Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jail: He’s in the Jailhouse Now

Whistler’s Jug Band, date unknown

Blind Blake: He‘s in the Jailhouse Now


On February 15, 1928, Jimmie Rodgers went into the studio and recorded In the Jailhouse Now. The song became a country classic. Webb Pierce would later take the song to #1, and Johnny Cash also recorded it, among many others. For a tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers, the song was recorded by Steve Earle.

All of which is fine, but there’s one little problem. Jimmie Rodgers didn’t write the song, and he wasn’t the first to record it. The earliest known recording, from 1924, was by Whistler‘s Jug Band, under the title Jail House Blues. This is the version of the song that Blind Blake recorded in 1927, as He’s in the Jailhouse Now. Notice that Blake’s version also preceded Jimmie Rodgers. Now Rodgers was a great artist, but this was another case, so common in those days, of white businessmen ripping off black artists. I don’t know if the song was brought to Rodgers by his handlers, or if he knew its origin, so I don’t hold him to blame. But I am glad for this chance to set the record straight. And what became of the first man who decided to rip off a black artist without giving credit? I hope the title of this post says it all.

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