Artists always have iconic photos, like Hank Williams’ shirtless in jail photo. The same goes for country music and also for the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb. One of his iconic photos, the country legend grinning and giving ‘Thanks’ by flipping his guitar backward. The photo immortalized one of the most historic country music careers that came from Nashville. You may have seen the photo, however, you may not know that his well-placed show of thanks was made by the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers.
During his career run in the 1920s and ‘30s, Jimmie Rodgers yodeled as he strummed a custom Martin 00-18, emblazoned with his name on the neck and the word “Thanks” on the back. The names of artists on the necks of their guitar is still a proud tradition. The “Thanks” text caught to a lesser extent, all thanks to Tubb.
Everyone from Merle Haggard to Lynyrd Skynyrd sang Rodgers’ praises over the years, but perhaps no mainstream artist was quite as devoted to keeping the “Singing Brakeman’s” music alive as Tubb. Early in his career, Tubb sang and yodeled just like his hero. Tubb’s talent impressed Rodgers’ widow Carrie, who lent him her late husband’s iconic guitar. Tubb kept and played the guitar for nearly 40 years.
Unfortunately, Tubb stopped copying Rodgers’ voice after complications from a 1939 tonsil surgery left him unable to yodel. His adapted vocal style popularized honky tonk music just two years later with his hit in 1941, “I’m Walking the Floor Over You.”
For the decades to come, Tubb remained one of the faces and voices of country music, due in part to the influence of his weekly Midnite Jamboree radio show. Along the way, he kept the memory of Rodgers alive by occasionally flashing a polite “thanks” to fans with his idol’s trusty old guitar. This sustained enthusiasm for the past might’ve made Tubb the first great mainstream traditionalist.
The guitar now resides in the Jimmie Rodgers Museum’s permanent collection. It’s hard to think of many objects that played a more sustained role in country music history, thanks to two all-time greats.
Here’s a video of the Texas Troubadour, Enjoy!
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