May 26


Why today?
The Singing Brakeman, the Mississippi Blue Yodeler, the Father of Country Music — those are all the same person, in case you didn’t know — died on this date 77 years ago, two days after our song of the day brought an end to his final recording session.

About the record: Bluebird B-5281 and Montgomery Ward 4415, recorded May 24, 1933, at RCA Victor Studio A in New York. Released Dec. 20 of that year. First LP appearance came in April 1963 on The Short But Brilliant Life Of Jimmie Rodgers, RCA Victor LPM-2634.

When Jimmy Rodgers had tackled “T.B. Blues” a couple of years earlier, it wasn’t just a song — he lived it, and he died at age 35 from its complications in the Hotel Taft in the theater district of Manhattan. The story goes that he knew he was dying, and he knew his soon-to-be-widow would be in a bad way financially. So he asked the folks at RCA to set up a big recording session to essentially fill the larder for the sake of his estate.

He cut 13 songs in four sessions over the course of a week, so weary from fighting the tuberculosis that he skipped a couple of days to rest up, and having to lie on a cot between songs to preserve his strength. Weak though he was, he sounds in pretty good voice on “Fifteen Years Ago Today,” listed on some reissues as “Years Ago.” The yodel that gave him one of those nicknames was strong, the guitar work sounding the same as it always had.

It was the last of the original records in his career. But through countless reissues he influenced scores of country singers — Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, Gene Autry, Merle Haggard and more — and he was in the inaugural class of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

You know, I’ve stayed in the Taft in New York twice, in my late teens and early 20s. At the time I didn’t know Rodgers died there. But now I wonder, did I occupy the very room in which the Singing Brakeman breathed his last?

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