This week I’m breaking out of the theme box I set for myself this year, that of focusing my weekly musings on songs from our Yellow and Blue books.  Instead, I’m going to jump sideways a bit because—for some inexplicable reason—this song was featured in the Ken Burns PBS series on Country Music but failed to make the cut for either of our books.

At our Saturday strum sessions at Forbes Library, several of you who had been watching the Country Music series were bemoaning the fact that none of Jimmie Rogers’s songs show up in any of our songbooks.  Go figure!  A particular song of his that was mentioned was “In the Jailhouse Now.”  I’ve attached sheets for this song (in the key of C) that those of you who might want to learn can copy (and practice!).  You might want to insert your own best yodel—a la Jimmie Rogers!

Here is his version of this lively tune:

Jimmy Rogers:

Rodgers version of “In the Jailhouse Now” was recorded in 1928 with Ellsworth Cozzins on the banjo.  While Rogers didn’t actually write the song—it had been around for a dozen or so years—it features Rodgers on vocals and guitar, with his famous yodel throughout the song.  Needless to say, the song has been covered (and parodied) by hundreds of artists over the years.

Prior to 1930, several different versions of it were recorded and copyrighted. The earliest is Davis and Stafford’s 1915 version, which has verses about a man named Campbell cheating at a card game and a corrupt election.  In 1924,  it was recorded it under the title “Jail House Blues,” which was the same title as a famous blues tune by Bessie Smith but was, in fact, the same song as “In the Jailhouse Now.”  Here’s a version with a political background, no less!

Memphis Jug Band:

Two African-American bluesmen also recorded the song prior to Rodgers and an African-American vaudeville performer, Bert Murphy, is given credit for actually writing the song.  But it will always be linked to Jimmy Rogers—the definitive version!

When Johnny Cash recorded the song in 1962, he used a more humorous set of lyrics, based on the 1915 version; after Campbell is locked up, his wife Sadie carries on an affair with the sheriff. Cash learned this version from the African-American jug band musicians in Memphis. 

Johnny Cash:

In spite of this, most writers claim that Cash was covering Jimmie Rodgers’ song, which further obscures that the song originated with African-American performers and was kept alive in a vaudeville and jug band tradition for many decades.  Ah, musical history!

The newer version of our song, and the one I like best, is from the film of a few years back, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.”  The song was sung in the movie by what were called the “Soggy Bottom Boys.” 

Here’s the track:

Attached are the sheets for this version.  Enjoy!   

Practice your yodeling!

Stay Tuned!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and fellow strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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