Monday, August 31, 2009

Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers was a legend, one of the architects of country music. Born in 1897, Rodgers, known as the Singing Brakeman, made dozens of recordings and was a huge influence on generations of country singers. He died in 1933.

That’s not who this is about. This about Jimmie Rodgers who was born in 1933, the year his namesake died. This other Jimmie Rodgers has been described as a “pop singer,” which isn’t totally inaccurate, but really his music was a kind of folk-rock, and that was a musical generation before the term existed.

And I don’t know why he called himself Jimmie Rodgers, even if it was his name. Imagine a young new recording artist calling himself “John Lennon.” Uh huh…

The core of this collection was a Canada-only release on Quality Records, called Greatest Hits. That was 10 tracks. The rest come from a CD and from 45s. I’m kind of impressed with the collection I put together actually. I’ve managed to procure 19 of his 25 top 100 singles. Not bad.

Jimmie Rodgers:

Honeycomb – One of those tunes that go here and there and up and down and all around, and it’s that tune undoubtedly that propelled this song to number one in the fall of 1957. Imagine describing your wife as a “hank o’hair and piece o’bone.” The song was used, with new words obviously, for Post Honeycomb commercials, in the old days.
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine – This tale of the romance of the century was a hit in the winter of 1957 / 1958. Some people like dry wine…
Oh Oh I’m Falling In Love Again – The tune is Honeycomb redux. The words are kind of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine redux. This is from the winter of 1958.
Woman From Liberia – Jimmie Rodgers’ music often had the aura of authentic folk music, and it was given a boost by references to exotic places, Liberia in this case. The song is a metaphor – he is thirsty, the woman has water, he wants to know the source. And it’s all given over in that chripy Rodgers style.
The Wreck Of The “John B” – A hit of sorts in the fall of 1960, and a hit in the UK for Lonnie Donegan earlier in the same year (as I Want To Go Home), it was The Beach Boys who put this in the spotlight in 1966 (Sloop John B).
Bimbombey – Another one of those songs about a far off place. Of course the exotic nature of the location renders the girl just as exotic. From the winter of 1958 / 1959.
Tucumcari – A soldier comes home to his girl, little by little, mile by mile, finds her with, what else, someone else, and keeps going. From the fall of 1959. Very stoic this whole thing, and I think it’s more effective for that. Of course, it does have a happy ending…
Just A Closer Walk With Thee – I don’t know what it is about this spiritual that attracts pop singers. Joan Baez recorded it; there were others. From the spring of 1960.
Are You Really Mine – Jimmie can’t believe his luck. There is a possessiveness in songs like this that’s just a little bit unsettling. From the autumn of 1958.
Secretly – Jimmie brings his sunshine to the tale of a clandestine affair. It’s not so clear why they have to meet “secretly;” one can only guess. But there’s a feeling that the situation for them is temporary. “Till we have the right…” From the spring of 1958.
Wonderful You – Vocal chorus on this, subdued background, the way his voice dips on “wonder,” there’s a Harry Belafonte feeling on this. Also slightly reminiscent of, believe it or not, The Little Drummer Boy by The Harry Simeone Chorale. This was the B side of Ring Ling A Lario, and was a hit in the summer of 1959.
Ring Ling A Lario – A man recalls his history of romantic entanglements, and how he got out of every one of them – until he finally got caught, of course. From the summer of 1959.
TLC (Tender Love And Care) – A song of undying love. Another major chorus on this, male and female. It seems that he was modifying his style to fit in more with top 40 trends. From the winter of 1960.
English Country Garden – What a melody, written of course by Percy Grainger. It’s one of those tunes that everyone knows, but nobody knows from where. A UK hit in the summer of 1962.
The Long Hot Summer – I wonder what it would like to live in a place with a long hot summer. This uncharacteristic orchestrated love ballad was the B side of Oh Oh I’m Falling In Love Again, and a hit in the spring of 1958.
Make Me A Miracle – This was the B side of Secretly. This seems to be a love song, you have the power over me to determine who and what I am. I wonder how many relationships have been scuttled by the dysfunctional attitudes romanticized in songs like this. From the spring of 1958.
The Wizard – This supernatural tale was the B side of Are You Really Mine. It was a hit in the fall of 1958.
I’m Never Gonna Tell – Cute. You don’t tell on me and I won’t tell on you. What’s notable about this song is that Jimmie lets his guard down, and his New York accent comes through loud and clear on “tell.” From the spring of 1959.
Waltzing Matilda – The top 40 version of this ultra-pop song doesn’t lose any of its cuteness, unfortunately. But it does put Australia into Rodgers’ repertoire of foreign places, along with Liberia, Tucumcary, Bimbombey etc. From the winter of 1960, this was the B side of TLC (Tender Love And Care).
It’s Over – Jimmie Rodgers enters the modern era. This is a moving ballad. From the spring of 1966. Covered by Mason Williams
Child Of Clay – The story of a misfit, a child who got lost in the family rat race. The understated approach makes up for the heavy handed message. This was from the fall of 1967, and it was the last time that Jimmie Rodgers was on the charts. Just in time, because I kind of remember hearing this.

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