In May of 1933, in a recording studio in Camden, New Jersey, Jimmie Rodgers stood in front of a microphone, accompanied only by his own guitar, and recorded "Years Ago" . . his last song. A few hours later the man who had sold millions of records for RCA Victor, and in the process profoundly influenced the American music landscape, passed on. He died flat broke.
Jimmie's recording career lasted only five years, but in that time he brought the music of the blues and hills together to help create "Country and Western" music. His first major hit was "Blues Yodel", which came to be known as "T for Texas", a true country blues classic.
The music of Jimmie Rodgers incorporated many lyrics which were borrowed from black blues artists that were well known to him from his Mississippi childhood. His songs carried the humor, bravado, compassion, bawdiness and heartache of the blues. In many cases, the music form was identical to traditional blues, separated only by a yodel on the "turnaround".
Jimmie's career really took off in Asheville, North Carolina, a hotbed and melting pot for musicians. Years earlier, Emmitt Miller (star of the minstrel show circuit) had developed his own unique style. Billed as "The Man with the Trick Voice", Emmitt brought in the mountain falsetto (almost yodel) breaking-voice style that later became the trademark sound for Hank Williams. Emmitt Miller recorded "Lovesick Blues" in 1925. More than 20 years later Hank copied that style almost note for note.
During this era, the music of the mountains and the fields came together and became wildly popular on the radios of America. Religious music also had a profound influence, from the hymnal reverence of "America's First Songwriter" Stephen Foster ("Hard Times Come Again No More") to the gospel moans and shouts of Blind Willie Johnson and the more modern and explosive lead vocals of "The Reverend" Julius Cheeks. Wilson Pickett often credited Julius as a major influence. The conviction and emotion of American gospel music is the keystone of all American music.
In our fourth album, The Mystix have had the privilege and joy of interpreting the songs of these greatly-influential and talented artists. This list includes Emmitt Miller's "Jelly Roll", Jimmie Rodger's "Blues #4" (originally titled "Blues Yodel #4), Ernest Tubb's "Mean Woman Blues", Roebuck "Pop" Staples' "Wish I Had Answered", and the Reverend Julius Cheeks classic "I'll believe I'll Run On". We also included the more sophisticated jazz blues style of Charles Brown and others, with a Floyd Dixon tune "Time Brings About a Change".
Many of our arrangements may include additional lyrics or a well-known gospel bridge that may not have appeared in the original recordings. This "poetic license" is well within tradition, allowing for flexibility in the presentation. Many artists would "cover" a song and make their own contribution to lyrics and arrangements. We chose to "stay loose" with our interpretation in an attempt to capture the original spontaneity so inherent in this music.
We also added a few of our own tunes. In "Mighty Love" we included the Downtown Chicago harp sound of the great Jerry Portnoy (Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton), matched with a loose(?) "Pop Staples" guitar, resulting in a somewhat different approach to a spiritual-themed song. "Keep on Walkin" (but I'm gonna change my stride) is a line from an old recording of black church sermons. I (we?) couldn't resist using it as a song theme. In "Mighty Tone" we combined the bluegrass sound of Bill Monroe, combined with the vocal approach of early country and western (Johnny Cash, Don Gibson).
This is a music of celebration, innovation and revelation. The writing, assembling and arranging of this Americana "ramble" has been a project infused with joy, which we hope to share with our listeners. We would like to thank the many musicologists who have collected and preserved this vital aspect of our shared and uniquely American spirit.
Jo Lily & The Mystix
Jo Lily: vocals, guitars
Bobby Keyes: guitars
Marty "The Bear" Ballou: bass
Marty Richards: drums
"Soggy Bottom Boys": back-up vocals
Producer: Jo Lily
Mix: Joe Thomas
Engineer: Tim Phillips, Joe Thomas, Bobby Keyes
Many thanks to our special guest artists:
Jerry Portnoy: harmonica - Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton
Jerry Tillman: lap steel/pedal steel - Gary Stewart, Jerry Reed
Matt Leavenworth: fiddle - John Lincoln Wright band
Kevin Barry: lap steel/dobro - Ray LaMontagne, Peter Wolf
Dennis McDermott: drums - Roseanne Cash, Mark Cohn
Ricardo Monzon: percussion - Boston Symphony Orchestra
Lorne Entress: percussion - producer/ Mark Erelli, Lori McKenna