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Country Music Hall of Fame,
Class of 1961

The inaugural members of the Country Music Hall of Fame were Rodgers (1897-1933), songwriter/producer/music publisher Fred Rose, and singer/songwriter Hank Williams. I’m profiling them, and all subsequent multi-member classes, alphabetically.

About the record: Victor 21142, recorded Nov. 30, 1927, in the Victor Studio in Camden, N.J. Released March 2, 1928.

Jimmie Rodgers’ first record consisted of the two songs recorded in August 1927 at country music’s Big Bang, in Bristol, Va., and sold moderately well. “Blue Yodel,” the A side of his second record, is the song that made the Mississippian a star.

Jimmie Rodgers’ Hall of Fame profile

Next up: Fred Rose

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June 1

Why today? Sixteen stars are mentioned in this 1961 hit; 15 of them have ascended to Hill-Billy Heaven. The one who’s still with us is celebrating a birthday. Happy 84th, Andy Griffith.

About the record: Capitol 4567, recorded Jan. Feb. 3, 1961, at the label’s studios in Hollywood. Released that spring, eventually reaching No. 5 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on 1961’s Hillbilly Heaven, Capitol ST-1623.

At the time this song was recorded, six of those 16 luminaries were already dead: Will Rogers, Carson Robison, Jimmie Rodgers, Wiley Post, Hank Williams and Johnny Horton. The rest, the song says, were listed in “the big tally book” of the heaven-bound over the next hundred years: Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddie Dean (who cut “I Dreamed Of A Hill-Billy Heaven” in the mid-’50s), Griffith, Roy Rogers and Ritter himself.

If you Google those folks, you’ll find that not all were hillbilly singers — Post, for instance, was a noted pilot who was flying the plane that crashed and killed him and humorist Rogers. And Griffith, of course, was comedian and actor who at the time was in the second season of his eponymous hit TV show. It, and he, had not become cultural icons yet, so I’ve always thought it interesting that he’d show up in this updated version of the song. Somebody had taken some prescient pills, I guess.

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?

Jan. 20: In mid-1931, the Victor Talking Machine Co. of Camden, N.J., had on its roster two of the top acts in those early days of commercial country music: Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family. Each had recorded at the famous Bristol sessions overseen by Ralph Peer in 1927, although not together. Four years later, they were gathered in Louisville to wax more tunes. This time they DID share a mic, resulting in two Rodgers/Sara Carter duets, along with this pair of novelties that told a story in spoken word and song.

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Nov. 3: The Country Music Hall of Fame was born 48 years ago today, with the induction of its first three members. One was Jimmie Rodgers, the first big star of commercial country music. The other two are represented here, in a song written by Fred Rose and recorded by his superstar protege, Hank Williams, in 1951.

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August 2020