Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mac and Slim and Jimmie- 1932


On the left is a picture of Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music. Rodger became famous in 1928 with a series of hit songs- starting with his megahit, "T for Texas" also known as Blue Yodel Number 1. Jimmie was largely a blues oriented pop singer. He wrote or reworked blues and pop songs attaching his famous blues yodel as a fill at the end of the verses.

Rodgers was one of the few musicians still able to sell records in the Great Depression. By 1932 he was still one of the biggest stars in music and the biggest in country music. The problem was- he was dying of TB. Ralph Peer, who managed Rodgers and the Carter Family, tried to have Rodgers record regularly for Victor. Ralph had a deal with Victor- he received no salary for managing their 'country music' division, but instead got the royalties from record sales.

In the late 1920 Peer was receiving royalties of $250,000 a quarter which today translates to a figure around $60 million a year. Peer needed Rogers to do a session in the summer of 1932 so Rodgers called his good friend and pal Clayton McMichen to join him in Victor's Camden Yard studio located in a revamped church in New Jersey.

When Rodgers called Mac on the phone they briefly discussed some of the recording details. Mac wanted to bring the Georgia Wildcats but Jimmie didn't think Peer would pay for the whole band. Peer had already arranged for session players including banjoist Oddie McWinders. Since Mac had played had on Jimmie's 1929 winter tour Peer and Rodgers just wanted Mac to play the fiddle- not the band. Mac finally asked if he could bring Slim, his guitar player. Rodgers, who played guitar, but not well, was slated to play the guitar and sing.

Jimmie wrote to Mac: “Mr. Peer says he wonts [sic] me to do at least 10 numbers so if you have anything of your own be sure to bring it along because I'm pretty sure I can get several of your songs recorded.” Regarding Bryant, Rodgers wrote: “I will pay his expenses if he cares to come along with you and takes a chance on working with us.”

In August 1932 Clayton brought Bryant with him and they met Jimmie in Washington, DC. After being chauffeured to Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, the men rehearsed with Oddie McWinders (banjo) Dave Kanui (steel guitar) and George Howell (string bass). They tried to record "In the Hills of Tennessee" but when the first session produced no suitable takes, Ralph Peer dismissed Kanui and Howell.

[Banjoist Oddie McWinders, whose real name was Odie Winders, was born in Todd County, KY on March 9, 1887 to Susie Bell Rager. Nothing is know of his father whose last name was Winders. Oddie was nationally recognized for his banjo picking and owned one of finest banjos. He also recorded the Crown sessions with Mac and Slim. He died shortly thereafter on Sept 24, 1933. One song in his repertoire was "Bound To Ride" which has become a bluegrass standard.

I have a copy of Jimmie's letter, dated July 27th, 1932 to Mac. Here's what Jimmie says about Odie: "I am planing to have a good banjo player to go with us. You may know him, his name is Oddie McWindows (sic). And boy can he play a banjo? I'll say he can. Mac, he plays a banjo old style and also plays all the popular stuff. I mean takes solos and plays leads. He beats any dam thing I ever heard of playing a banjo- baring no body... ]

Rodgers was so sick he could only play the guitar for short periods of time. When the pain from his TB got bad, Mac gave him shots of morphine. Even when he was feeling well Rodgers played his own rhythm on the guitar. Jimmie would leave out beats and add them whenever he felt like it much as the traditional bluesman of the day. Playing with him was not easy.

Slim just listened and whenever Rodgers changed chords Slim would change. Slim became so good at following Rodgers that Jimmie called Slim, "his guitar player." A month later when Mac and Slim were still in NYC recording a session for Crown Records, Peer called Slim to do another session with Jimmie, this time without Mac. Peer had lined-up some New York session players. Peer asked Slim if "he could keep up with these New York players?" Slim replied, " I can play with anyone."

More to come,


No comments: