As Jimmie Rodgers’ successful recording career entered its fifth year, he was at the height of his fame, and times had never been better—or worse—for the Blue Yodeler.
In 1932, Jimmie Rodgers was living in Texas, “a state he dearly loved.” He had moved into his custom built brick manor in Kerrville in 1929 to help ease his tuberculosis with the fresh hill country air, but left for a modest home at 142 Montclair Avenue in San Antonio only three years later, where he hosted a weekly radio program on KMAC. Progressively declining health had forced him to curtail his touring schedule, but staying put just wasn’t in his nature, and he continued to motor around the region in his blue Cadillac. At the same time, the record industry—which had made Rodgers a star five years earlier—was too in ill health; the Great Depression, combined with the emerging medium of radio, had record sales dropping fast. By the time the industry hit bottom, Jimmie Rodgers was Victor’s best-selling record artist, hence the Depression-era adage that a typical Southerner’s shopping list was “pound of butter, a slab of bacon, a sack of flour, and the new Jimmie Rodgers record.” In spite of the circumstances against his favor, Rodgers kept up his recording schedule during 1932, producing a total of twenty-one sides over course of the year. In February, he was in Dallas to cut seven sides at the Jefferson Hotel, accompanied first by a hillbilly band including future western swinger Bill Boyd on such tracks as “Hobo’s Meditation”, and then by a Hawaiian quartet with his longtime collaborators Billy and Weldon Burkes. On the thirty-first of July, he departed for Camden, New Jersey for a productive session with Clayton McMichen, Slim Bryant, and Oddie McWinders, that resulted in such memorable numbers as “Peach Pickin’ Time Down in Georgia” and “Whippin’ That Old T. B.”. Afterward, he traveled on to New York for an audition with NBC, which resulted in a pilot on WEAF but did not materialize further, and another session that produced four sides, including “Miss the Mississippi and You”. With talks of a tour of England with McMichen—as Carson Robison had done earlier the same year—Jimmie had big plans, and didn’t intend on stopping, but the dire state of the economy and direr yet state of his health put a damper on such lofty ambitions.
Victor 23696 was recorded on February 6 and 4, 1932, respectively, at the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas, Texas. It was issued on August 12 of that year, and sold only 7,746 copies—not bad for Depression-era sales, but still, not too many for their best-selling artist.
First, Jimmie sings another installment in his famous series, “Blue Yodel No. 10 (Ground Hog Rootin’ in My Back Yard)”, and a blues song it truly is; according to blues musician Jesse Thomas, Rodgers’ song was inspired by his brother Willard “Ramblin'” Thomas’ “Ground Hog Blues”, which he recorded around the same time and place. Previously on Old Time Blues, we’ve heard Jimmie’s first, second, eighth, ninth, and last Blue Yodels. Maybe we’ll eventually get them all on here.
On the flip, Jimmie croons a tune about the moon in June predicting the country music styles yet to come in the decade, such as might have appealed to a common Depression-era record buyer’s sensibilities—and it does appeal to my own Depression-era sensibilities—”Mississippi Moon”. He is accompanied by a Hawaiian style string band made up of Billy Burkes on steel guitar, and Weldon Burkes and Fred Koone on guitars.