Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Starr Routt

I guess it was somewhere in the Summer of 2003, when Marie and I started talking about Jimmie Rodgers. Sometimes called “The Father of Country Music” (or "The Man who Started It All" as Marie prefers), Marie has a fondness for his music, having grown up listening to him, his 45 rpm yodelin’ singles stuck to the turntable of her family’s brand new Magnavox Stereophonic Record Player. One afternoon, as we dropped Blaine off at work, she just started singing “T For Texas”, every word, to which I inquired “what is that?”.

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) contracted tuberculosis as a young man, but during his 40 years in this world, he cranked out some of the most loved country music ever written, and to my mind, laid some of the groundwork for what would become rock and roll. Almost all of his uptemo tunes can be set to a rockin’ back beat. His songs are accessible for country, country rock, folk rock, even rhythm and blues interpretations. And I am certain there is a Jimmie Rodgers song out there by some reggae band.

My wife Marie comes from humble beginnings, having been raised in very rural Southern Oregon. The mailing address was Star Route, Milo, Oregon, to be exact, until she was 12 years old, when the family moved to Cottage Grove, Oregon, outside Eugene. There was limited radio and no TV reception in Milo, and when Marie got home from The Tiller School, just down the road in Tiller, Oregon, she would busy herself with the kinds of things that rural kids do, read, play with her siblings, maybe make a map of the entire county on butcher paper. Oh, and on her way to the outhouse, there on the banks of the South Umpqua River, she was ALWAYS careful to watch out for Rattlesnakes and Cougars.

But when that Magnavox Stereophonic Record Player arrived home, having been purchased in the big city, Medford, Oregon, it was life changing for Marie. Now she and the family could listen to music whenever they wished. And it wasn’t long before Marie, for her 10th birthday, bought her own 45 rpm record, which happened to be by Jimmie Rodgers.

As we talked about Jimmie Rodgers, and Marie told me how she had played her copy of “T for Texas” to approximate death, there in Milo, I suggested, “You know, we should do our own version of ‘T for Texas’”, since it means so much to you, and you and your family know the song so well. We could give a copy to your Mom, your brothers, and your sister, as a remembrance of those days in Milo”. Marie looked at me like perhaps I had finally gone ALL the way over the edge. “No really”, I said, “I’ll do the music, then you can come in and do the vocal, and then I’ll have Timmy come over and lay down the guitar tracks, it’ll be great, let’s do it!”

"But I can't sing," she reminded me. She grew quiet, and a pensive look passed over her face. "Hmmmm," she continued, "but maybe Starr Routt can..."

After those humble beginnings in Milo, Marie went on to graduate from The University of Chicago, and has become a consumate and respected professional. But bottom line, she’s One Rockin’ Mama.

Here’s the scene. The gravel and pot hole ridden parking lot at Portland’s “D-Street Corral” is packed with cars, and an equal number of workin’ pickup trucks. The refreshments stands inside are jammed, folks lined up for chili dogs and curly fries topped with melted cheese. The beer is cold. The warm-up band “ Great Balls of Fire” was adequate, but the crowd is growing impatient.

Miss Starr Routt primps in her dressing room, tuckin’ her hair up under a turquoise cowgirl hat, while her manager goes over the song list with the band. And then, the lights go down, and the mayhem begins. “Starr Routt”, Starr Routt”, Starr Routt”, the rowdy throngs chant. Starr straightens her sequinned vest near the stage door, as the band takes their places. “Damn, them folks is plain crazy!”, Starr yells above the din, and as the announcer calls her name, she joins the band, smilin’ and wavin’. Starr offers the greeting “HELLO PORTLAND!” over the mic. The crowd roars.

To hear Starr Routt perform Jimmie Rodger’s “T For Texas”, click to download here.

Hi-Fi Stream is here
Lyrics here
Caricature of Starr Routt by Rhoda Grossman

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Pacific Beach, Washington, United States