That time has rolled around once again to fondly remember my dear cousin, Ernest Tubb. The last time we heard from E.T., he was performing his biggest hit: “Walking the Floor Over You”. Now let us turn back the clock a few years to his earliest recording sessions, long before he had the fame and acclaim that, once found, would last him the rest of his career.
Ernest Tubb made his recording debut in a room at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio on the twenty-sixth of October, 1936, accompanying the widow of his idol Jimmie Rodgers on a song she wrote in a tribute to her late husband. He received no credit for his role in the production on the record’s label, which simply read “with accompaniment played on Jimmie Rodgers’ own guitar.” Mrs. Rodgers had loaned Tubb Jimmie’s instrument—as well as the Blue Yodeler’s tuxedo to wear in publicity shots—and helped him secure a contract with the RCA Victor Company, for whom her husband had recorded for the entirety of his six year career to help him get started in his musical career, after he had contacted her and the two became friendly. Tubb began his recording career in earnest the following day, waxing six sides, all in the style of his hero, complete with yodeling and guitar work lifted straight from Rodgers’ records.. He began with his own tribute to the Singing Brakeman he so adored: “The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Last Thoughts of Jimmie Rodgers”—both penned by Rodgers’ songwriting partner and sister-in-law Elsie McWilliams—which constituted the first record issued to his name. He followed up with four more sides, which did not see release until six years later. Despite the lack of success brought by his first disc, Tubb was behind the Victor mike again less than half a year later to cut another two sides, this time with his friend Merwyn J. Buffington joining him on second guitar. The resulting disc, without the words “Jimmie Rodgers” on the label to ensure its success, sold even more poorly than the first, and Tubb did not return to record for RCA Victor again. For the remainder of the 1930s, Tubb continued to struggle as an artist, frequently working day jobs to support himself as gigs on Texas radio stations and honky-tonks failed to pay the bills. In 1939, a tonsillectomy damaged his yodeling ability (though he did yodel on rare occasions in subsequent years), forcing him first to shift his focus to songwriting before returning to singing with a new, less blue yodeling style all his own which ultimately found him immense, lifelong success and a longstanding contract with Decca Records to go with it, but he never forsook his adoration for his hero Jimmie Rodgers.
Bluebird B-8899 was recorded between 1:00 and 2:15 in the afternoon of October 27, 1936 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. It was released on January 9, 1942, after he had started making hits for Decca. Ernest Tubb sings his own compositions, accompanying himself on the late Jimmie Rodgers’ custom Martin 000-45 guitar.
First, Tubb borrows heavily from the Blue Yodeler on “Married Man Blues”, with a guitar introduction lifted from Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 5” and an opening verse directly from his “Whippin’ That Old T.B.”.
Next, he does “Mean Old Bed Bug Blues”, an original composition distinct from the song of the same name sung by the likes of Bessie Smith and Furry Lewis. In my opinion, this is perhaps Tubb’s best Bluebird side—though “Since That Black Cat Crossed My Path” is another top contender. Though Tubb very seldom recorded with only his own guitar as accompaniment, he proves on these sides to have been nearly as proficient on the instrument as his idol, Jimmie Rodgers. Though far from a hit record, the song was later covered by Hawshaw Hawkins in 1946.