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The Singing Brakeman--Jimmie Rodgers

Updated on December 29, 2014

Meridain Locomotive

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Sign in front of Museum

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Roots of American music


Born James Charles Rodgers on September 8, I897 and died May 26, 1933. In those 35 years he has set the model for pop, country, blues and rock singers even today. He was a master of yodeling but not like the Swiss mountain yodelers. He has also been referred to as the “Father of Country Music.” Along with the Carter Family and Hank Williams a standard was set for most of modern popular music, including country, pop, blues and rock. Like other great performers such as Hank Williams he died young but accomplished so much in that short life. He was a victim of tuberculosis (TB), which was prevalent in those days.

After his mother died, he lived with various relatives and finally went back home to live with his father who was a foreman for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad,. who had recently remarried and settled in Meridian, Mississippi. He found Jimmie his first railroad job as a water boy. Prior to this Jimmie had, at the age of 13, twice organizing traveling shows, but was found and brought home by his father. He worked up to being a brakeman for the New Orleans and Northwestern Railroad, which his older brother, Walter had previously filled. Railroad workers and hobos taught him more strumming and picking.

The railroad career was interrupted in 1924 by his getting TB. He took advantage of this by using his free time to get back into entertainment. He performed across the Southeast of the United States until he was forced to go home when a cyclone destroyed his tent . He returned to being a brakeman but again the illness cost him his job. He went to Tucson Arizona with a job as switchman on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Less than a year later he went back to Meridian with a wife Carrie and daughter Anita.

Later, he went to Asheville, North Carolina. and with Otis Kuykendall performed for the first time on WWNC, the first radio station in Asheville. A few months later with the Tenneva Ramblers he did a weekly slot on the stations as “The Jimmie Rodger’s Entertainers.”

Ralph Peer the Victor Talking Machine Company representative was auditioning musicians in Bristol. The group went there on August 3, 1927 and auditioned in an empty warehouse. Peer agreed to record them but the band broke up over an argument about how they would be billed on the recording. So Jimmie showed up by himself and completed his first Victor session alone. He got $100 for recording the test recordings of “The Soldiers Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” The songs had modest success when released on October 7.

Jimmie went to New York with intent to arrange another recording session. In Camden NJ he recorded four songs including “Blue Yodel” which we mostly know as “T for Texas.”This record was his first hit and he became a star after that.

Aware that TB would get him eventually he actually wrote songs about it, such as “T.B. Blues.”

Part of what is impressive about his popularity is that much of it was during the Depression and people did not have much money for entertainment, yet they bought his records.

His influence has lasted from then until the present time.


Gene Autry, also a one time railroad worker, did Jimmie Rodgers songs in the early part of his career. The influence went on from there to Earnest Tubbs, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones all did tribute albums. Blues artists like Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broozy and Howlin’ Wolf were also influenced by Rodgers. , as were Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. Bob Dylan compiled a tribute album of various artists doing Jimmies songs.

In 1978 Jimmie was honored when the United States Postal service issued a 13-cent commemorative stamp for Rodgers, the first of the performing arts series.

NOTE: Information for this hub has come from Wikipedia and the biography of Jimmie Rodgers: Meeting Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor.



© 2010 Don A. Hoglund

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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Shyron E Shenko. Thank you for visiting. It is confusing, but they are two different singers. The Jimmy that made Honeycomb popular performed in the 1960s and I believe he spells his name Rogers. The one in this hub was a performer in the 1920s and 1930s. I like them both. Many People confuse the two. I appreciate your comments.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting,Au falt. As I got to know music more I also started to realize that that a lot of songs I was familiar with as Country were sung from Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. With country music I pick and choose what I think is worth listening to.

      You probably know your way around Wisconsin better than I do. I've been here about 12 years but I grew up in Minnesota. I have read some of Moonlake's hub and she has commented on some of mine. Peggy W was one of the first to comment on the first hub I wrote.

      I do think that artists like Jimmie Rodgers are important to our musical heritage and am glad you like him.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Dahoglund, I enjoyed you hub, I had heard of Jimmy Rogers as I check who wrote songs that I have records of and I have two that I know of that he wrote. I have Mule Skinner Blues and Honeycomb, not by Jimmy Rogers.

      Good hub, will share, and pin.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      5 years ago from North Texas

      I know who just about all those guys you listed are and I've heard and seen most of them perform. I love the old country music, and bluegrass is one of my favorite kinds of music. Today's country is OK, but it's just not the same as the old time country.

      Notice you live in Wisconsin Rapids. My brother used to play in a band with Cliff Banks and his wife. I don't know if you ever heard of them -- from Plainfield WI. It was a long time ago. Anyway, my brother went to school and studied music because he had exceptional talent in that area and we all say they ruined his voice there making him study opera, etc. He used to sing fantastic country, yodeling and all. Plays a lot of instruments as you might imagine.

      Loved that video with Jimmie Rodgers. Used to have one of his albums, but I got rid of all my albums a few years ago now.

      Was born and grew up in Hancock WI. My dad lived in the Rapids 'til he died over 13 years ago now. He used to work in the Nekoosa Paper Mill. Still have a ton of relatives, mostly cousins, living in the Rapids. My step-mom is still there on Sampson. I've been to the Rapids dozens of times since it was one of the biggest cities close to where me and my family lived -- Stevens Point being the other one. Lived in Schofield for a while before moving out of the state to Colorado.

      If you haven't discovered them yet, 'moonlake' lives in the Rhinelander area, and 'Peggy W' lived in the Rapids for a couple years quite a while back. You might enjoy some of their hubs. It's a small world isn't it?

      Enjoyed this article and going to share it with my followers.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Yes there was another. The two are not related.The one that did Honeycomb has been considered a folksinger but like most in the 1960's had a rock influence.Thanks for the comment.

    • wilbury4 profile image

      wilbury4 

      8 years ago from England I think?

      Got a little confused with this article. I know the song "Honeycomb" (which I class as rock n roll) and couldn't work out why it was released 24 years after his death. Found that another Jimmy Rodgers was born in 1933, the actual singer of "Honeycomb". Can't find any relationship between them.

      Cheers.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      At least in this story there are a lot of interlinking threads.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for you comments. Gene Autry was a telegraph operator when he was discovered by Will Rogers, the famous humorist. If you ever see the old movie based on Will Rogers life where he was played by his son, there is a scene where he meets Gene Autry and encourages him to pursue his music.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting story about Jimmie Rodgers. Too bad his life was cut so short by the TB. I had no idea that Gene Autry also worked in the railroad industry for a while. Rating this hub useful. I always learn something from reading your fine hubs.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Your welcome

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you it is always nice to ask and never assume :)

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      JD Murray

      Thanks for the comment. I've long been interested in the roots of our music.

    • J D Murrah profile image

      J D Murrah 

      8 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas

      I enjoyed the hub. People like Jimmie Rogers are cultural gems that need to be celebrated. Thanks for doing the hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      coolmon2009

      I take it as a compliment that you want to link to my hub. certainly you may do that.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hello again, just back to read your article once again. I was wondering, do you would mind if I link my Elvis Presley Bio to your Jimmy Rodgers article? I thought about writing my own Jimmy Rodgers, but since I like your article better than the Wikipedia.org version of Jimmy Rodgers that my Elvis Bio currently points too, thought I would ask.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting. I didn't reliaze how many songs I like turn out to be Jimmy Rodgers songs.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 

      8 years ago

      Great hub - the ghost of Jimmie Rodgers hovers over all our great rock and folk IMHO.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting. I'm glad you liked it. It took me a long time to appreciate artists like this but interet in folk music eventually led to interest in "roots" music.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Love this Hub. Asheville attracted many musicians and other entertainers in those days. Thanks.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I am not sure of the dates of these performers. however, they were all pioneers in the introduction of country music to modern times.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      I enjoyed your article. I heard of Jimmie Rodgers, but I didn't know he was popular about the same time as Hank Williams Sr and The Carter Family. Thanks for the education on the early country music world :)

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