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Legendary Jimmie Rodgers embraced Bryant's 'Mother, Queen of My Heart'

Sunday, August 11, 2002

By Rich Kienzle

Slim Bryant was sitting in an Atlanta diner when he overheard two men talking about the previous night's poker game. "One guy said, 'You know, I'm never gonna play any poker again. I'm through with it.' And he told the story: He drew this card and saw his mother's picture. I thought, 'Ahh ... this would make a hell of a song.' So I went home and I wrote it."

He called the sentimental tune "Mother, the Queen of My Heart."

In mid-1932, Bryant was at WTAM in Cleveland with Clayton McMichen and his Georgia Wildcats when Jimmie Rodgers, who knew McMichen, invited the fiddler to accompany him on some recording sessions in August. McMichen suggested using Bryant as a guitarist. Making no promises, Rodgers offered to pay Bryant's expenses if he came.

"I figured I ain't got nothing to lose. I was single, and it didn't matter to me," Bryant says with a laugh.

He and McMichen bused to Washington, D.C., met Rodgers and traveled to Victor's (that's pre-RCA) Camden, N.J., studios in the singer's chauffeured limo. "[Producer] Ralph Peer heard 'Mother, the Queen of My Heart,' and I was in," he says. "Jimmie Rodgers liked it."

At the time, Rodgers, who'd long battled tuberculosis, had eight months to live.

"You wouldn't have known it. I never saw him take any medicine or say, 'I'm tired. I gotta rest.' [But} they didn't let him record very long. Two, three hours and that would be it and knock off until the next day. He was a guy that you had to like."

Rodgers recorded 10 songs over six days, including "Mother" and McMichen's "Peach Pickin' Time in Georgia." Bryant's guitar graced most of them. A bibulous music copyist sat at a piano, bottle at hand, transcribing the melodies for sheet music. "He had another little drink, another and pretty soon, right in the middle of a take, he fell off the stool and ruined the record."

When Bryant and McMichen began broadcasting later from WHAS in Louisville, a postcard arrived from Rodgers, who'd picked up their program. "It was the last time I heard from Jimmie."

He adds: " 'Mother' turned out to be one of [Rodgers'] best songs as far as longevity is concerned. 'T for Texas' will never die. I don't think this will, either."

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