Yodel (T for Texas)
and performed by Jimmie Rodgers
Recorded: Nov. 30, 1927
Jimmie Rodgers, “The Singing Brakeman,” is considered the
father of country music. But what does that mean?
Country spawned from folk music and the blues, but it’s more polished, and more versatile. It has a plaintive sound, like a coyote’s howl on the open range. It can plumb emotional depths, but it can be sassy as well. All these things are in Rodgers’ music. His spectacular and abbreviated career set him up as progenitor of an entire genre.
Rodgers was born in or near Meridian, Mississippi on September 8, 1897. He was a precocious performer – he won a talent competition at the age of 13 and tried to run off into show business. His father dragged him back and put him to work on the railroad.
There he worked in a variety of capacities, all the while honing his musical skills. When he developed tuberculosis at the age of 27, it ended his railroad career but gave him the chance to try and make it with his music. He bounced back and forth between the odd railroad job and performing gigs.
He began performing on a weekly radio program in Asheville, North Carolina in1927. Through this he learned of the arrival of Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company, in Bristol, Tennessee. There, on August 3, 1927, Rodgers laid down his first tracks, the sentimental “Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” Encouraged by their reception, in November Rodgers traveled up to Victor headquarters in New Jersey to record more sides. It was there and then that he set down his “Blue Yodel.”
It was a hit. Finally, he was a touring and recording star. He even made a short musical feature on sound film in 1929. Despite his advancing tuberculosis, he continued to tour and record. Finally, after a prolonged and exhaustion-plagued studio recording session, he died on May 26, 1933 at the age of 35.
“Blue Yodel” is immediate, honest, and raw. The construction of the song is simple and sturdy, the kind of song it would easy to pick up and repeat. It speaks to love and loss, albeit with a wry grin on its face. It’s about the blues, and about getting over them.
With this and more than 100 other songs, Rodgers cemented his reputation as an engaging performer, and an enduring songwriter.