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Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

By Barry Mazor

Oxford University Press, 384 pages, $27.95

Reviewed by C. Eric Banister, June 2009

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Jimmie Rodgers is the undisputed "Father of Country Music." In the 80-odd years since his first recording, at what has been termed the "Big Bang of country music," the Bristol Sessions of 1927, neither scholarship and research nor anecdotal tale has been able to dethrone him. As his history approaches a century, his importance and influence risks diminishing in the glow of much closer flames.

Enter Barry Mazor. Most recognizable for his work in The Wall Street Journal and the now defunct No Depression, Mazor took up the task to lay out that influence and examine, as the subtitle states, "How American's Original Roots Music Hero Changed The Pop Sounds Of A Century."

It would be easy to be confused as to how someone who is so closely tied to country music had such an influence throughout music, but, as Mazor deftly points out, his influence did reach well beyond country's borders to blues, rock, bluegrass and pop.

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers is not a biography, as Mazor points out, that job has been definitively done by author Nolan Porterfield. Rather, Meeting takes the tack of a cultural study of the music that played around Rodgers and the things he took from it and the things he passed along. Mazor's research uncovered several never before published pieces of Rodgers lore, many of them from within the family, including handwritten travel journals that detailed little known performance dates that enabled Mazor to place Rodgers in various cities at a specific time. This is helpful in also seeing what other artists Rodgers might have come across in his touring.

One of the interesting things about Rodgers was that he was able to wear a number of performing identities (such as the Singing Brakeman, a cowboy, a bluesman) and still come off as authentic to his varied audience. As Mazor traces in the book, Rodgers was able to credibly sing the blues when few other white men could make that claim, and a strong case is made for Rodgers being also the father of the cowboy music genre popularized by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and carried on today by groups like Riders in the Sky.

Mazor's stated purpose is to bring context to the music of Rodgers - why was important and why it still is. His fluid writing style brings the players alive while his research keeps the details grounded in their era. This book is an important volume in the studies of Jimmie Rodgers, in particular, and early country music in general.