The 65th anniversary of the death — at 35 — of Jimmie Rodgers, universally acknowledged as the father of country music, was commemorated at the corner of Hollywood and Vine with many of Southern California’s best known country musicians paying tribute to the man who influenced singers from Gene Autry to Merle Haggard and beyond.
Though scheduled headliner Don Walser canceled — sore throat; back home to Texas — there was a solid five hours of performance, with practically every one of the featured singers performing at least one song written and/or introduced by Rodgers. Allowing that, musically, Rodgers’ compositions didn’t vary that much, there was a surprising amount of variety in the songs, from Kathy Robertson’s swaying “Any Old Time” through Tony Gilkyson’s powerful “No More Hard Times Blues” (guitar solos by Gilkyson and Skip Heller) to Rosie Flores’ wistful “Miss the Mississippi and You.”
The only repeated song was Rodgers’ biggest hit, “T for Texas,” performed hours apart by Ray Campi and Ron Coleman, who closed the Rodgers tribute with “Waiting for a Train.” Bandleader and Barn Dance founder Ronnie Mack led the band in “Desert Blues,” a Rodgers tune cut in the mid-’60s by Rick Nelson.
Dave Alvin, an unannounced drop-in, took the stage for “California Blues”; guitar ace Albert Lee and drummer Don Heffington, also unannounced, backed several singers. Also appearing to good effect were Carolyn Hester, a still vital grande dame of the folk movement, and Lonesome Strangers, making what was touted as the 14-year-old band’s final local appearance.
Well into its 11th year, Ronnie Mack’s weekly Tuesday night Barn Dance remains Los Angeles’ most dependable and vibrant showcase for roots country music. A modern evocation of such local country music showcases in the 1950s as Town Hall Party and Cal’s Corral, the Barn Dance has aired on radio station KXLU-FM for the past three years, and will soon make its Internet debut on http://www.broadcast.com.