Victor 20864 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1927

Rodgers around 1927-’28, pictured in the Victor catalog.

In early August 1927, Ralph Peer was continuing his recording sessions for Victor in Bristol, Tennessee, when he received a telephone call from a radio performer in Asheville, North Carolina, who had read of this opportunity in the newspaper, and was interested in recording with his string band.  Peer arranged for this man to meet for an audition.  Somewhere along the line, he had a disagreement with his band, and they parted ways before the audition.  Nevertheless, he auditioned before Peer, who saw a huge potential for success.  On August 4, 1927, Jimmie Rodgers made his first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, only two sides.  The first was his own composition, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”, the second was the old yodel song, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep”.  The record was a hit, and Rodgers recorded with Victor again only a few months later, making the first of his famous Blue Yodels.  Over the course of the following six years, he became one of Victor top artists, one of the best-selling record artists of the Great Depression, and earned the moniker of the Father of Country Music.

Victor 20864 was recorded between 2:00 and 4:20 P.M. on August 4, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, the only two sides cut in Jimmie Rodgers Bristol session, and his first ever recordings.  It was released in October of 1927.

Jimmie’s second song at the session, but issued as the “A” side of his debut disc was his haunting rendition of John J. Handley’s old time yodel song, “Sleep Baby Sleep”.

Sleep Baby Sleep, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Sleep Baby Sleep, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Issued as the “B” side, Rodgers own composition “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” marked the first time that the voice of America’s Blue Yodeler was ever preserved in shellac.

The Soldier's Sweetheart, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

The Soldier’s Sweetheart, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Bluebird B-5942 – Jimmie Rodgers/Jesse Rodgers – 1931/1935

This record is a remarkable one for a number of reasons.  One of those is that, being a Depression era release, it is quite scarce (and I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, I’m still surprised that I have it, myself).  Another is that is one of a number of records of the 1920s and 1930s to feature black and white artists performing together, in this case Jimmie Rodgers with the Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  On the downside, this copy has certainly seen better days.  The years have not been kind to it, and its sound reflects that. It’s still listenable, but has a layer of surface noise.  Another bit worth mentioning is that the flip side of this record, which was released after Rodgers’ passing, features a recording by another blue yodeler who happened to be Jimmie Rodgers’ first cousin.

Both sides of Bluebird B-5942 were recorded on separate occasions.  The “A” side was recorded on June 16, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, the “B” side was recorded January 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas.  The personnel of the jug band on the first side includes George Allen on clarinet, Clifford Hayes on violin, Cal Smith on tenor guitar, Fred Smith on guitar and Earl McDonald on jug, the same basic group as the Dixieland Jug Blowers.  One seller claimed that it sold a total of 2,757 copies, but I have no idea how they came up with that number and whether or not it’s accurate, though those numbers don’t sound out of line.

On the first side, the Blue Yodeler sings “My Good Gal’s Gone”, with outstanding accompaniment by Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  Though it was recorded in 1931, this 1935 Bluebird is the first issue of this recording.  Takes “2” and “3” of this song exist, this one is the latter.

My Good Gal’s Gone, recorded June 16, 1931 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the “B” side, Jimmie’s first cousin, Jesse Rodgers sings “Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama” in a style that reminds me of Cliff Carlisle more than Jimmie.  Jesse stuck around for quite a while, later dropping the “d” from his name to become Jesse Rogers by the end of the 1930s.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Crown 3058 – Frankie Marvin and his Guitar – 1931

One of the few independent record labels to spring up during the Great Depression was Crown, founded in 1930 by the Plaza Record Company after the merger that created the American Record Corporation, leaving them without their flagship label, Banner.  Most of Crown’s output consisted of popular and jazz music, but they also issued some interesting country recordings, such as this one.

Frankie Marvin was born January 27, 1904 in Butler, Indian Territory, where he grew up with his brother, the future popular singer and ukulele man Johnny Marvin.  At some point in the mid-1920s, Frankie came to New York to begin a recording career like his brother.  Frankie Marvin sang variously as a studio vocalist for dance and jazz bands (he can be heard singing “St. James Infirmary” with King Oliver’s Orchestra) and a country singer a la Jimmie Rodgers, often accompanying himself on guitar.  Marvin also worked as an accompanist to Gene Autry on some of his early records.

Crown 3058, recorded in New York by Frankie Marvin in January 1931 features two off-brand versions of country hits of the day.

First, Marvin sings Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 8”, better known today as “Mule Skinner Blues”.  Based on my own research, this is likely the first of many covers of Rodgers’ classic song.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

Next, Marvin sings his, Gene Autry, and George Rainey’s composition “True Blue Bill”, occasionally known as “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  He seems to be channeling “Ukulele Ike” Cliff Edwards’ trademark form of scatting, known as “effin'”, here.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

Melotone M 12733 – Gene Autry – 1933

Eighty-three years ago today, the end came for Jimmie Rodgers.  On May 17, 1933, Jimmie traveled to New York City for what turned out to be his final recording session, during which he had to lie down in-between songs.   He cut his last recordings on the 24th, and returned to his room in the Taft Hotel.  On May 26, 1933, only two days after waxing his final song, “Years Ago”, Jimmie Rodgers finally succumbed to his tuberculosis, and died in his hotel room of a pulmonary hemorrhage at the age of 35.  He had fought T.B. since 1924.  At the time of his death, he represented a large percentage of Victor’s total sales deep in the Great Depression.  America’s Blue Yodeler left behind a legacy of more than a hundred recorded songs, later going down in history as the Father of Country Music.

After Jimmie’s passing, a wave of tributes ensued, including a number of songs by WLS artist Bradley Kincaid, and these tearjerkers by Gene Autry.

Melotone M 12733 was recorded June 22, 1933, less than one month after Jimmie Rodgers’ death, in New York City by Gene Autry.  Both songs were penned by Bob Miller.

First, Autry sings a reasonably accurate account of Jimmie Rodger’s life on “The Life of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers. recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.

On the flip, he sings a heartfelt tribute to Jimmie on “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers, recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.

Montgomery Ward M-4415 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1933

On this day, the twenty-fourth of May, in the year of 1933, America’s Blue Yodeler cut his last records.  With the nation in the grip of the Great Depression in 1933, the economic state prohibited Victor from continuing to make field trips to record in the South, so Jimmie had to travel to the studios in New York.  By ’33, Jimmie was not in good health; tuberculosis had gotten the better of him, and cross country travel would do his health no favors.  During his final sessions, he had to lie down and rest in-between takes, and relied on studio musicians for accompaniment on many of his final recordings.  Only two days after making his final recordings, Jimmie Rodgers expired in his room at the Taft Hotel of a pulmonary hemorrhage.

Montgomery M-4415 was recorded May 18 and May 24, 1933 in New York City.  The latter of which turned out to be Jimmie’s final session.  It was originally issued on Bluebird B-5281, this issue was pressed from those masters and sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog.  Despite his failing health, Jimmie maintained a strong voice for most of these sides, and accompanies himself on guitar on both.

Jimmie Rodgers’ famous series of “Blue Yodels” began in 1927 with “T for Texas”, and concluded here with the thirteenth song in the series, the fittingly titled “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel”, or “The Women Make a Fool Out of Me”.

Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel

Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel, recorded May 18, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.

In 1927, Jimmie Rodgers began his recording career in Bristol, Tennessee with “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”.  In 1933, he concluded that career with “Years Ago”.

Years Ago

Years Ago, recorded May 24, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.