McClurg Jam

McClurg Jam

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jimmy Driftwood, Arkansas Troubadour





There was no one like Jimmy Driftwood. No one. He was utterly unique. An original. Authentic.
I know that I am getting old enough that there are actually folks who don't know who he is or just have heard his name a few times in the past.
As for me, I have known of him for a very long time. My father (or was it my Grandfather?) had a copy of Jimmy Driftwoods "Songs of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb".
I nearly wore it out over the decades until I gave up on records and went to CD's. After a time I found out about Bear Family and their "Americana" compilation of Jimmy Driftwoods recordings. I sent off for it and was I happy when it arrived. It has three CD's and are an excellent assembly of his work. If you love Jimmy Driftwood, this is what you want to buy. Alas, I must report that Bear no longer is selling this set.
Most people know that he wrote "The Battle Of New Orleans". If you love country music you may know he wrote "Tennessee Stud" Both of these are wonderful songs but you should know he wrote many many more and are equally fine tunes you will enjoy.
The bad part is, this music is getting hard to find now. I Tunes does not have any. Bear no longers carries him. You can at least send off to a fellow in Arkansas that still sells his CD's. And of course, check at Allen's site, http://www.allensarchiveofearlyoldcountrymusic.blogspot.com/
He has at least one Driftwood album available for download that he posted a while back.
It was true that he was a rural school teacher who wrote songs to teach his students history. "The Battle of New Orleans" was written just for that reason.
He taught school for many years while commuting long distances to a regional State College for his own education to aquire his teaching credentials. He did not begin to find recognition until he was nearly fifty years old!
Porter Waggoner "found" him and was helpful in making the connections for Jimmy and his songs to find a national audience. Jimmy's biggest success was in songwritting but he also was a performer with several albums to his credit.
Jimmy discovered that songwritting was more lucrative than performing and he used his royalty checks to buy more land and eventually built up a large ranch/farm in Timbo Arkansas, just west of Mountain View.

I have been to Timbo. I have been to his gravestone but he was said to have had his ashes scattered about the farm he loved. You can see his stone in a previous post from yesterday.

I was able to see him perform in Springfield Mo once in 1977 in a free concert held by what was known as SMS Univ. He was just fantastic and I loved every minute of his performance and his palaver.

Several years ago, in a chance encounter, I met a lady who shared that she used to help Jimmy out in setting up his concerts in various places and we talked for a bit about him and our shared appreciation of his music. I was saddened to hear her relate that his two teenage sons had died tragically. One son apparently had slain the other in a rage, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, and when he realized what he had done, took his own life. This must have bled the life out of him and his wife but obviously they got back up and kept living.

I will report back on where you can find his music and how to get it. If you love Old Time music you should treat yourself to his version.

You should also know that when Jimmy went to Nashville, he was in the hands of Chet Atkins and Steve Sholes. These two guys were the incredibly influential people who guided Nashville toward the "Nashville Sound". They definitely jazzed up Jimmy's recordings. Chet plays on many of the recordings made in Nashville. He plays both guitar and banjo. And of course the usual Nashville session musicians were there to add to the commercial nature of these cuts. Unfortunately, this was probably necessary to make the effort commercially viable. When Jimmy performed he did not try to duplicate this Nashville style but retained his own.
I apologize for the poor job I have done of talking about Jimmy. He deserves better.

Apart from the music, I find Jimmy an apppealing character. He is a classic example of a man from the Ozarks. Independent of mind and spirit. A true free man. He was not a person who twisted his personality around the demands of a large corporation or business. He sought to be true (I believe, as far as I can tell from afar) to himself.

Updated comment. You can't begin to understand how differant the Ozarks was then in the fifties and sixties. If you had not been there you would not realize how much it has changed. When I first visited in 1967-68 it was like stepping into a differant era. After all these decades of TV the culture there is not so differant now. And my friends, I can tell you the change was not for the better.

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