The Father of Country Music: The Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers 1

A lot of people will say that Jimmie Rodgers is one of the best country artists. Also known as the father of country music, he created the Blue Yodel. Amongst the pioneers and the first country artists, he had two names, “The Singing Brakeman” and “America’s Blue Yodeler.” The name “The Singing Brakeman” pertains to his job on trains and the “Blue Yodeler” embodies series of his songs. He was portrayed as sharply dressed man-on-the-town and a cowboy playing the guitar. A musician that worked on trains, a man who knew his way around modern towns and cities, identified with cowboys and yodeled, these images helped illustrate the range of Rodgers’ musical interest.

Meridian, Mississippi was Rodgers’ birthplace (in tradition) but in documents he signed later in his life, he listed Geiger, Alabama as his birthplace and home to his grandparents in his father’s side. Youngest among three sons, his mother died when he was only five or six. His father worked as a maintenance-of-way foreman on Mobile and Ohio Railroad. He grew up travelling after his mother died. From the age of fourteen to twenty-eight, he worked (sometimes irregularly) as a brakeman or flagman on railroads that took him form South and Southwest but he started working as a water boy the age of thirteen.

Interested in music and wondering if he could make money out of it, Rodgers pursued music only after he gave up his job at the railroad because of health problems. The railroad work made it hard for him to breathe because he already contracted tuberculosis (he was 27 by this time). He started his career in the music industry in 1924. He organized and sang on travelling shows. He also performed in vaudeville, medicine shows and other productions.

Together with Otis Kuykendall, his first performance on radio was in Ashville North Carolina in 1927. After a few months, he hired a group called Tenneva Ramblers and they secured a weekly slot on the station as “Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.” His band mates learned that the Victor Talking Machine Company was coming to Bristol to hold an audition in July of 1927. Then Rodgers and his band mates went to Bristol and had their audition. A member of the Victor Talking Machine Company, Ralph Peer, agreed to record them the next day. Rodgers and his band mates discussed how they’re going to be paid on the record and an argument erupted. The band broke up and Rodgers arrived at the recording session the next morning alone. Between 1927 and his death in 1933, he recorded more than 100 songs.

The most notable musical innovation of Rodgers was the series of songs he called “Blue Yodel.” In the short span of his career, he created a total of thirteen Blue Yodels. Basically the Blue Yodels told a story of trouble and rarely ended with a happy one. Rodgers was not the first one to include yodeling in between songs. Yodeling came from various sources but he made it such a trademark to a point where people are already assuming that yodeling is always included into country music.

Knowing his death is was coming, he sang about it. Tuberculosis was a common killer in the early 20th century. At the age of 35, he was so weak he had to rest on a cot in between songs. At May 26, 1933, his death arrived. He died at the Taft Hotel in New York, the night after the session, planning to make more records.

Rodgers remained popular even after his death. He was amazingly popular during his short lifetime. A lot of artist have revived and remade the song of Rodgers. He was the first performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 and in 1976. The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum open in the Town of Meridian.

Here is an early music video of Jimmie Rodgers, some of his best hits. Comment below and let us know what you think about the Father of Country Music.