Jimmie Rodgers is often called "The Father of Country Music." He wasn't the
first to record it. However, his distinctive melding of old-time tunes,
sentimental parlor songs, Tin Pan Alley pop and the blues captivated the public
and inspired countless other musicians to follow his footsteps into country
music. Many of the songs he recorded and wrote — such as "In the Jailhouse
Now," "Mule Skinner Blues" and "Waiting for a Train" — have become
Born in Mississippi, the son of a railroad man, Rodgers worked the railroads on
and off for a dozen years in his teens and twenties (hence his later nickname
"The Singing Brakeman"). He also tried other odd jobs as well as occasional
performances with medicine and minstrel shows. In 1924, he contracted
tuberculosis. In that day and age it was a death sentence. There was no cure. A
less cocksure man would have wadded up his dreams and thrown them away. Rodgers
simply used tuberculosis as an excuse to give up railroad work and focus on
He was discovered by Ralph Peer in the famous 1927 recording sessions in
Bristol, Tennessee, where the Carter Family also first recorded. In his second
1927 session, in New Jersey, Rodgers recorded his self-penned "Blue Yodel (T
for Texas)." The jaunty country blues, punctuated by Rodgers' exuberant yodels,
was his commercial breakthrough. It sold in the hundreds of thousands and was
the first of a series of 13 blue yodels.
He recorded prolifically: 110 titles in less than six years, the equivalent
today of two albums a year. Along the way, he expanded the possibilities for
country music, recording alongside string bands, jug bands, Hawaiian musicians,
pop orchestras, even jazzman Louis Armstrong on "Blue Yodel No. 9."
Tuberculosis claimed his life at the age of 35 in a New York City hotel room.
But his influence proved undying. Thousands of country musicians were inspired
by his music. In fact, Gene Autry, Jimmie Davis, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb all
began their careers as yodeling imitators of Rodgers before forging their own
styles. Tubb, Snow, Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard recorded tribute albums to
He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 and to the Nashville
Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1997, Bob Dylan organized and released a
lively all-star Rodgers tribute album, including performances by Bono, Willie
Nelson, Jerry Garcia and Van Morrison.