This week we are going to once again 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 80 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. As I did last year, I will be highlighting a Rodgers’ song each day and showcasing popular bluegrass versions of each song, to celebrate the career of Jimmie Rodgers.
I just received your letter
You’re down and out, you say
At first I thought I would tell you
To travel on the other way
But in my memory lingers
All you once were to me
I’m going to give you another chance
To prove what you can be
Any old time you want to come back home
Drop me a line and say no more you’ll roam
You had your chance to play the game fair
And when you left me, sweetheart, you only left a load of care
Now that you’re down, I’m going to stick by you
If you will only say your roaming days are through
You’ll find me here like the day you left me alone
Any old time you wanna come back home
You’ll find me right here like the day you left me alone
Any old time you wanna come back home, home, home
Jimmie Rodgers is known as The Father of Country Music. However accurate this moniker may be, it does pigeonhole Jimmie’s music and limits his artistry in our minds. Jimmie actually recorded lots of music that would not be considered “country” by today’s standards. He experimented with many different sounds.
Jimmie sang a variety of songs ranging from bossy blues to tender lullabies. There was also a wide variety of instrumentation. In addition to being one of the first to incorporate the dobro into many of his songs, he also frequently used trumpets in his music, even allowing a young trumpeter by the name of Louis Armstrong to play on one of his famous “Blue Yodels” (Blue Yodel #9: Standing On The Corner).
Any Old Time should be familiar to many bluegrass fans, having been recorded numerous times in our music. I find this fascinating, because of how un-bluegrass the original version is.
The first verse is typical Rodgers: tastefully simple guitar work with heartfelt vocals. However, once the song transitions into the second verse, the music completely changes. There is a shift from Jimmie’s signature guitar to more of a big band sound.
At first, the idea seems odd and possibly disjointed. Tell me the last time you heard song switch from an acoustic guitar to clarinets and a tuba? (Unless you just listened to Jimmie’s cut, I’m going to assume your answer is never.) The use of these instruments in country music may seem strange in retrospect, but keep in mind, at this time, there really wasn’t “country music” as there is today. What Jimmie and The Carter Family were making became country music, so Jimmie was free to do whatever he pleased without criticism.
Upon further delving into Any Old Time, one can understand from was Jimmie was doing with this creative liberty. There is a definite shift in the instrumentation because there is a definite shift in the feel of the song. The first verse, the writer is more reflective. He is hurt with how he was treated wrong. By the end of the first verse, the mood begins to shift from thinking about bad times to good times. This change is in full swing by verse two. Because of this shift in tone, Jimmie shifts the instrumentation from a simple guitar to a full band sound. The move from the somber six-string to a more celebratory sound with full instrumentation is brilliant.
Any Old Time has been recorded many times by such artists as Webb Pierce, Doc & Merle Watson, Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein, and Sara Watkins. However, no version exemplifies the shift in instrumentation as well as Alison Krauss & Union Station’s Any Old Time.
Appearing on Bob Dylan’s The Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers – A Tribute along with such artists as Willie Nelson, Bono, Jerry Garcia, John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, and more, Alison Krauss & Union Station’s rendition of Any Old Time is magical. The song simply begins with a piano and Alison’s beautiful voice. As the mood change begins to take place at the end of verse one, so does the song. The tempo begins to rise and the rest of Union Station joins in on the fun. Their rendition isn’t straight bluegrass, but it doesn’t matter—it is GREAT! Don’t let the use of piano and drums scare you. The singing is powerful, and the arrangement does the song justice. Although Alison’s rendition of Any Old Time may not be as familiar to bluegrass fans, it is one of the best.
The rendition most bluegrass-ers have loved for decades on Tony Rice’s Church Street Blues album. One of Rice’s best records, Any Old Time is one of its standout cuts. Rice and his Martin guitar do all the work on this classic. Rice’s guitar work on the song may seem simple compared to his mind-boggling work on others, but it is a perfect match to the song, leaving more room for Rice’s vocals to shine. He really puts his heart and soul into Any Old Time, and is one of Rice’s greatest performances.
Come back tomorrow for Rodgers Remembrance Vol X: Jimmie’s Texas Blues.
If you enjoy the Rodgers Remembrances this week, feel free to tune in to my radio program, Bending The Strings, this Saturday afternoon on Classic Country Radio 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!