Rodgers Remembrance XVI: Miss The Mississippi and You

Jimmie RodgersAs of this past Tuesday, May 26th, it has been 82 years since the passing of Jimmie Rodgers. A titan of American music, Jimmie Rodgers is considered an influence in country, bluegrass, folk, jazz, blues, rock, pop, Americana, and more.

In six short years, “The Father of Country Music” left behind a musical legacy which is still relevant in today’s popular culture. As we remember Jimmie’s passing, I will be featuring some “Rodgers Remembrances” and discussing Jimmie’s impact on bluegrass music.

I’m growing tired of the big city lights
Tired of the glamor and tired of the sights
In all my dreams I am roaming once more
Back to my home on that old river shore

I am sad and weary far away from home
Miss the Mississippi and you, dear
Days are dark and dreary and everywhere I roam
Miss the Mississippi and you

Roaming the wide world over
Always alone and blue, blue
Nothing seems to cheer me under heaven’s dome
Miss the Mississippi and you

[Yodel]

Memories are bringing happy days of yore
Miss the Mississippi and you
Mockingbirds are singing round our cabin door
Miss The Mississippi and you

Roaming the wide world over
Always alone and blue, so blue
Longing for my homeland, muddy water’s shore
Miss the Mississippi and you

[Yodel]

Mississippi and you

While Jimmie Rodgers did not write Miss The Mississippi and You, few songs that he recorded were more applicable to the Singing Brakeman’s life. Born in Meridian, Mississippi just before the turn of the century, Jimmie Rodgers always held his homeland of Mississippi close to his heart. However, Rodgers was seldom ever to remain at home, both due to his work and his health.

Rodgers battle with tuberculosis also prevented him from staying in The Magnolia State as much as he would have liked. A disease which we seldom see in the 21st century, TB was an absolutely horrible respiratory disease which plagued many in the early 20th century. Because of his illness, Rodgers would have to move away from Mississippi, in order to be in atmospheres which made breathing easier for him.

Jimmie Rodgers was not called The Singing Brakeman for nothing, as his work on the rails often kept him away from his Mississippi home. Rodgers had also spent time as a hobo, which in those days was a migrant worker who bummed rides on trains in order to travel.

Then after becoming one of the biggest stars in the country, Rodgers’ musical career often prevented him from spending time at home. He was not only one of the hottest recording artists of the day, he was one of the most in-demand touring artists as well. In Depression-era times, when local theaters were struggling to sell tickets for a dime to a double-feature movie showing, the fact that Jimmie Rodgers could sell out the same theater at a dollar-a-head is more than impressive.

Modern artists could learn a thing or two from Rodgers’ tour schedule. His personal appearances were not strictly limited to bigger cities, but he frequently visited many smaller towns while on tour. Take this string of dates from late January/early February for example, listed in Barry Mazor’s Meeting Jimmie Rodgers. After playing in the Fort Worth area, Rodgers consecutively played dates in Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Jacksboro, Graham, Breckinridge, Cisco, Eastland, Ranger, Tomball, Stephensville, Granbury, Glen Rose, Dublin, Comanche, and Brownwood. (And folks these days say they have a “rigorous tour schedule.”)

To say Jimmie Rodgers spent time away from home, would be an understatement. That’s what makes Miss The Mississippi and You so poignant, and why it seems that Rodgers’ delivery is all the more emotional. Done in a little more jazzy flavor than many would expect from a man named The Father of Country Music, the simple barroom piano which highlights the images of “growing tired of the big city lights” is eerily powerful. The next line, “Tired of the glamor, tired of the sights” really tells the tale. Reasons which may excite one to travel to the city, have become a nuisance to this road warrior, and it is felt in the fondness with which Rodgers recollects his Mississippi home, and in the sorrow with which he longs to be there. Vocally, this is among the strongest of Rodgers’ performances. Matched with a song which has become a staple in American music, this yet another fine example of why Rodgers is an American musical icon.

 

Miss The Mississippi and You has been recorded dozens of times. Emmylou Harris’ rendition on her popular 1980 album, Roses In The Snow album is sure to be familiar to many bluegrass fans. My favorite album of Emmylou’s, Roses In The Snow featured a very bluegrass-flavored sound, and even included songs from the Flatt & Scruggs and Stanley catalogs. Guided by Tony Rice’s guitar and Buck White’s piano, Emmylou’s version of Miss The Mississippi and You is stellar. Ricky Skaggs, who was a member of Emmylou’s Hot Band at the time, provides some gorgeous fiddle work as well, which accentuates the simplicity in the song and arrangement. Of course Emmylou’s heartbreakingly beautiful voice holds the listener captive, lulling you into a trance as only Emmylou can do.

 

John Cowan recorded recent version of Miss The Mississippi and You on his latest album, Sixty. His powerful emotion-laden voice is given plenty of room to shine with this simple song. Featuring strings, jazz guitar, and clarinets, John emphasizes the New Orleans style jazz of the original recordings, while still making it very John Cowan. Simply listen to the way he sings the line “Mockingbirds are singing round our cabin door,” and you’ll know why is one of the most influential vocalists of his generation.

 

 

In live video above, John Cowan references Doc Watson’s take on Miss The Mississippi and You, which is probably one of the more familiar versions to bluegrass fans. The fact that Doc’s Memories album is out of print, really ticks me off, but I digress. Doc’s take is very Doc, as would be expected from one of American music’s greatest stylists. Doc replaces the jazz-influenced sound with a prominent bluesy slide guitar and his own powerful guitar, making for the rootsiest version of Miss The Mississippi and You. Of course Doc’s singing is as great as always, delivering the song with an honesty that has become one of the defining earmarks of his legacy. Without a doubt, Doc recorded more Jimmie Rodgers songs than any other bluegrass artist, and was one of the most revered flamekeepers of Rodgers’ music, regardless of genre. Doc’s best attempt at yodeling the final line of the song is a direct “tip of the hat” to the end of Jimmie’s original version, while Doc maybe could have left the yodeling to his hero. Haha.

 

Miss The Mississippi and You has also been recorded by Rosanne Cash, Merle Haggard, Jimmie Skinner, and Rodney Dillard, but Jerry Lee Lewis’ version may be my favorite rendition of this classic song. I’m a huge fan of The Killer, and he is a huge fan of Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers is one of only four artists whom Jerry Lee views as true stylists in American music, the other three being Hank Williams, Al Jolson, and himself. Jerry Lee Lewis has recorded the song twice, but I think I prefer his latest version, from 2010’s Mean Old Man. Something about hearing the mistakes and regrets which season his aged voice, that is still every bit as arrogant and cocky as it was fifty years ago, makes this solo rendition all the more believable. The recording features nothing but the greatest rock-n-roller of all time singing his heart out at 75 years old, while playing the piano like no one else who has ever tickled the ivories. I love everything about The Killer, especially his take on Miss The Mississippi and You.

 

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rodgers Remembrance!

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About the Author

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.

photo by LuAnn Adams