Nov 19, 2007

Thinking of Jimmie Rodgers and Hoboes

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Jimmie Rodgers, also known as 'The Singing Brakeman,' 'America's Blue Yodeler,' and 'The Father of Country Music.'There must be something about the dreary days of November that resonates with the wandering hobo that lurks within me, as I have been listening lately to a compilation CD of songs recorded by Jimmie Rodgers. Another disc to which I have been listening is the fine collection of songs by Jimmie Rodgers performed by Merle Haggard called Same Train, Different Time, which also includes some insightful commentary by Haggard in between songs.

Rodgers, for the uninitiated, earned the alternate nicknames of "The Singing Brakeman," "America's Blue Yodeler," and perhaps his most important moniker: "The Father of Country Music." He combined traditional bluegrass music with the blues to great effect, inspiring the genre of country music.

One of my favorite Rodgers songs is "Waiting for a Train," which was recorded on October 22, 1928. The song depicts the lonely life of a Depression-era hobo, who has been traveling in boxcars in search of work and misses his home:

All around the water tank, waiting for a train
A thousand miles away from home, sleeping in the rain
I walked up to a brakeman just to give him a line of talk
He said "If you got money, boy, I'll see that you don't walk
I haven't got a nickel, not a penny can I show
"Get off, get off, you railroad bum" and slammed the boxcar door

He put me off in Texas, a state I dearly love
The wide open spaces all around me, the moon and the stars up above
Nobody seems to want me, or lend me a helping hand
I'm on my way from Frisco, going back to Dixieland
My pocket book is empty and my heart is full of pain
I'm a thousand miles away from home just waiting for a train


And as I walk along a set of train tracks this morning, with the cold November breeze reminding me to start wearing a hat and gloves, I can only imagine the hardships of a life spent living day-to-day in boxcars and makeshift camps. Thanks to Jimmie Rodgers, the world of the railroad bum is forever a part of Americana.

1 comment:

Mad Jack said...

Read Tales of the Iron Road by Maury Graham for a few insights. The author is a great story teller and actually lived the life for a number of years.