country yodeling

In my continued efforts to repel as many hits as possible to this blog, (hardy harr) I’ve developed a slight interest in country yodeling. Over the weekend I added Hank Snow to my music collection and today Jimmie Rodgers. Does anyone know how yodeling came to American country music from the Swiss music tradition? I know this topic is bound to get lots of interest. Found this on an article called “Will there be yodeling in heaven?” by Bart Plantenga:

The confluence of hillbilly or cowboy music and yodeling happens somewhere in mid-Pennsylvania among the speedbumps heading into the Appalachian foothills. Here in the early 1800s the British and Irish settlers met their new neighbors, German immigrants — carriers of the yodeling tradition.

As many of them migrated further south, into the Virginia Appalachians and beyond, they met Scandinavians (practictioners of a unique yodeling called kölning). Add to that French, Caribbean, Mexican, and African influences and you have the setting for the birth of hillbilly yodeling. Along the way German ur-memories of yodeling converted hollers into something more musical (see Howard Finster), then blending with Irish narrative ballads.

Note the mountain settings and that cowboys are herders, too — lonesome and dangerous work like the shepherds’. In 1905, Emma B. Miles wrote in The Spirit of the Mountains : ” [He] conquers his chosen bit of wilderness…fighting and praying. His are the adventures of which future ballads will be sung…His first songs are the yodel. Then he learns…songs of fighting and drinking.”

I said to Martha just the other day, “I’ll bet I could be the next country star by reintroducing yodeling! It’s coming back dear!”

“Yeh,” she replied with a wry smile, “You do that!” Seriously though, we both thoroughly enjoyed Hank Snow this weekend. Did you know that Bob Dylan’s extended story songs were obviously influenced by Hank Snow?



Filed under music

7 responses to “country yodeling

  1. Will there be at Yodeling tent at cstone 2008?

  2. Oh man. Wouldn’t that be crazy? I can just see yodeling mixed with punk becoming some new phenomenon. What could be worse?

  3. Rob M.

    I don’t know too much about yodelling (alas!), but Tuvan throat singing (aka “overtone” singing) has already been mixed – on some level – with punk music. So has shaped note singing (as popularized by hymnals like The Sacred Harp) via Cordelia’s Dad. They’re way more folky than punky these days, but no matter how you slice it, musically speaking, they’re really interesting. On can only hope they’ll add yodelling to the mix one of these days.

  4. forgive my intolerance. truth is once again stranger than fiction.

  5. cowpoetdave

    Since you asked, I do know how yodeling became part of country music.

    Two types of yodeling—the cowboy yodel and Jimmie Rodgers’s “blue yodel”—stand as the direct source of yodeling in country music. Each of these two sources has a complicated history.

    There’s an excellent article on Jimmie Rodgers and yodeling at the British online folk music magazine Musical Traditions ( The simplest explanation is that Rodgers borrowed directly from the way African-American blues singers mix falsetto singing into their songs, a practice which evolved from African ululation through gospel shouts and field “holler” work songs.

    A more complicated explanation looks to the way early minstrel groups parodied the family singing groups who had first popularized Alpine yodeling in America in the first half of the nineteenth century. What began as a burlesque evolved into an art form that never quite completely lost its burlesque-ness.

    The standard story of cowboy yodeling is that it began as cattle calls. As cattle calls evolved from a utilitarian practice to a performance art, performers began to imitate the smoother sounds of Alpine yodeling. But here, too, the story is more complicated, as some of the same African-American minstrel groups who parodied Alpine yodeling family troupes also parodied cowboy singers.

    It seems that American music is like stone soup—every tradition has added ingredients to it, and each subsequent tradition or performer ladles out a unique mix of those ingredients.

  6. Wow Dave! You are a veritable cornicopia of information! Way cool.
    Here’s the exact link: America’s Blue Yodel

  7. thanx for the interest in yodeling and an OLD OLD article on yodeling i wrote. since then – 2004 – my book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: THE SECRET HISTORY OF YODELING AROUND THE WORLD was published by routledge and you can read more about yodeling in the book and since then at my website. thanx again for the metnion. BTW: Rounder & the rock and roll museum will be publishing an anthology of jimmie rodgers writings including some of my words on his yodeling… as far as JR is concerned – he was a great pilferer [transformed into art]… check out the yodeling of the amazing bluesman tommy Johnson – there are many other blues artists who yodeled.


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