Sunday, May 17, 2009

Countdown to a legacy

My pocket book is empty
And my heart is filled with pain
A thousand miles away from home
Just waiting for a train

That Jimmie Rodgers could bring it, couldn't he?

He's called the father of country music, but I don't know about that. They like to shower titles on the great ones, and he was a great one, for sure. Songs like "Waiting For a Train'' were written by someone who knew the life working the rails and could sing simple songs about the hardships and difficulties of making ends meet in the Depression. And he could yodel the lonesomest blue yodel you will ever hear.

When you add it all up it's really a mixture of folk and country tinged in the blues. Which would make it "Americana'' before the phrase was coined. The inscription on a statue honoring him in Meridian, Miss., tells it better than me:

His is the music of America. He sang the songs of the people he loved, of a young nation growing strong. His was an America of glistening rails, thundering boxcars, and rain-swept night, of lonesome prairies, great mountains and a high blue sky. He sang of the bayous and the cornfields, the wheated plains, of the little towns, the cities, and of the winding rivers of America.

Fighting a losing battle with tuberculosis, Rodgers went into the recording studio on this day in 1933. Talk about meeting a deadline for your legacy. He recorded a dozen songs over the next few days when he was able to summon the strength, including "Mississippi Delta Blues'', "I'm Free (From the Chain Gang Now)'' and his final recording, "Years Ago.''

He died on May 26 at age 35.


  1. Damn, I was in Meridian a couple years back and had no idea there was a statue.

  2. One of the greatest of all time.

    Jimmie's Blue Yodel #9, recorded in 1930, featured a trumpet player named Louis Armstrong.

    Meridian was and still is a major railroad junction. Which explains all the train songs and his nickname, "the Singing Brakeman."

    Final trivia note: Ernest Tubb wound up with Jimmie Rodgers' guitar, which had his name inlaid on the fretboard.