It must have been about 20 years ago when I learned that David Crisp, a Texas native and at the time a colleague at the Gazette, was also a fan of Jimmie Rodgers. He had a couple of Jimmie’s 33s, passed down from his father, I think, one of which contained two magnificent specimens of Jimmie’s work that I’d never heard before–scripted set pieces recorded with the Carter Family, one supposedly involving a visit by the Carter Family to Jimmie’s house in Texas, and the other a visit by Jimmie to the Carters’ place, in the shadow of Clinch Mountain in Virginia.
Never mind that the two sides were actually recorded in Louisville, Ky., and never mind that the Carters sound as though they were “clutching their scripts and straining at every word,” as Jimmie’s biographer put it. As he also put it, the recordings “are guilelessly revealing and charismatic in their very artlessness.” As much as I love the film clip I posted the other day, Jimmie seems a little wooden there. In these Carter Family shticks, I think we hear the Jimmie Rodgers that his friends knew so well.
Partly because I was so pleased to have discovered David Crisp’s records (and to have put them on cassette tape, which I still listen to in my old Subaru), when David asked me if I’d learn his favorite Jimmie Rodgers song, I couldn’t say no. It might be the only time I ever learned a song at somebody’s request–and the only reason I have avoided it before is that it takes me so long to learn one that I have to really develop some strong connection to a song before I commit myself to it. But this was Jimmie Rodgers, and I soon loved the song myself and still roll it out on a fairly regular basis, if only when I’m playing by myself in the kitchen.
So what was I to think, reading Jimmie’s biography, to read that this song, “I’ve Ranged, I’ve Roamed, and I’ve Travelled,” was “so poor that it was held for release until long after Rodgers’s death, when Victor was scraping out the last bit of treacle–and pocket change–from the Blue Yodeler’s barrel.”
This doesn’t reflect so badly on Crisp. He doesn’t play an instrument and he likes to quote Ulysses S. Grant’s line about music: “I only know two songs; one’s ‘Yankee Doodle’ and the other isn’t.” But me? Why, I’m a semi-professional musician. What I am doing falling for this dreck? Once again, I will not plead innocent, but I will plead innocence, meaning that I’m a complete sucker for Jimmie Rodgers. When I listened to him I never thought in terms of good or bad or inferior or superior. If it was good enough for Jimmie, it was good enough for me. Judge for yourself.