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Author Topic: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?  (Read 11309 times)

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Offline dj

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #45 on: May 29, 2005, 01:08:02 PM »
I hate to stir the pot just as this discussion starts settling down, but I'd like to point out a few things.

First, it's important to remember that concepts of authorship and ownership change over time.  In 2005, the first person to write a particular melodic line or lyric "owns" it.  The most famous recent example of this is the Rolling Stones giving co-writer credit on the song Anybody Seen My Baby to kd lang because it was pointed out to Messrs. Jagger and Richards that a melodic line in the song was identical to a line in a kd lang song.  But this concept is a fairly modern one.  For most of human history, the idea was more like "Yeah, Son House did Preachin' Blues, but I changed some of his verses, and left out others, and added some, and I changed the guitar part, and I sing the third line of each verse differently.  This is MY Preachin' Blues."  This concept of authorship left "classical" music by 1800, and was gone from Jazz by the mid-1920s, but held on to varying degrees in various "folk" communities (blues, hillbilly, western, rock 'n' roll, etc) until the 1960s.  David Evans's Big Road Blues treats this subject in depth.  Remember, to people in these communities, all music was "folk" music.  If Charley Poole or Robert Johnson or Gid Tanner or Tommy Johnson learned a Bing Crosby song, written by a professional songwriter, off a record or the radio and later performed it, it was simply another song they did.  There was no one standing on the street corner, or at the medicine show, or in front of the tobacco warehouse, saying "Did you give proper attribution to that song and pay any royalties due?"

This attitude goes a long way toward explaining why so many A&R men "stole" authorship credits from the artists they recorded.  (And remember here that Mayo Williams, who was black, took credit for the songs of black artists he recorded and Ralph Peer, who was white, took credit for the songs of white artists as well as for the songs of black artists).  To the A&R men, they took a song and told the artist "Leave this verse out, change this one to that, do this thing on the guitar, sing that last line this way", so in the end it was the A&R man's song.  It may not be the way we think of things today, but that's the way people thought 70 years ago.

Lastly, I think the statement:
Quote
Throughout this time this music was looked down on by most (not all) of the whites who had any awareness of it and was only issued on records, by white producers, for black audiences only.
is not quite correct.  Blues were tremendously popular from around 1915 through the 1930s.  White artists recorded blues, black artists recorded blues, Hawaiian artists recorded blues.  It would be more correct to say that the production and distribution of blues records was segregated, with white artists recording blues for sale to a generally white audience and black artists recording blues for sale to a generally black audience.  It would also be correct to say that the blues component of black artists repertoires was represented on record in greater proportion than other portions of their repertoires because that's what the record companies thought would sell best to the black community.

I hope I haven't stepped on anyone's toes with anything I've said here.  I haven't meant to, and if I inadvertently have, I apologize.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #46 on: May 30, 2005, 10:53:47 AM »
dj:

I appreciate your well written and well thought out post. I have hesitated to contribute to this topic (upon which I have strong opinions) because of my country of origin.

Thanks again,
Alex

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #47 on: May 30, 2005, 02:47:17 PM »
Wax,

Jessica Grant's thesis looks to me pretty much like a school project, I'm afraid, and I'm not sure what exactly is meant by the use of the term "thesis." Master's thesis? I hope not. Undergrad project? High school honours project (most likely the case, given the very limited nature of the works cited)? She got her line re. Frank Stokes from Francis Davis, as stated earlier, who himself provides no support for the claim that Rodgers was "thought" to have got "much his repertoire" from Stokes. You'll note Paul Oliver -- at least as quoted by Outfidel, who is pretty meticulous in his own citations -- does *not* make that claim at all. He merely states that Stokes was seen in the same medicine show as Rodgers. It's quite a leap from that to Rodgers acquiring much of Stokes's repertoire. Who exactly is "thinking" that Rodgers got much of his repertoire from Stokes? Aside from Davis, Don Santina and Jessica Grant? This claim of Stokes influencing Rodgers, not Don's article about reparations, is what was under discussion here. And there seems to be little factual basis for this "thought" as presented in this thread so far.

As for Don's article, he seems to paraphrase the Stokes/Rodgers claim from the same Davis source as Grant, or perhaps from Grant's thesis. Whether it is a polemic about racial injustice or a historical investigation of the blues or early country music, an article can still be held to basic standards of proof when specific claims like the Stokes/Rodgers influence are made. Especially when there seems to be little to no evidence for such claims and when the article goes on to state that "Stokes' name does not appear on any of the multitude of copyrighted songs? claimed by Rodgers, nor did Stokes share in the recording and? publishing windfall": i.e., Stokes was robbed by Rodgers. Don came here and defended the claim, asking for proof it wasn't true. He might have said, "oops, thanks for the interesting points guys, maybe that was something that should have been fact-checked more carefully" but stood by the claim and offered no further evidence. So the discussion continued, and I thought good-naturedly until the Stokely Carmichael quote.?

As for me dragging him here as you state - hey, I googled a couple terms and found his article and posted a link. Is that dragging? Gimme a break! :) I'm happy he popped in to join the discussion but I certainly didn't drag him here.

I also don't think anyone has made any outlandish claims as to the origins of the blues as an African-American folk music form here. I think people have said the blues has many sources, and some of them indeed resulted from cross-pollination with white folk music, as well as pop music. I think people have said only that everything isn't quite so black and white as some agenda-driven rhetoric might have it.

As for the accusation of racism, I think it's fair to say that gauntlet was thrown down, at the very least obliquely. The discussion wasn't about reparations but all of a sudden we were in denial: "I realize that it's difficult for most white Americans to accept the idea of reparations for African-Americans," said Don. To follow that up with "we are either 'part of the solution or part of the problem'" -- regardless of the inclusive 'we' replacing the original 'you' of the quotation (which was in fact an Eldridge Cleaver line, wasn't it?) -- well, I sure felt like I was being called a racist by implication. No one expressed difficulty (or agreement) with the concept of reparations, only with the historical claims in the article, specifically the Stokes/Rodgers connection. We're "part of the problem" if we question one apparently specious claim made in a book then repeated in someone's thesis and someone else's article, or if we suggest blues origins and influences are diverse?

As for the onus of proof, hey, arguments cannot be constructed out of rather thin air and then be expected to be taken seriously by everyone (cf. weapons of mass destruction -- that's a joke, fellars, really, I'm not going there...). Of course, lots of folks on both sides of any argument will try hard not to let facts get in their way, but I think anyone who questions such shaky claims still has a right to do so. Which is pretty much what happened here, IMO. It doesn't mean it's "high dudgeon," much as I like that phrase. ;)

Cheers,
Andrew

(edited to add: This post is in response to a post by another member that has been deleted by that member. I may pull this one too so as to avoid confusion but stand by the argument.)
« Last Edit: May 31, 2005, 07:15:56 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #48 on: May 31, 2005, 11:09:46 AM »
   I had promised myself to not post in this thread anymore and let it die a natural death, but like most promises I make to myself, it didn't last :) 

  As I've said, Don Santina and I have been friends for 25 years and he's a great guy. I'm glad we're friends and I value his friendship. However, friends don't always have to agree and this has not been Don's finest hour.

  Don's article was written for a political, rather than musical, readership.  Writng for a political readership is always a case of "preaching to the choir" and the choir is *never* allowed to question or disagree, without a charge of heresy being leveled against them.

  Nobody in the political readership had the knowledge to question the facts he presented. When they were called to the attention of the knowledgeable, forum members here, they were found to be poorly researched and false.
  Don entered the discussion (Nobody "dragged" him here. Nobody could drag Don anywhere he didn't want to go) of his own free will, saw that his Stokes/Rodgers theory wouldn't hold water, so he tried to discuss reparations and, when there was no interest in that, accused critics of racism.
 
   Anytime you publish the printed word, you are subject to having to present your facts and sources.  There's nothing wrong with having to be held to a standard of accuracy.
   The Jessica Grant "extra credit, homework asignment"( I agree with Uncle Bud that it's hard to believe that this is what passes as a thesis nowadays) and the Francis Davis works are also hogwash.

   I think all of  us here have a bit of a duty to hold people accountable for mis-representations and falsehoods about  Country Blues.

   
« Last Edit: May 31, 2005, 12:49:35 PM by Mike Billo »

Offline Slack

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #49 on: May 31, 2005, 12:56:21 PM »
Thanks Mike for posting a level-headed summary of the thread.  This is a difficult medium to communicate complex subjects in - and sometimes it is well worth taking a step back for another view.  I'd say you are a pretty darn good friend!

Cheers,
slack

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #50 on: May 31, 2005, 04:59:04 PM »
Mike:

We've never met, but I like you already.

Sometimes I think that setting up a straw man only to take shots at him (or her) is the worst aspect of phony scholarship.

Like Slack said, thanks for the summation.

alex

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #51 on: May 31, 2005, 07:16:47 PM »

    Thanks for the kind words, Gents.

     I guess if I couple this with the fact that I'm helping Waxwing move tomorrow, then I'm well on my way to Weenie Campell sainthood  ;D   HA!!

    Thanks, again.

lebordo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #52 on: June 02, 2005, 10:02:52 AM »
During this time, Rodgers was working for the railroad, where he did work with several black men, some of whom showed him how to play guitar and banjo. Rodgers didn't start playing music professionally until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1925. He initially started playing in a small combo around Meridian and later worked as a blackface entertainer with a medicine show that toured the south.
Unless Stokes worked as a blacksmith for the railroad, or unless he continued working with medicine shows after Doc Watts and settled in Memphis later than has been reported, it seems unlikely that the two worked together.

Not to belabor the point, but according to the Sony Music online bio of Rodgers (http://sonymusic.com/artists/JimmieRodgers/TheSongsOfJimmieRodgers/biography.html):

"Born September 8, 1897, near Meridian, Mississippi, to a railroadman father and a mother who died when he was four years old, Rodgers was on the move from his earliest days. He began performing in his early teens, winning an amateur talent contest in Meridian and traveling briefly with a medicine show before going to work full-time for the railroads out of Meridian. For the next fifteen years, Rodgers worked as a section hand and brakeman on railroad lines throughout the South and West, occasionally picking up work as an entertainer. He appeared on radio and in tent shows, and also during this period apparently picked up the lung inflammation that would later be diagnosed as tuberculosis and go on to kill him."

So apparently Rodger's medicine show career was before his railroad career.? And he continued to perform on raido and in tent shows during his railroad days.? So Rodgers was performing professionally before 1925, and certainly could have met and even worked with Stokes during their Medicine Show days, or even during Rodgers Tent Show days.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2005, 10:08:44 AM by lebordo »

lebordo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #53 on: June 02, 2005, 10:22:09 AM »
First, it's important to remember that concepts of authorship and ownership change over time.
...
For most of human history, the idea was more like "Yeah, Son House did Preachin' Blues, but I changed some of his verses, and left out others, and added some, and I changed the guitar part, and I sing the third line of each verse differently. This is MY Preachin' Blues." This concept of authorship left "classical" music by 1800, and was gone from Jazz by the mid-1920s, but held on to varying degrees in various "folk" communities (blues, hillbilly, western, rock 'n' roll, etc) until the 1960s.

I agree with dj here -- and of course, one major reason for the relaxed concept of ownership was the fact that the various "folk" genre were aural traditions -- people didn't write down their songs when they created them, so there was no way to proove who did what when.  Although an artist might learn a somg from a record or pick up bits and pieces of a song listening to a radio or a live performance, there was little or no concept of previous ownership because there was little likelihood that the artist(s) you learned a song from were the ones who authored the song, and no viable method for determining who did author the song.  As if anyone cared, anyway. 

And in some ways, it is still the same today -- if you don't write down your creation so you can proove ownership and date the origin, then your work is pretty much in the public domain.

Offline Cambio

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #54 on: June 02, 2005, 01:07:39 PM »
You'll have to pardon me, but I often use that archaic technology called books.  Nolan Porterfield's biography of Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Malone's Country Music USA, both of which were cited by Paul Oliver in his Stokes/ Rodgers connection.  I'll have to throw them out now that I know the truth is just a mouse click away. ;)

lebordo

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #55 on: June 02, 2005, 09:50:50 PM »
You'll have to pardon me, but I often use that archaic technology called books. Nolan Porterfield's biography of Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Malone's Country Music USA, both of which were cited by Paul Oliver in his Stokes/ Rodgers connection. I'll have to throw them out now that I know the truth is just a mouse click away. ;)

I certainly wouldn't suggest anyone stop reading books, or, for that matter, that anyone throw books away.? I would suggest that just because something is written in a book doesn't make it more accurate than something written on then internet.? Nor, for that matter, does being written on the internet make something more accurate that a book.? However, it is important to recognize that the information on Rodgers is not consistent from source to source.? We can each believe what we want, but we all ought to recognize that that sources disagree, and that it is highly likely, some 85 to 95 years after the fact, that much of what we believe is likely to be wrong, what ever the source.

FYI, the same basic data from the Sony Music bio of Rodgers is also found in the Country Music Hall Of Fame (CMHF) bio of Rodgers (which, by the way, was written by one of your sources -- Nolan Porterfield -- and adapted from the book The Country Music Hall of Fame? and Museum?s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press) -- http://www.countrymusichalloffame.com/inductees/jimmie_rodgers.html:

"Rodgers was the son of a railroad section foreman but was attracted to show business. At thirteen he won an amateur talent contest and ran away with a traveling medicine show. Stranded far from home, he was retrieved by his father and put to work on the railroad. For a dozen years or so, through World War I and into the 1920s, he rambled far and wide on ?the high iron,? working as call boy, flagman, baggage master, and brakeman, all the while polishing his musical skills and looking for a chance to earn his living as an entertainer."

This is a little more clear than Sony in that Rodgers medicine show days started when he was 13, so that would be some time between Sept. 1910 and Sept. 1911.? A bit earlier than the "World War I" dating given for Frank Stokes medicine show days.  However, it is certainly possible that Stokes medicine show traveled at times on the train -- perhaps even Rodgers'  trains.  It is also possible that Stokes -- as many other blues artists did -- hopped freights as he traveled from place to place.  He could have spent a lot of time with Rodgers that way.

By the way, the CMHF does partially support your contention that Rodgers became a professional after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1925, when it says "After developing tuberculosis in 1924, Rodgers gave up railroading and began to devote full attention to his music, organizing amateur bands, touring with rag-tag tent shows, playing on street corners, taking any opportunity he could find to perform."? So while Rodgers probably was a professional before 1924 (in the sense he was paid for performing and therefore was no longer? an amateur), it was only after developing tuberculosis that he became a full-time musician.

A couple of other interesting quotes from the CMHF bio:

  • "From many diverse elements?the traditional melodies and folk music of his southern upbringing, early jazz, stage show yodeling, the work chants of railroad section crews and, most importantly, African-American blues?Rodgers evolved a lasting musical style which made him immensely popular in his own time and a major influence on generations of country artists."

    [li]"Although Rodgers constantly scrabbled for material throughout his career, his recorded repertoire was remarkably broad and diverse, ranging from love songs and risque? ditties to whimsical blues tunes and even gospel hymns. "

So whether Stokes was his primary influence or not, at least the CMHF recognizes African-American blues as his most important influence.

The CMHF bio indicate thats Rodgers repertoire was constantly changing and evolving.? And it my also indicate that, at least at the end of Rodgers career, whatever he may have learned from Frank Stokes many years before was certainly not a significant portion of the mature Rodgers repertoire.

Of course, this still says nothing about how significant Stokes influence migh have been at the time.? After all, if you only know two songs, and someone teaches you four new songs, then 2/3s of your repertoire comes from that one individual at that point in time.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #56 on: May 08, 2007, 06:02:03 PM »
I've just had the distinct pleasure of reading Nolan Porterfield's biography of Jimmie Rodgers. Suffice to say I read the whole thing cover to cover in one day, fabulous work, I couldn't put it down. The book was first published in 1979 and updated 2007. I have to assume anything significant, i.e. provable or at the very least interesting, that had come to light since would have been at least given a passing reference in the latest edition.

There are many accounts of 'tent shows', the 'rag operas' that Jimmie Rodgers loved to play on the Southern rural circuit right to the end of his life. I got the distinct impression segregation was rife. In one place the white performers threaten to walk out en masse when the promoter, desperate to boost ticket sales, tries to introduce a black string band to the bill. It ends well, pure Hollywood actually, the string band blow the roof off, the money rolls in and everybody's happy.

There's not one substantial reference to Jimmie being influenced by any individual black players, or indeed, anyone whatsoever really. Not in Meridian Mississippi, Asheville NC, San Antonio or Kerrville TX. I can personally vouch for the lack of black country blues in the latter! Blind Willie McTell is on the list of acts for one of Ralph Peer's Atlanta field recordings but there is no mention of them meeting.

Perhaps the author is parleying a theory, which he clearly does hold, that Jimmie was a uniquely gifted individual driven by forces even he didn't understand. The early part of his life as an ambitious unknown is necessarily less well documented. If he did pick up blues one-on-one during his first attempts to be an entertainer, or during his brakeman / switchman / hobo / general railroad go-fer years, we may never know. That he was a street-smart kid and was not afraid to hang out in the scarier part of town is very clear.

I may have misread this but I doubt such influences would have come in his tent show years. The tent shows Porterfield describes are 'vaudeville gets desperate and hits the road' type deals, planned from NY and LA, not your homegrown huckster medicine show snake oil units featuring our heroes Frank Stokes & Pink Anderson.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book to all weenies, especially those given to attempted yodeling after a few beers.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2007, 06:27:55 PM by Rivers »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #57 on: May 08, 2007, 07:39:24 PM »
...I highly recommend the book to all weenies, especially those given to attempted yodeling after a few beers.

I read it a couple of years ago and second Rivers' recommendation.

Offline Slack

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #58 on: May 08, 2007, 07:56:27 PM »
Quote
Anyway, I highly recommend the book to all weenies, especially those given to attempted yodeling after a few beers.

I bought an instructional yodeling cassette a number of years back... without even the aid of a few beers -- so I'm definitely ordering the book. So thanks for the recommendations.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Frank Stokes, Jimmie Rodgers & the medicine shows?
« Reply #59 on: May 09, 2007, 09:15:34 AM »
I bought an instructional yodeling cassette a number of years back... .

I hereby request that John be considered unfit to command.... ^-^

Alex

 


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