My parents bought the Merle Haggard album Same Train, A Different Time that year. This is a tribute to one of Haggard's musical heroes, Jimmie Rodgers, who was known in the Depression era as "The Singing Brakeman." Haggard's plaintive vocals capture the raw emotions in the brilliant blues of Rodgers without delving into mimicry.
Rodgers died young of tuberculosis in 1933, a brilliant songwriter and performer whose short six-year career saw him recording over 120 tracks, most of which he penned himself. His last recordings were made in less than a week before his death, and he had to rest on a cot in the studio in between takes.
Haggard sang these sad songs simply because he loved the music of Jimmie Rodgers. These were tales of hoboes, people with broken hearts, and and lonesome travelers who wanted nothing more than to be home again. As a young boy this melancholy music resonated with me, and I have always gravitated toward tunes that tell the tales of despondent people and desperate times.
And yet there remained hope in the crestfallen songs of Jimmie Rodgers, hope of better days, or the woman he lost who might some day return. Haggard captures this side of Rodgers, and brings a touch of self-deprecating wit to some of the lyrics.
The "Father of Country Music," Jimmie Rodgers
As I listen to "Waitin' for a Train," I imagine I am sitting on the old brown couch we had in our living room in that little house in Detroit. One of our cats is sitting on the couch with me, my mom's in the kitchen with my sister, my dad and brother are playing catch out front, and I am listening to Merle sing this forlorn Jimmie Rodgers song about a traveler in the middle of nowhere:
Nobody seems to want meThirty-eight years have passed since I first heard this wonderful music, and Same Train, A Different Time never fails to send a few of those reminiscent echoes bouncing around my head.
Or lend me a helping hand
I'm on my way from Frisco
Goin' back to Dixie Land.
My pocketbook is empty
My heart is full of pain
I'm a thousand miles away from home
Waitin' for a train.
There is little of modern country music that captures my attention, and most of the music that passes for "country" these days is just pop with a twang. This, however, is an album that transcends categorization, other than to say it holds an important place in American culture. Find it. Buy it. Enjoy it.