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.
Frankie and Johnny — Jimmie Rodgers
Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts
Oh, Lord, how they did love
Swore to be true to each other
True as the stars above
He was her man he wouldnt do her wrong
Frankie went down to the corner
Just for a bucket of beer
She said, Mister Bartender
Has my loving Johnny been here
Hes my man, he wouldnt do me wrong
I don’t want to cause you no trouble
I ain’t gonna tell you no lie
I saw your lover an hour ago
With a girl named Nellie Bly
He was your man, but he’s doing you wrong
Frankie looked over the transom
She saw to her surprise
There on a cot sat Johnny
Making love to Nellie Bly
He is my man, and hes doing me wrong
Frankie drew back her kimona
She took out a little forty-four
Root-to-toot three times she shoot
Right thru that hardwood door
Shot her man, he was doing her wrong
Bring out the rubber-tired bucket
Bring out the rubber-tired hack
Im taking my man to the graveyard
But I aint gonna bring him back
Lord, he was my man, and he done me wrong
Bring out a thousand policemen
Bring em around today
To lock me down in the dungeon cell
And throw that key away
I shot my man, he was doing me wrong
Frankie said to the warden
What are they going to do
The warden, he said to Frankie
Its the electric chair for you
Cause you shot your man, he was doing you wrong
This story has no moral
This story has no end
This story just goes to show
That there aint no good in men
He was her man, and he done her wrong
As many of you may know, I am a huge Johnny Cash fan. The Man In Black lives on in my home where a collection of Sun 45’s, classic LP’s, and souvenir programs and tickets adorn the walls. Johnny Cash is a key component in my introduction to Jimmie Rodgers and this song.
For my 12th birthday, I got what I had been asking for that year: a four-disc career spanning box set of Johnny Cash! I listened to each disc over and over for months. I knew each song by heart!
One day I was snooping around in some old CD’s in the studio of WBZI while my Dad was talking on the air, and I found one called The Essential Jimmie Rodgers. I recognized so many songs on the back that Johnny had recorded. There was Waiting For A Train, In The Jailhouse Now, and one called Frankie and Johnny. I asked Dad if that was the same as Cash’s Frankie’s Man, Johnny. He chuckled then said, “Kinda. You can have that. We’ll listen to it in the car on the way home and you’ll see what I mean.”
Johnny Cash recorded Frankie’s Man, Johnny on The Fabulous Johnny Cash, his first album for Columbia after leaving Sun Records. One of Cash’s most successful albums, it included such Johnny Cash standards as Don’t Take Your Guns To Town and I Still Miss Someone. In Cash’s retelling of Frankie’s Man, Johnny, Johnny is a guitar picker who has to leave Frankie to go pick down at the local dance hall. Johnny notices a pretty redhead walk in the back door. Johnny sings every song to her, then goes to “get to know her a little better” after the show. The redhead then slaps Johnny across the face and you find out that the girl was Frankie’s sister and she was checking up on Johnny!
Cash’s version of the song then ends with:
Well, the moral of this story is be good but carry a stick.
Sometimes it looks like a guitar picker just can’t tell what to pick.
He was Frankie’s man, and he still ain’t done her wrong.
Having been familiar with this rendition of the song, I was in for quite a shock when we popped in The Essential Jimmie Rodgers and flipped it to track seventeen, Frankie and Johnny. It started it out very similar to Johnny’s, and then it does a complete 180!
In Jimmie’s Frankie and Johnny, Frankie heads over to the bar and is tipped off by the bartender that Johnny has been seen running around with a girl named Nellie Bly. Frankie then finds Johnny and Nellie making love in the back room! If that wasn’t enough, Frankie then pulls a gun out of her dress and shoots Johnny three times for “doing her wrong.” Frankie is then sentenced to death in the electric chair.
Jimmie’s original version ends with
This story has no moral. This story has no end.
This story just goes to show that there ain’t no good in men.
He was her man, and he done her wrong.
I was shocked! It was totally NOT what I was expecting from an artist from the twenties, and in retrospect, it’s not what people in the twenties were expecting either!