Meeting Jimmie Rodgers

There are two kinds of biographies: introductory biographies for a popular audience and advanced biographies for aficionados. Barry Mazor’s Meeting Jimmie Rodgers falls into the latter category, in my opinion.

I had never heard of Jimmie Rodgers before I read this book, and I had heard only one of his songs–“In the Jailhouse Now”–although I didn’t know it was his. Upon reading Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, however, I learned what an influential singer he had been. The subtitle of Mazor’s book gets at his thesis: “How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century.” Rodgers was heir to the music traditions of the South: hillbilly, country, blues, gospel, Vaudeville. And yet, like all artistic originals, he took that tradition and made it a new thing, his own distinctive thing. Much of Rodgers’ distinction was the “blue yodel,” which he did not invent but which he did perfect. Many country and western artists today trace their inspiration to Rodgers.

So, on the one hand, Mazor’s book told me a lot about a man I had never heard of. It also provided me with a discography of original Rodgers’ recordings, as well as recordings of his musical contemporaries and numerous imitators. On the other hand, the book assumed such a thorough knowledge of roots music generally and Jimmie Rodgers particularly that it was hard reading for this non-specialist.

On the whole, then, this is a good book. Had I been more knowledgeable about Jimmie Rodgers at the outset of reading it, I think it would have been a very good book.

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