Country’s First Picture Disc: A Jimmie Rodgers Rarity Goes Up for Auction

Record collectors and fans alike have long revered the original 78 rpm recordings of Country Music Hall of Fame member Jimmie Rodgers.

Now, the Country Music Hall of Fame auction site is offering bidders one of Rodgers’ rarest releases: country’s first picture disc, which features the image of Rodgers emblazoned on the recording of “Cowhand’s Last Ride.”

Known variously as the Singing Brakeman, America’s Blue Yodeler, and (in later years) the Father of Country Music, Rodgers was among the Hall of Fame’s first three electees in 1961. Rodgers’ brilliant career was tragically short — he died from tuberculosis at the age of 35 in 1933. His six-year RCA Victor recording career stretched from his discovery by Ralph Peer at the famous 1927 Bristol sessions to a New York studio session just two days before his death.

Although his life was brief, Rodgers was vastly influential — among his extraordinary oeuvre are such immortal favorites as “Blue Yodel” (best known as “T for Texas”), “Waiting for a Train,” and “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues).” His 100-plus recorded titles gave Rodgers career sales of over 10 million records at a time when such totals were rare for any musical style. He directly inspired a generation of country greats such as Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, and Tommy Duncan.

The rare Rodgers picture disc came at the very end of his storied career and is the first known picture disc in country music history. Unlike the big hits from earlier in his career, the picture disc with “Cowhand’s Last Ride” and “Blue Yodel No. 12” had scarcely a few hundred copies pressed, and only a handful of these survive today. Rodgers himself never saw the picture disc — he made both recordings on May 17, 1933, and died on May 26. The recording was released a month later, on June 27.

At the time of the recording’s release, the technology for imprinting images on each side of the disc was still experimental, and the copies had a tendency for lamination cracks to form. Still, this is one of the few historic 78s collectible as an artifact, given its combination of extreme rarity, its distinction as country music’s first picture record and its visual appeal.

“This would be a great record for any Jimmie Rodgers collection, and beyond that for any country music collection,” says Nolan Porterfield, author of the critically acclaimed biography Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler. “It is easily the most coveted and sought-after Rodgers record.”

The A-side of the picture disc features “Cowhand’s Last Ride,” a facsimile of Rodgers’ signature, and the image of a jaunty Jimmie wearing a polka-dot bow tie and straw hat, seated in a wicker chair and cradling his famous guitar.

The B-side of the disc features the song “Blue Yodel No. 12,” subtitled on later releases “Barefoot Blues.” The illustration on this side of the record features the song title at the center, surrounded by a clockwise list of his 11 previous blue yodels, each on a mock disc giving its original issue number and flip side, e.g., “Blue Yodel No. 1”-21142-“Away Out On the Mountain,” and so on through “Blue Yodel No. 11.”

The Jimmie Rodgers picture disc is the latest collectible to be auctioned to the public. The Hall of Fame auction site, which launched on Nov. 21, has already offered a number of rarities including a vintage OKeh 78 of “Wabash Cannonball,” personally autographed by Roy Acuff; classic editions of Alton Delmore’s memoir, Truth is Stranger Than Publicity; and rare copies of The 4th Annual Fan Fair Reunion, an LP given only to early Fan Fair patrons and never before available to the public. The Jimmie Rodgers recording is the latest, and rarest, item to be offered in the ongoing auction.

More country collectibles are slated for auction on the Hall of Fame site in the weeks and months ahead. As the new Country Music Hall of Fame prepares to move to its new location in downtown Nashville on May 17, the former facility on Music Row is liquidating a number of unique items, as well as out-of-print rarities produced by the Country Music Foundation Press and Country Music Foundation Records. Although none of the items offered on the auction site are accessioned museum artifacts, each one can be considered a collectible for country fans.