During Jimmie's teen years and early days working on the railroad he's doing runs as a brakeman out
of Meridian, Mississippi and he'd find himself heading through New Orleans, Houston and Galveston with
a turnaround in San Antonio, Texas where he loved the action of that great city. As far back as 1916 the
young Rodgers was riding the rail as a brakeman from Meridian through San Antonio and El Paso on to
Tucson, Arizona. The Singing Brakeman fell in love with Texas as a teen.
Below is the story of why the
1st Annual JIMMIE RODGERS
TEXAS MUSIC & FILM FIESTA
will be in San Antonio, Texas.
Why San Antonio, Texas for the Jimmie Rodgers Texas Music & Film Fiesta?
Working on the railroad as a teen Rodgers would travel from Mississippi to San Antonio Sunset Station for a turnaround and some trips all the way to Tucson, thus began his love for the miles and miles of Texas. Staying overnight in San Antonio many times buskin’ with his guitar on the Houston Street “Theater District” and around the Sunset RR Station.” He was discovered in 1927, and in 1928 Victor Talking Machines (RCA) released his first Blue Yodel “T For Texas.” Before long he became one Americas’ top recording, radio, and vaudeville stars on his way to sell a million records. By 1929, he bought land and built a home in Kerrville, Texas, only there a short time he buys a house in San Antonio’s Alamo Heights. For most of this time he had a Suite at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio till his death in 1933. His family lives on in San Antonio and Texas.
He began recording for Victor in Dallas and San Antonio in 1929, and touring all over the United States out of the Sunset
Station. He began to wear his cowboy garb influencing the likes of Gene Autry and others. On June 14 at the grand opening
of the Majestic Theater flashing back 94 years ago Rodgers would be the main act in the vaudeville tour to open the historic
theater where he would receive 18 curtain calls at the opening show as part of the RKO Circuit tour with the 4-day opening.
In November he boards train from San Antonio to New Jersey where he does a three-song music film for Columbia/Victor
RCA. Spends Christmas in Kerrville in his new home.
1930 Jimmie toured 24 Texas cities as the feature act with Swain's Hollywood Follies along with Skeeter Kell and His Gang
and other medicine shows. In July he and his wife Carrie boarded a train out of San Antonio to record in Hollywood with
Louie Armstrong and meets Laurel and Hardy. Spending much of the year in Kerrville and San Antonio. Starting this year,
he had a permanent suite at the Gunter Hotel.
1931 Records “TB Blues” in San Antonio at the Texas Hotel. He is made an honorary Texas Ranger and appears at Texas
Rotary Club’s State Convention. He moves from Kerrville buying a house in Alamo Heights 4.5 miles from the Gunter Hotel.
This year he tours Texas and Oklahoma with Will Rogers in a tour to save the Red Cross from bankruptcy. After an event in
Austin, Jimmie and Will fly to San Antonio where they kicked off an huge event for the Red Cross Relief tour in the Crystal
Ballroom at the Gunter Hotel. Near the end of the year Jimmie is a special guest at Will Rogers’ 52nd birthday party at the
Gunter Hotel. During the year Jimmie is doing shows in San Antonio and Houston and small Texas towns. Many medicine,
minstrel and tent shows winter and tour through Texas and the Southwest.
1932 Jimmie records in Dallas, and he began a radio show at the 100 watts KMAC Radio Station in San Antonio, playing
his own songs and when he was off touring, they would play his records. He’s spending a lot of time at home with his wife
and daughter in Alamo Heights and his suite at the Gunter Hotel due to his TB, plus the hard times of to the Great Depression,
yet he traveling to record in Camden NJ and doing shows in Alabama, and around Texas that he is booking for himself.
1933 he is very ill and deteriorating fast entering the hospital in Houston, returning to San Antonio to rest. Knowing his fate
and needing money to leave his family he boards a train with his nurse at the Sunset Station to Galveston to board a freighter
to New York where he records 12 songs and dies in his suite at the Taft Hotel May 26, 1933. It is very important to realize the
train of his influence that was covering the nation from San Antonio, Texas…The Country Music Hall of Fame states,
“Rodgers’s impact on country music can scarcely be exaggerated.” His biographer Nolan Porterfield said, “Everybody was influenced by Jimmie weather they knew it or not. Including the likes of Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi John Hurt, Les Paul, Milton Brown, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe and through time he’d find himself in the Country,
Blues, Rock, Grammy and Songwriter Halls of Fame and many other accolades including the Lifetime Achievement Grammy
and the W.C. Handy Blues Award.
By Benford Standley
It would set Victor on a fast track with the "Singing Brakeman" as their biggest star since RCA Victor had it’s beginning in 1901. Jimmie had a big love for Texas after his many travels through the state working for the railroad as a brakeman and nights in a hotel in San Antonio before his turn around back to Meridian, Miss.
Jimmie was not sure that the song might not be accepted because of its “rough and rowdy” words, talking
about his girl “Thelma” who would leave him for another man, a “cheetin’ song” you might say, and he sings
that he's going to seek vengeance on her and the lover and saying, “I can get more women than a passenger train can haul.” He was starting to sing cowboy songs and becoming the “Yodeling Cowboy” and wearing his cowboy clothes while becoming a huge vaudeville, radio and record star. In 1929 he was doing an RKO Vaudeville Show tour that was playing a number of grand theaters across a few states with the Radio-Keith-Orpheum Interstate Circuit that was associated with Joseph P. Kennedy’s (FBO) film company and David
Sarnoff of RCA and Radio Pictures later called RKO-Radio a major Hollywood studio. One of the shows
was a 4-day run at the grand opening of the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1929 the Majestic opening was a big event for the city of San Antonio and attended by politicians and high society and was to mark a new era of growth with the theater being second only to the Fox in Atlanta for size,
and as ornate and beautiful as the Paramount on Broadway in New York City, and the Majestic was the first
air-conditioned theater in the city. There on Houston Street the Majestic joined the Aztec Theatre built in
1926, and the Empire in 1914, the Texas Theater in 1926, creating the San Antonio “Theater District” and
later joined by the Alameda in 1949. Houston Street was one of the oldest and most popular streets in the
city and runs through the middle of the city's central business district and was a major pedestrian walkway
to the River Walk and a five-minute walk to the Alamo. In the late 1880tys streetcars were pulled by mules
and then in 1890 the streetcars were electrified, and Houston Street was where the tracks were laid, which
made the street even more popular. This gave access to the Alamo, the International Fairgrounds that is
now Roosevelt Park and the Sunset Train Station. Houston Street was wide enough that they had trolleys
going both directions.
Jimmie Rodgers is the only person in history to be inducted into the Rock, Blues, Country, Songwriter and Grammy Halls of Fame, plus in 2017 he'd receive the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in LA. In 1984 he was
the first white man to receive W.C. Handy Blues Award. On his plaque at the Country Music Hall of Fame,
where he was one of the first inductees, it says, The Man That Started It All. Rodgers’ biographer Nolan Porterfield said, “Everybody was influenced by him whether they know it or not." Not to mention he was
the first entertainer on a US Postage Stamp, a Mason and a honorary Texas Ranger. When he was but 13
he ran away with a medicine show after three years prior stealing his aunts bed sheets to create his own
tent sow to entertain kids. No doubt the railroads and the south was where the blues was coming into his life.
Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Lefty Frizzell, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow and others have done tribute albums.
In 1931 he sold his home in Kerrville and bought a home in San Antonio's Alamo Heights and during these
times he was recording songs at the Texas Hotel and the Bluebonnet Hotel in San Antonio and living in a
suite at the Gunter Hotel with many trips to the San Antonio train station to tour the nation, then return to “a
place that he dearly loved.” Within one year of going professional in 1927, he became the best-selling and
most popular non-classical performer in the nation. There is still question where Jimmie Rodgers was born however Rodgers adopted Texas as his home during his most public years. During the years he was living
in San Antonio he was the biggest record and radio star in America. From the San Antonio Sunset Railroad station, he’d travel to New York to record, New Jersey to film a movie, and Hollywood to record and meet
with movie people. In his archives you see many letters written-on Gunter Hotel stationary, and he loved
the “theater district” area where he could be the famous person that he surly was during those years!!!!
In his song “Waiting for a Train” from his hoboin' days there was a line about being thrown off a train “in
Texas a place he dearly loved.” In "Jimmie's Texas Blues" he sings "Give me sweet Dallas, Texas, where
the women think the world of me." His wife Carrie Rodgers wrote in her book My Husband Jimmie Rodgers, telling stories about their times in Texas and told of his huge love for the Lone Star State and its people. Following all his three years of touring Texas the press was always very positive, Jimmie even moved his Masonic Lodge membership from Mississippi to San Antonio, Texas.
In 1932 Peer would record eight songs being the last session for Jimmie in Texas at the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas. Of Jimmie’s 110 songs 22 of them were recorded in Texas. This year Jimmie started his radio show
at KMAC in San Antonio. When he was not in town live on the station, and out touring, they would play his records. Famous San Antonio radio DJ Charlie Walker who was inspired greatly by Jimmie would move to
San Antonio and have a show at KMAC, word is that he had big influence on Willie Nelson when he was a
DJ and Walker would travel from San Antonio to attend two Jimmie Rodgers Festivals in Mississippi with
Jimmie’s wife and daughter in 1953 and 1955 and seen in pics with Elvis. In ’32 Jimmie’s illness was taking
him further away from his stardom. In February he was made an honorary Texas Ranger at ceremonies in
Austin and appears as featured attraction at the Texas Rotary Club's statewide convention in March. He
also joins Leslie E. Kell Shows for appearances in Houston and San Antonio. Over a four-year period,
Jimmie played an endless list of towns and cities in Texas, and he loved the small-town Texas shows.
San Antonio was Rodgers’ home base to the nation.
CUT TO: San Antonio, Texas 1936
Three years after Jimmie’s death his legendary status would live on in his music and with his wife Carrie and daughter Anita “taking care of business” on the train of influence that Jimmie had left to them. I'm not going
into the detail that would give the entire scope of their work justice but wanted to tie in the continuation of the Rodgers music train of influence and the work that was done out of San Antonio there in Alamo Heights of
the now “bigger than Dallas” city. The modest bungalow duplex that Jimmie had bought for his family was
where Carrie worked on her book My Husband Jimmie Rodgers, and by the way where San Antonio raised
Steve Earle would live across the street from Jimmie's daughter Anita, and said he played Jimmie's guitar.
After Rodgers' death the young Ernest Tubb got a job as singer at radio station KONO Radio in San Antonio
and he would sing Jimmie Rodgers songs. Tubb said he never forgot that day in 33' when he heard Jimmie
had died. In 1936 three years after Rodgers' death the 22-year-old Ernest Tubb would contact Jimmie’s wife Carrie Rodgers in San Antonio asking her for a picture of Jimmie when meeting at Mrs. Rodgers’ house in
Alamo Heights area of the city. Soon Carrie was scheduled on October 26 to record a tribute song called
“When Evening Shadows Fall” and the flip side was “My Rainbow Trail Keeps Winding On” and they were
to record with Victor at the Texas Hotel where Jimmie had recorded before his death. Carrie invited Tubb
to come to the session and play Jimmie’s famous Martin guitar on the recording. The next day, Tubb would come back in the Texas Hotel studio and record “The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Last Thoughts
of Jimmie Rodgers,” both songs penned by Rodgers’ songwriting sister-in-law Elsie McWilliams. Carrie
helped Tubb setting up his own first record session with RCA Victor Talking Machines. She loaned him
Jimmie’s tux for promo pictures, helped him write a bio and wore a managers hat helping Ernest Tubb ride
the Jimmie Rodgers train of influence to fame himself becoming the Texas Troubadour.
On a sad train, but to me important to mention that the life of Jimmie's wife Carrie, daughter Anita, and Anita's
son Jimmie Dale Court, grandson of the Great Jimmie Rodgers, all passed away in San Antonio, Texas.
Jimmie Dale's son James Court and daughter Dixie Court were born in San Antonio with his son Austin born
in Austin, Texas. They are part of the creation of the Jimmie Rodgers Texas Music and Film Fiesta.
More of the Jimmie Rodgers Saga will be dug up and shared as we head towards the manifestation of the
First Annual Jimmie Rodgers Texas Music and Film Fiesta in downtown San Antonio from September
5-8, 2023, in celebration of The Man That Started It All, Jimmie Rodgers. (Buffalo Benford Standley, producer/director 1/27/23)
Copyright © 2022 by Benford E. Standley
All Rights Reserved.