(What is this all about? All is explained.)
Everyone who knows anything about Bob Dylan knows how much he was inspired by and deliberately fashioned himself after Woody Guthrie. But how many people know how deeply he admired Jimmie Rodgers? I certainly didn’t have any idea before 1997, when Dylan produced “The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers,” a tribute album featuring, among others, Dylan, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia, Bono and Van Morrison signing Jimmie’s songs.
In the liner notes, Dylan was unusually extravagant with his praise. (And being Dylan, he was also sometimes incomprehensible and sometimes downright bad, as when he said Jimmie’s “message is all between the lines and he delivers it like nectar that can
drill through steel.”)
Here’s what else he had to say:
Jimmie Rodgers of course is one of the guiding lights of the Twentieth Century whose way with song has always been an inspiration to those of us who have followed the path. A blazing star whose sound was and remains the raw essence of individuality in a sea of conformity, par excellence with no equal. Though he is claimed as The Father of Country Music, the title is limiting and deceiving in light of today’s country music and he wouldn’t have understood it. In his time, he was better known as “The Singing Brakeman” or “Blue Yodeler” and hence in some circles, he has come to be known as the “Man Who Started It All” which is more to the truth for he was a performer of force without precedent with a sound as lonesome and mystical as it was dynamic.
Yeah, he kind of liked Jimmie. Here’s a bit more:
The artists on this compilation as diverse as ever, all have one thing in common — all have been amazed, moved and enormously affected by Jimmie like no other. Why? Because Jimmie was alive in a way that others were not and are not. … We love the man and we love what he did in the short time he was here and we know that he rose above insurmountable odds in giving of himself with Herculean effort to achieve it, that he worked against time with a disease that was a quick assignment to the cemetery. … His is the voice in the wilderness of your head…only in turning up the volume can we determine our own destiny.
The funny thing is, the song Dylan chose to sing on that tribute was “My Blue Eyed Jane,” but I had never heard the original version by Jimmie until yesterday, when I finally tracked it down. It’s one of those things; I didn’t have a recording of it and just never thought to give it a listen. The biographer of Jimmie, whose book I’m reading, said it was one of Jimmie’s most sophisticated recordings, with a solid jazz band and an uncommonly good arrangement. Here is Jimmie singing it. Here’s Dylan singing the same song on the tribute album. And I will figure out how to embed videos one of these days.