Monday 29 July sees the release of a brand-new World Music Network album; The Rough Guide To Country Legends: Jimmie Rodgers.
Jimmie Rodgers was the ‘Singing Brakeman’, a Mississippi boy who used to work the railroads, done good. With his trademark yodel, he brought so-called hillbilly music into the mainstream. In a life as colourful as the songs he sang, the ‘father of country music’, rose from obscurity to create a new level of international stardom for American music before his tragic early death.
Many will recognise yodel-heavy classics such as ‘In the Jailhouse Now’, which featured in the Cohen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and ‘Yodelling Cowboy’, and undoubtedly such tracks are emblematic of Rodgers’ style. However, in the course of six years with the Victor label he recorded over 110 songs, enjoying extraordinary artistic freedom thanks to the unprecedented nature of his stardom. He was free to interpret his role as a representative for country and hillbilly music as he saw fit and embarked on a number of eclectic musical forays, the variety of which is the cornerstone of this Rough Guide.
‘My Blue-Eyed Jane’ was recorded with a full jazz band, other tunes included mandolin, jug accompaniment, ukulele’s, tuba and more. His music is also heavily influenced by the grit and grime of the blues, heard on such classics as ‘Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel #8)’, ‘Waiting For A Train’ and ‘T.B Blues’. These were flavours Rodgers gleaned from his old railroad buddies who would make communion and tell stories through song, with ‘Gambling Bar Room Blues’ and ‘I’m Free (From The Chain Gang Now’ being further fine examples. Tracks such as ‘Somewhere Down Below The Mason Dixie Line’ and ‘My Rough and Rowdy Ways’, meanwhile, display a vaudeville playfulness and romantic notion of travel, character-traits that his father had tried to temper by finding him a job in the railroad.
Accompanying this dedicated overview of Rodgers’ dazzling but tragically foreshortened career, comes a bonus disc featuring a selection of classics by his contemporaries. Country Music Pioneers includes tracks from the likes of Dock Boggs, the Carter Family and Alfred G. Karnes, helping to paint a broader picture of American popular music’s key interwar period.