Rodgers Remembrance Vol V: Blue Yodel #1 (T for Texas)

| May 25, 2012 | 2 Comments

This week we are going to remember the life and times of America’s Blue Yodeler, the Singing Brakeman, and the Father of Country Music: the late, great Jimmie Rodgers. On Saturday, May 26, Jimmie Rodgers will have been gone 79 years.

Arguably the most significant man in American music, he has heavily influenced country, blues, folk, jazz, Hawaiian, rock, pop, Americana, western swing, jazz, and bluegrass music. To celebrate the life and times of Jimmie Rodgers, I will be highlighting a Jimmie Rodgers’ song each day and showcasing a popular bluegrass version or two of each song.

Blue Yodel No. 1 (T For Texas) — Jimmie Rodgers

T for Texas, T for Tennesee
T for Texas, T for Tennessee
T for Thelma, that gal made a wreck out of me.

[Yodel]

If you don’t want me mama, you sure don’t have to stall
If you don’t want me mama, you sure don’t have to stall
‘Cause I can get more women, than a passenger train can haul.

[Yodel]

I’m gonna buy me a pistol, just as long as I’m tall
[Lawd, Lawd]
I’m gonna buy me a pistol, just as long as I’m tall
I’m gonna shoot poor Thelma, just to see her jump and fall.

[Yodel]

I’m going where the water drinks like cherry wine
Lawd, I’m going where the water drinks like cherry wine
‘Cause the Georgia water tastes like turpentine.

[Yodel]

I’m gonna buy me a shotgun, with a great long shiny barrel
I’m gonna buy me a shotgun, with a great long shiny barrel
I’m gonna shoot that rounder, that stole away my gal.

[Yodel]

Rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log
Rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log
Than to be in Atlanta, treated like a dirty dog.

[Yodel]

One of the most popular songs in all of American music is Jimmie Rodgers’ first “Blue Yodel,” known to most of us as T For Texas. The list of artists who have recorded this American classic is astounding. The following are just a sampling of the artists who have covered this Rodgers standard.

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Doc Watson
  • The Everly Brothers
  • Merle Travis
  • Grandpa Jones
  • Lynyrd Skynrd
  • Pete Seeger
  • Tompall Glaser
  • Earl Scruggs
  • Bob Wills
  • Sons of The Pioneers
  • Raymond Fairchild
  • Dwight Yoakam
  • Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

T For Texas was Rodgers first big hit, although it was not the first song Rodgers recorded.

Everyone has heard the stories of the Big Bang of country music. In August of 1927, a record executive from Victor Records traveled to Bristol in search of songs. Setting up a recording studio in an old hat shop, Ralph Peer made the offer to anyone who had songs to sing, to stop and record them for Victor Records. This session produced two titans in American music. The Carter Family was one; Jimmie Rodgers was the other. Having the premonition that he was bound for stardom, following his Bristol session, he inscribed “8-4-27 B. VA-TENN” on the inside of his guitar – the date and place of his historic first recording session.

However, Jimmie Rodgers did not become an instant superstar following the Bristol sessions. In Bristol, he recorded The Soldier’s Sweetheart and Sleep, Baby, Sleep, which were not the huge hits for which he was hoping.

Two months after Bristol, Jimmie traveled to New York City, waltzed right in to the Victor offices and told Ralph Peer he was ready to record again. Impressed with Rodgers’ boldness, Peer allowed Jimmie to record again. This session produced Mother Was A Lady, Ben Dewberry’s Final Run, Away Out On The Mountain, and Blue Yodel No 1 (T For Texas).

T For Texas was an instant smash. In an age before iTunes and Best Buy, T For Texas sold a million copies! To put this in perspective, the immensely popular Old Crow Medicine Show song Wagon Wheel, was released in 2004, and is just now closing in on 600,000 sales.

In her memoirs, Jimmie’s wife, Carrie, says that Jimmie had written T For Texas before the Bristol Sessions. She says he chose to record it later in a strategic move. He seemed to always know what he was doing, and the implication this had for not only his future, but the future of country music, was immense. Carrie says that he didn’t want to unveil T For Texas in Bristol, because he wanted the focus of that first session to be on his voice, rather than his songwriting.

Jimmie Rodgers immediately became a household name. The story goes that the American grocery list at this time was a loaf a bread, a dozen eggs, and the new Jimmie Rodgers record. Blue Yodel No 1 was so popular, that it is where one of Rodgers’ monikers comes from: America’s Blue Yodeler. Rodgers went on to record thirteen “blue yodels,” which were some of his most popular songs.

As I mentioned earlier, T For Texas has been recorded by artists from all genres. In the bluegrass world, Doc Watson and The Earl Scruggs Revue have both covered Blue Yodel No 1. However, the grassiest rendition of T For Texas is, without a doubt, by The Johnson Mountain Boys.

JMB recorded Blue Yodel No 1 on their album simply entitled, Requests. The album featured songs hand-picked by JMB fans. Many of the tunes, including T For Texas, were songs which JMB had been playing in their shows for years, but had never recorded until this album. After hearing their version of Jimmie’s signature song, you’ll understand why Blue Yodel No. 1 was one of their most requested tunes.

An expert on all forms of American music, not just bluegrass, Dudley Connell shared some thoughts in the album’s liner notes.

“I have admired Jimmie’s music for many years and have always been impressed with his interpretation of the blues.”

It should be no surprise that this is a key aspect of Rodgers’ music which appeals to Dudley, because his voice has always had a certain bluesy quality, particularly when he performs such songs as Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and A Hundred And Ten In The Shade.

JMB’s version is straight-ahead traditional bluegrass. Full of energy, Dudley Connell, David McLaughlin, Eddie Stubbs, Tom Adams, and Marshall Wilburn show why they were one of the most popular bluegrass bands of their time. Their playing meshed together so well, and thumped along like an automobile.

Dudley’s vocals on this track are outstanding. He injects so much emotion into his singing, it’s no wonder why he is one of the most-beloved vocalists of the past three decades. He also showcases his range on this track, hitting notes higher than a kite! This is one of Dudley’s greatest vocal performances ever, and is one of my favorite recordings from the Johnson Mountain Boys.

Make sure you check out JMB’s version as well as other artists’ takes on this American classic.

Come back tomorrow for my final Rodgers Remembrance: Blue Yodel No. 8 (Muleskinner Blues).

 

If you enjoy the Rodgers Remembrances this week, feel free to tune in to my radio program, Bending The Strings, this Saturday afternoon (5/26) on My Classic Country from 3:00-5:00 p.m. (EDT). In honor of the life of Jimmie Rodgers, I will be producing a very special tribute show including many of the songs discussed in the Rodgers Remembrances this week. You won’t want to miss it!

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Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.
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