just a few more years, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman is home also for these regular tapings of The Johnny Cash Show—a fresh prime-time, national TV series whose very existence is evidence of how broadly country music has spread, how far it has come, and how enwrapped with the rest of American pop music it has become by this night.

The guest is Louis Armstrong, the legendary Satchmo, in the last year of his life. He has just cut a country album, working in New York City with Johnny Cash’s long-time friend, sometime record producer, and occasional songwriter, the irrepressible Cowboy Jack Clement. Jack recalls phoning the TV show’s producer, suggesting that Armstrong might be a perfect, surprising fit for them—then arranging for a brass band to meet the jazz legend at the Nashville airport as he arrived in town.

From the varied numbers that appeared on that Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong LP, and a handful of those rehearsed for the show, Satchmo has chosen two to sing that had been introduced by African-Americans—“Crystal . . .

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