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Author Topic: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?  (Read 11308 times)

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Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2005, 11:11:27 PM »

    Don Santina is a great guy and one of my oldest friends.
    That having been said, he sure didn't do too much homework (e.g. as Cambio pointed out, attributing the Carter guitar syle to Leslie Riddle is ludicrous) but instead chose to rant about social injustice, which as you may have gathered, is a particular favorite topic of conversation for Don.
  I sent him an email asking him for the sources of his info and he hasn't replied. I hope I didn't offend him. As I said, we're good friends.
  Good friends can, however, disagree.

   I'd like to think that I'm bright enough to change my mind if presented with facts that contradict a previously held view, however, I think at this moment in time, I'm going to dismiss the Frank Stokes/Jimmie Rodgers connection as total banana oil.

   John; Don does, in fact, takes every opportunity to tell people about you and your playing. We're all fans of yours :D

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #16 on: May 19, 2005, 07:03:52 AM »

Clearly, Stokes played much that he did not record.  And clearly he did do blackface work in traveling show during and perhaps after WWI, which, if my fading memory is correct, ended in 1919.  And it wasn't until 1927 when Stokes was first recorded, so it's problematic how much of his recorded repetoire would even have been in his repetoire at the time he might have met/tutored Jimmy Rodgers.  It would be interesting to know if Jimmy Rodgers ever toured with the Doc Watts Medicine Show.

While black and white musicians may not have worked together on a daily basis in the south, from what I've read it was also not all that uncommon; and using "blackface" would probably have made it even more socially acceptable.

So whether or not they actually worked together may be subject to debate, an short of a photo or first hand witness, we'll probably never know for sure.  But clearly they could have worked together, and if the did, the older Stokes (born 1888) would likely have been the mentor to the younger Rodgers (born 1897).  So to me, the story is certainly believeable, and I wouldn't be so quick to discount the idea.

The idea is certainly not out of the question. Rodgers obviously heard and absorbed a lot of blues, and that wouldn't just be from listening to records. He could have met Stokes. Hell, he recorded with Clifford Gibson, Clifford Hayes and the Louisville Jug Band, Louis Armstrong, so why not. They're both songster types with relatively simple styles. And yes, there would have been lots that Stokes didn't record, and some of that could have ended up in Rodgers' repertoire, had they met. But I would still expect some overlap of actual recorded material before even beginning to entertain the claim that Rodgers learned "much of his repertoire" from Stokes. The whole argument seems to be built on pure speculation by Francis Davis, without even a hint of evidence cited. If someone could point me to a melody or lyric they had in common... I can't think of any, though am less familiar with Rodgers' complete oeuvre than I am with Stokes'.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2005, 07:09:44 AM by uncle bud »

Online Johnm

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #17 on: May 19, 2005, 07:32:23 AM »
Hi all,
Were the influence of Frank Stokes on Jimmie Rodgers as strong as it has been touted to be, you would think there would be some trace of Frank's playing style in Jimmie's.  There doesn't appear to be any.  Frank's aggressive time, alternating bass with brush strokes, fairly complex cut-time picking are nowhere to be found in Jimmie's playing.  I think where strong musical influences occur, they manifest in multi-faceted ways:  vocally, instrumentally, and in repertoire.  Think of Luke Jordan and Dick Justice or Lemon Jefferson and Larry Hensley.  Perhaps if Jimmie saw Frank perform or performed on shows with him, there is some aspect of Frank's performance style that Jimmie emulated--we can't know this, but in the listening, there is very little of Frank Stokes's music in Jimmie Rodgers's music.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Montgomery

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #18 on: May 19, 2005, 02:59:20 PM »
It's certainly possible that Stokes and Rodgers encountered one another at some point (although I don't know if there's any evidence to confirm this).  But the idea that they were "frequent" collaborators seems ludicrous.

Offline outfidel

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2005, 05:48:52 AM »
Paul Oliver in Songsters & Saints (paperback, p.89) writes this:
Many white entertainers of note got their basic training in the medicine shows, singing from the platform of the "physick wagon". The comedian of the silent movies, Buster Keaton, was born of medicine show parents, the Joe Keatons, who worked the Dr. Hill's California Concert Company selling Kickapoo Magic Snake Oil; their companions on the show were Bessie and Harry Houdini. Before his "white-face" act, Buster Keaton himself played in blackface in 1896. Even the smallest "Doctor Shows" employed an Indian and a blackface, or black singer, musician or comedian to attract a crowd. White country singers as various as Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddling John Carson, Roy Acuff, Dock Walsh, Bradley Kincaid, Clarence Ashley, Hank Williams and "Harmonica" Frank Llyod all "paid their dues" on the doctor shows. So too did Jimmie Rodgers who played both tent-rep shows and worked with the "pitchmen"; the shows of Doc Zip Hilber, Doc El Vino, Widow Robbins and Population Charlie have been mentioned in this connexion but it is not certain whether Rodgers worked with them. Made up in blackface, he traveled through Kentuck and Tennessee with, in his wife's words, "a shabby little medicine show", later to join a tent show, a Hawaiian group and a traveling carnival which broke up in a storm in Indiana. In places as far apart as Mississippi and Texas he is remembered playing on one medicine show in the company of the black songster, Frank Stokes.
For this paragraph, Oliver cites these? sources:
  • Blesh, Keaton, pp. 15-21
  • Malone, Country Music USA - A Fifty-Year History, pp. 19-20
  • Porterfield, Jimmie Rodgers, pp. 57-8
  • Pars & Comber, Jimmy the Kid: The Life of Jimmie Rodgers, p. 31
« Last Edit: May 20, 2005, 05:54:50 AM by outfidel »
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #20 on: May 20, 2005, 06:58:02 AM »
Thanks Outfidel! Good digging. Some evidence at least that he encountered Stokes. Still don't see how anyone could claim the large influence on his repertoire though...

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #21 on: May 20, 2005, 07:44:57 AM »

    That's pretty good detective work.

   I think we've established that they had actually met and that meeting was far too brief and casual to acount for Rodgers acquiring "most of his song collection" as originally stated.

lebordo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2005, 04:09:53 PM »
But I would still expect some overlap of actual recorded material before even beginning to entertain the claim that Rodgers learned "much of his repertoire" from Stokes.

You could well be right.? However, I suspect that the record producers would have wanted the two to record quite different songs since Stokes records would be marketed to an exclusively black audience, and Rodgers songs would be marketed to an exclusively white audience.

Were the influence of Frank Stokes on Jimmie Rodgers as strong as it has been touted to be, you would think there would be some trace of Frank's playing style in Jimmie's.

Valid point.? I'm not familiar enough with Rodgers work to know whether that trace exists or not.?

Another possibility exists, however.? And that is that Stokes style and repertoire changed between the late 1910s/early 1920s when he worked the medicine show circuit and Aug 1927, when he first recorded.? This may well be the case since Stokes apparently didn't become part of the Memphis music scene until after his medicine show years.? So it is quite possible that Rodgers did incorporate much of Stokes circa 1920 style and repertoire, but that Stokes changed enough before 1927 that we don't see the resemblance in Stokes recorded works.

Of course, Rogers repertoire and style would have continued to develop after their time together, too.

All that said, Rogers had been performing for a while before any likely encounter with Stokes, so while I might accept that Rodgers gained a lot from Stokes -- meaning 20-30-40% of his repertoire at that time, I too doubt that Rodgers acquired "most of his song collection" from Stokes or any other single artist.

Don Santina

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #23 on: May 26, 2005, 07:51:30 PM »
I've enjoyed your discussion of my article "Reparations for the Blues," and I'll briefly try to address some of the concerns raised about the Stokes/Rogers connection.

When I was in Oregon 15 years ago, I worked up an act called the "Clackamas Kid," singing Jimmie Rodgers' tunes in an accent somewhere between Lawrence Welk and Jackie Mason.  I had an idea for a tent show kind of thing and hooked up with some jug band players to see if we could work something out.  It didn't work out, which in retrospect soared the world from another musical atrocity.

However, a couple of these folks knew a lot about tent shows and performers like Frank Stokes.  One guy had a stack of 78's!  Through our discussions, I--who had been kneeling at the altar of Jimmie Rodgers since 1959--learned about how many songs like "In The Jailhouse Now" were in the tent show repertoire when Jimmie was still crawling on the floor.  I went back home and pulled out my Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Folio songbook, and there it was on page 8: "In the Jailhouse Now, Words and Music by Jimmie Rodgers."

I was disappointed but not completely surprised.  I had known that around the time Rodgers began recording, Ralph Peer started his lucrative publishing career gobbling up copyrights.  There's certainly enough historical evidence detailing this national pasttime of claiming creative rights to music written by other people and we've seen parallel behavior in jazz, long into the Swing era.  No one today can seriously believe that Paul Whiteman was "The King of Jazz," and yet it was Whiteman, not Louis Armstrong, who got the radio show, the big name hotels, etc.

It's an equally absurd thought that somehow Jimmie Rodgers burst out of nowhere with the blues.  Of course he learned it from the black community, from laborers in railroad yards, chain gangs and fellow performers like Frank Stokes.  Please note that I wrote "...Stokes, a black singer from whom Rodgers IS THOUGHT to have acquired much of his repertoire. Rodgers does not sound like Stokes, but we're talking genre and songs, not style.

Discography gives us limited information from years later, and empirical evidence--such as newspaper reviews-- about any African American musical achievement were non-existent in the apartheid South.  The bottom line is: white musicians, record companies, and publishers could and did take whatever they wanted from the black community with impunity and without compensation.

I've received many positive comments on the article, and bluesmen like Billy Branch and DJ's like Good Rockin Derral have actually begun taking steps to retrieve the communities stolen royalties.

(Yes, Mike, I did play the Boathouse before my arms was completely healed.  It blew up after the gig and was immobile for three days.  That's why I wasn't able to respond to your email.)

Offline Slack

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #24 on: May 26, 2005, 08:18:56 PM »
Welcome to WeenieCampbell Don!

Cheers,
slack

Offline Cambio

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #25 on: May 27, 2005, 08:21:15 AM »
"The music business is a shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free and good men die like dogs.  There's also a negative side." -Hunter S. Thompson

Frank Stokes' and Jimmie Rodgers' paths may have crossed and even ran parallel for a while, but they are completely different artists on almost every level.  Stokes is almost like a rapper in his rabid fire delivery of tounge twisting lyrics ( "Chicken...", "One Woman...", "I Got Mine..."), while Rodgers sings in a slow Mississippi drawl.  Stokes is a finger picker and a string snapper, Rodgers strums to keep time and occasionally throws in a little embellishment.  While Rodgers is remembered for his yodeling and blues stylings, the majortiy of his repetoire was comprised of sappy love songs and ballads penned by his sister in law, Elsie McWilliams. 

I'm not going to dispute that Jimmie Rodgers was influenced by black musicians, he obviously was.  But he was also influenced by white artists of his day and of his childhood.  In fact, his first recording, "Sleep Baby Sleep", is almost a complete rip off of the great yodeler Ward Barton's song of the same title.  Was he exploiting Ward Barton when he recorded that tune?
In the same respect; Was the Memphis Jug Band ripping off vaudville singer Billy Murray when they changed his "Sallie Green, the Vamp of the Town" to "Everybody's Talking About Sadie Green"  Does exploitation only run one way?
Certainly guys like Ralph Peer took advantage of artists, both white and black, but so did guys like Lester Melrose.  Do you think that he gave all of the artists that he recorded a fair shake because they had the same skin color as he did?
What about Willie Dixon?   Yes, Led Zepplin, and others, ripped him off, but he himself could be considered a master of song theft.  Dixon regularly penned lyrics for Chess artists, and received credit for the words and the music, which was composed by the recording artists on the spot, at the session.  He would also regularly take songs that were popular in the black community and build off of  them.  Songs like Spoonful and Wang Dang Doodle are perfect examples.  When Zepplin did it we consider it exploitation, but what about when Willie did it?
What about when influence cuts the other way?
"As far as singing goes, I wanted to do something new and have a style that wasn't too common.  I was inspired by the records of Jimmie Rodgers, a white singer of that time.  He was called the 'yodeling singer' because he would sing some parts in a head voice, like the Swiss yodelers.  I took that idea and adapted it to my own abilities.  I couln't do no yodelin' so I turned to howlin'.  And it's done me just fine." - Howlin' Wolf.
Rodgers influence can also be heard on the Tommy Johnson test pressing, "I Want Someone to Love Me" , that showed up a few years ago.  On the record, Johnson is playing in 3/4 time, singing sappy lyrics and yodeling his heart away.   It's a beautiful recording that probably wasn't released because the producer couldn't imagine that anyone would want to hear a black bluesman imitate a white hillbilly singer.  Our loss.
When Wolf howls and Tommy Johnson yodels, are they ripping off Jimmie Rodgers?
To paint the picture that blues came over from Africa and was born in a field in Mississippi, and then white people stole it and made rock and roll, got rich and counted their money, while poor black people suffered, is too simple.  There is a rich and varied history there, and the whole picture is yet to be understood.  There was a lot of give and take.  The giving wasn't all done by African Americans and the taking wasn't all done by Caucasians.

Online Johnm

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #26 on: May 27, 2005, 10:44:23 AM »
Hi all,
If I may add to Todd's outstanding and well-reasoned post, I think to interpret the musical interactions between White Americans and Black Americans as one of theft on the part of whites and creation/being ripped off on the part of blacks is way too pat and simple.  Influences run both directions and always have, and remuneration for influence has never been the norm, either between the races, or within a race.  Does anybody think Robert Johnson gave Son House a share of any proceeds the sale of "Walking Blues" generated, or would introduce "Drunken Hearted Man" or "Malted Milk" in performance by saying, "Here is a number that I based on the wonderful guitar stylings of Lonnie Johnson."?  How many compositions/orchestrations attributed to Duke Ellington really came from Billy Strayhorn?     
I think one thing that is really great, is that despite the temptation to reduce everything to simplistic racial white vs. black terms, musicians themselves are generally very open about expressing admiration or stylistic indebtedness to other musicians, of whatever stripe; thus Howling Wolf's appreciation of Jimmie Rodgers, Lester Young's admiration of the great white C melody saxophone player Frankie Trumbauer, Count Basie's employment of the white arranger Neil Hefti in the 1950s, Bill Monroe's acknowledgement of musical debt to the black guitarist Arnold Schultz, the adulation accorded Lester Young by an entire generation of younger white tenor players:  Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Alan Eager.  The list goes on and on. 
Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.  What ends up being imitated is a function of the taste and hard-wiring of the musicians in question.  Race is not a determining factor and never has been.  Music is one of the "Big Brain Benefits" bestowed on humankind, and the capacity to enjoy and express it is shared among all of humanity.
All best,
Johnm
P.S.  I should add that non-creators of music engaged in the music business have often been exploitive, and that the exploitation has tended to occur wherever venality and opportunity have coincided, regardless of the race of the people involved.

Offline Richard

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #27 on: May 27, 2005, 04:01:01 PM »
Excellent thread  :)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Cambio

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #28 on: May 27, 2005, 04:36:27 PM »
It struck me while working out in the shop today, that while it is widely reported that Elvis Presley ripped off black artists by recording the Arthur Crudup tune "That's Alright Mama" or the Big Mama Thorton song "Houndog" (an assertion that is incorrect as "Houndog" was actually written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, two white kids), it is not very well known that another pioneer of rock and roll developed his unique style from imitating "hillbilly" music."I would suddenly break out with a hillbilly selection that had no business in the repetoire of a soul music loving audience and the simple audacity of playing such a foreign number was enough to trigger the program into becoming sensational entertainment..." "...Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of the country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of the clubgoers started whispering, 'Who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?'  After they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly struff and enjoyed trying to dance to it.  If you ever want to see something that is far out, watch a crowd of colored folk, half high, wholeheartedly doing the hoedown barefooted."  -Chuck Berry ( The Autobiography p.89-90)
The fact is, what Chuck Berry did is the same as what Elvis did and the same as Jimmie Rodgers, and Howlin Wolf and a whole host of musicians all over the world, they took something and they ran with it, making it their own.  If they crossed cultural boundaries to do so, that's not taboo, that's a beautiful thing.  Embrace that!  Only reporting half of the story misses the point and takes away from the beauty.  Doc Bogg's music is as tremendous and unique as Skip James.  They both drew from the same river, they both got robbed by the same devil.  Greed.

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #29 on: May 27, 2005, 04:59:04 PM »
 Hi Don; Good to see you here at Weenie Campbell. You're going to find many knowledgeable people with interesting things to say.
  This discussion being a perfect example.
  Sorry to hear about your arm. Now that we're old guys we need to take better care of ourselves.
 
   This has been a fascinating discussion with many roots and branches, but for a moment, let's return to the original question,  "Did any of Jimmie Rodgers repertoire come from Frank Stokes?"
   I believe that we've established that the answer is "no".
  The most that has been proven is that Paul Oliver says that they met.
  The notion that Rodgers acquired some of his repertoire during that meeting is attributing significant qualities to the mundane.
  Kind of like looking at a horse and telling people that you've seen a Unicorn whose horn must have fallen off.
 
   As to the question of "Whose music is it?", I agree with Muddy Waters (When the Blues is being discussed, you are always on *very* safe ground saying "I agree with Muddy"  :D)
  In the early '70's, Muddy spoke at Columbia University and a young African-American  student asked him "What do you think of the White Man ripping off our music?"
  Muddy's terse reply was "What do you mean OUR Music? Who the hell are you?" Muddy then proceded to educate the young man by telling him that the music belonged to those who played the music, *not* to every Tom, Dick or Harry who, by accident of birth, happened to have the same skin color.

   Imagine if a Rembrandt sold at auction for millions of dollars and everybody who's Dutch came forward, demanding a share. It would be considerd bizarre behavior, to say the least.

  Art is created by and is the property of individuals, not communities.   

 


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