Living with the vagaries of the folk scene, I came late to Jimmie Rodgers — not because he was obscure, but on the contrary because his albums were available on a major label, RCA, at a time when I was buying reissue records on labels like Folkways, Yazoo, and Arhoolie. I’d learned a couple of his songs off records by Pete Seeger (“T.B. Blues”) and Cisco Houston (“Mule Skinner Blues”), but the song that made me go out and find one of his own albums was “Any Old Time,” after hearing Maria Muldaur’s version.
Muldaur recorded it on her first solo album, which I heard on my first day of high school, thanks to a couple of fellow freshmen, Beth and Woodley, who reacted to the fact that I played guitar by taking me back to Beth’s place and putting it on. I was tangentially aware of Muldaur from the Kweskin Jug Band, but had missed “Midnight at the Oasis” because I wasn’t a radio listener, so it took Beth and Woodley to educate me–they played me that LP, and then Geoff and Maria’s Pottery Pie–and her album started with “Any Old Time,” with Ry Cooder (whom I’d never heard before) playing fingerstyle guitar.
I’m not sure I ever owned the Muldaur record, but I liked the song and eventually picked up a couple of Rodgers’s RCA albums, and then the superbly programed Smithsonian set, which remains my gold standard for his work.
I liked Rodgers’s singing, of course, and his guitar work, and having come to him as “the Father of Country Music,” I was struck by the variety of musical settings he used. This song is a good example, featuring a kind of hotel jazz group with clarinet, cornet, and violin — all played by anonymous musicians, none of them very distinctive, but with a nice light swing.
For me, tracks like this were a revelation, since my folk scene education had led me to think of Rodgers as a sort of “roots” artist, defined as the opposite of a pop musician. Hearing him with this kind of band, and in his collaboration with Louis Armstrong, connected his records to Bessie Smith’s and then Bing Crosby’s, and thence to the recognition that in the 1920s and 1930s country and jazz still regularly met at the blues. That was part of my evolution into a fan of both country and jazz, and when I hit the club circuit in the early 1980s this song exemplified my overlapping tastes, and I played it a lot. (It had the added advantage of satisfying requests for Jimmie Rodgers material without requiring me to yodel — an art I didn’t pursue with even faint success until the following decade.)