Over at “Big Sky, By and By,” Ed Kemmick rightly takes note of my unsophisticated affection for Jimmie Rodgers’ “I’ve Ranged, I’ve Roamed and I’ve Traveled.” It’s true that I am a musical naif; I’ve often said that if human beings communicated solely by musical notes instead of with words, I would be functionally illiterate. But perhaps some history is in order.
My father loved country music, Jimmie Rodgers above all. In 1964 (when I was 13) my father fulfilled a lifelong dream by hauling us — wife and four boys — all off to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry. I don’t remember too much about it, except that it lasted about 8,000 hours, and it was sweltering in the old Ryman Auditorium, and I remember Dave “Stringbean” Akeman in his ridiculous costume and Porter Waggoner in his even more ridiculous costume.
My memory tells me that we drove around town aimlessly for a while after the show, but since that is something we never did, I’m sure that’s a false memory. We were probably just trying to find the motel. Anyway, on the radio came on one of those old half-hour commercials for a two-record Jimmie Rodgers set, in which an occasional song was interrupted by several minutes of sales pitch. That’s when I first heard “I’ve Ranged, I’ve Roamed and I’ve Traveled” — as part of a cornball sales pitch on an AM country station while riding around Nashville in a packed car after a long, hot summer night at the Grand Ole Opry.
We fell for the song — and for the pitch. Not long afterward, we ordered both records as a gift for my father, and eventually they came to me. “I’ve Ranged, I’ve Roamed and I’ve Traveled” became, and remains, the only Jimmie Rodgers’ song I can confidently sing by heart, except for the yodel.
I won’t deny that there was always something just a tad ironic in my affection for the song. Still, the affection is genuine: It’s a sharp piece of story telling that mixes nostaglia, sentiment, innocence and pure cornpone all into one guileless little package. It really is about as universal a story of its time as it could be: Restless country boy heads off to the big city, gets into trouble, and spends the rest of his life trying to get back home. We spend our fancy, modern lives disappointing our mothers: That’s what this song is all about.
Not that Jimmie ever spent much time thinking that through. He just pulled it right out of that storehouse in his heart and strummed along.