The Online Roots of Rock 


"The Father of Country Music"

Over a remarkably short career of 6 years from 1927 until his
untimely death at 33 from TB, Jimmie Rodgers recorded 110 songs and sold
over 10 million records. Travelling across America as an itinerant railroad worker he assimilated
many music influences – Appalachian ballads, Blues, black Spirituals, white Pop, and even the unlikely
sounds of Swiss yodels and Hawaiian guitars – to lay the foundation of commercial Country music in America.
During his lifetime he was affectionately known as both "The Singing Brakeman" and "America's Blue
Yodeler." In retrospect, and in more profound terms, Jimmie Rodgers is recognized simply as
"The Father of Country Music," and was so honored as the first inductee into The Country
Music Hall of Fame when it was established at Nashville in 1961. In 1986 he was
among the first group of musicians inducted into the
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

1897 Born James Charles Rodgers on September 8, 1897 in Pine Springs, Mississippi, the youngest of three sons
1903 Mother, Eliza, dies from TB, when Jimmie is 6
1904 Father, Aaron, remarries
Jimmie doesn't get along with his stepmother, so lives the next few years with various relatives in Mississippi and Alabama. During this period he develops a love for entertaining, wins a talent contest, and stages his own tent shows. At 13 he runs away with a travelling medicine show.
1911 Stepmother dies, Jimmie reunites with family in Meridian, Mississippi
Finds work, at 14, as a water carrier with the Mobile and Ohio Railroad
Rodgers becomes an itinerant railroad worker for the next 13 years, working alongside black work gangs (learning black phrasing on guitar and banjo) and travelling across America absorbing music influences and observing lifestyles and living conditions.
1916 Marries, has daughter, but marriage is annulled
America enters World War I – railroad work is plentiful with good wages allowing Rodgers to indulge in his personal love of entertaining by studying the recordings of others.
1918 Composes his first song – "The Soldier's Sweetheart" – by re-working a World War I ballad.
1919 Starts to incorporate a yodel style in his singing
1920 Elopes with 16-year-old Carrie Williamson, of a musical family
Post-war railroad slump finds Rogers pumping gas, driving trucks and washing dishes to make ends meet.
1921 Daughter Carrie Anita is born
1923 Daughter June Rebecca is born, but dies months later
1924 Contracts TB, at age 27
Ailing health prevents Rodgers from holding a steady job with railway companies. He floats aimlessly for the next three years seeking employment, or work as an entertainer.
1925 Performs blackface in travelling medicine show
1926 Performs in Johnson City, Tennessee in duo with guitarist Ernest Helton
1927 Moves to Asheville, North Carolina with wife Carrie and daughter Anita
In February of 1927 Radio station WWNC goes on the air in Asheville, North Carolina.
April – Rodgers recruits a Tennessee music group, the Tenneva Ramblers, and by April they have their own radio show on WWNC – the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers – and find regular work at the North Fork Mountain Resort near Asheville
The development of the electronic microphone allows recordings to be made outside the studio environment. The Library of Congress and The Victor Talking Machine Company send field recording teams into the South to capture roots music, both black and white.
Late July – Victor's Ralph Peer travels south to Bristol, Tennessee to record authentic white roots music.
August 3 – Rodgers and the Tenneva Ramblers arrive in Bristol to meet with Peer. A group dispute results in Rodgers recording solo
The dispute was probably over the billing of the group name on the recordings. Rodgers would have insisted on featuring his name and the Ramblers would have no part of this because, in truth, Rodgers was technically a poor guitar player.
August 4 – Rodgers records two songs: his re-worked "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and a yodeling lullaby, "Sleep, Baby, Sleep"
October 7 – The two songs are released
Rodgers continues to write and develops a unique amalgam of Blues, Appalachian 'hillbilly' ballads, earthy Folk songs, Jazz, and a touch of Tin Pan Alley that will become known as "blue yodels." Although the songs are numbered in sequence as a markeing strategy, some have more popular names like "T for Texas," "Standing on the Corner" and "Muleskinner Blues." Rodgers will write a total of 13 "blue yodels" and become known internationally as "America's Blue Yodeler."
November – Rodgers travels to Victor's studios in Camden, New Jersey to learn of his record sales, and to record more songs
Receives royalty payment of only $27, but Peer assures that recent sales warrant another recording session
November 30 – Records four more songs; "Ben Dewberry's Final Run," "Mother Was A Lady," "Away Out On The Mountain" and "Blue Yodel" (his first "blue yodel") which becomes better known as "T for Texas"
Self-penned "T for Texas" soon becomes a million-seller earning Rodgers $2,000 a month in royalties within six months of its release. Recognizing a commercial property when he sees one, music-savy Ralph Peer becomes Rodgers' manager and grooms the down and out drifter into "The Singing Brakeman" – Country music's first superstar. Peer establishes Southern Music to collect royalties on Country music.
1928 February – Records seven more songs: "Dear Old Sunny South by the Sea," "Treasures Untold," "The Sailor's Plea," "Brakeman's Blues," "Memphis Yodel," "Blue Yodel #2," and "In the Jailhouse Now."
1929 Moves to Texas and purchases his "Blue Yodeler's Paradise" home in Kerrville, Texas for $50,000
Stars in Columbia's ten minute movie short "The Singing Brakeman"
To meet the demand for more records, Peer sets up recording dates across the county to coincide with Rodgers' tours.
1930 Records "Blue Yodel #9" ("Standing on the Corner") in Hollywood with Louis Armstrong
1931 Tours with Will Rogers in aid of Texas dust bowl victims
June – Records with Carter Family in Louisville, Kentucky
Illness restricts futher tours
1932 Performs on his own radio show on KMAC in San Antonio, Texas until hospitalized in 1933
Records "Whippin' That Old T.B."
1933 Income from record sales and personal appearances fall during the Depression while medical expenses continue to rise, necessitating the sale of Rodgers' beloved home "Blue Yodeler's Paradise." Knowing his life is near the end, Rodgers enters the recording studio for the final time to provide additional royalties for his family. He records 12 sides over 8 days, resting on a cot in the studio between takes.
May 17 – Records 4 songs
May 18 – Records 6 songs
May 24 – Records final two songs: "Mississippi Delta Blues" and "Fifteen Years Ago Today"
May 26 – Dies of TB at age 35

This Jimmie Rodgers Timeline is culled from many sources and is subject to revision.
Sunday, January 12, 2014