Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

I just met Jimmie Rodgers, and I was duly impressed with the man. It’s not like I didn’t already know Jimmie - after all, I’ve read Nolan Porterfield’s definitive 1979 Rodgers biography twice and the sugarcoated biography written by his wife once. I’ve listened to his music for the better part of four decades and I own most of his catalog plus several tribute albums done on his behalf by other artists. But as I found out by reading Barry Mazor’s exhaustively researched Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, I just thought I knew Jimmie.

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers is the perfect companion piece to Poterfield’s Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler. Where Porterfield provides the details of Jimmie’s short but influential life, Mazor emphasizes the influence that Jimmie Rodgers had on the music of the rest of the twentieth century. Porterfield focused on the man, Mazor more on the music.

Jimmie Rodgers, according to Mazor, was a “connector” and, as such, he heavily influenced each of the most popular genres of American music. Many of the kingpins of country music, jazz, western swing, rock and roll, bluegrass, folk, blues and punk either grew up on the music of Jimmie Rodgers or were enthralled by the man and his music when they discovered it years after his death. Mazor’s impressive research shows how directly and how greatly Rogers influenced the music, for instance, of Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Arlo Guthrie, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, the Beatles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Earle, Jerry Garcia and numerous others.

As impressive as the title is, Jimmie Rodgers is much more than just “the father of country music.” That title is limiting to a man of his overall influence. Yes, he was one of the very first members enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame when it opened its doors, but he is equally cherished as a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His “rough and rowdy ways” opened the door for others in several genres to openly sing songs about sex, murder, drink and drugs, and a rambling lifestyle in which almost anything goes.

Rodgers was, first and foremost, a performer, a man with several well developed personas that he could switch to and from to fit his audience. Be it hard working railroad man, Hollywood cowboy or dapper lady’s man, Jimmie was equally at home in the role. His look may have changed from town to town but his music was still the most recognizable and influential music of his day, and though he may have been most famous for his development and use of the “blue yodel,” many of those who cite his influence in their own music also praise his seemingly simple guitar licks, his voice, and his way with a lyric.

Barry Mazor has packed so many ideas and so much detail into Meeting Jimmie Rodgers that it is not a book that can be rushed through if the reader is going to gain its full benefit. It admittedly requires a considerable amount of reading time and patience, but I highly suggest that readers slow down and enjoy it. Read it with Jimmie’s music playing in the background, pen or marker in hand, and pay particular attention to the “Select Soundtracks” at the end of most of the book’s chapters. Those “soundtracks” make it possible to create a first rate Jimmie Rodgers musical library of your own.

Rated at: 5.0

5 comments:

  1. I've got a Jimmie Rodgers CD with 27 songs on it, including a duet with the Carter family, so I'm ready!

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  2. You've got the perfect soundtrack for this one...the book mentions those Carter Family recordings, BTW. This book has so much information in it that it's almost overwhelming. I had to take it at the pace of about two chapters a day so that I could assimilate it all. It will make a great reference book now.

    Are you back in Korea?

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  3. Yes, I'm back. I definitely want to read this book and the Porterfield bio, too.

    I'm reading Public Enemies & it's overwhelming with the information, too. Bryan Burrough is so enthusiastic, he unzips the gussets and stuffs info into every possible crevice of the book.

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  4. The Porterfield bio is a gem. Rodgers was a fascinating man, a real superstar of his day and the way he died, and when, was perfect for his image, too.

    Hope you're getting settled back in...take care.

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  5. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Sara

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