Ramblin’ Jimmie Dolan – the very name evokes to me pictures of a man of travel, a man of the West. His name turns up frequently on record lists and he had sole thirty four releases issued on at least three different labels, and the majority on the major CAPITOL. Those thirty plus discs were put out over the comparatively short period of 7 years and much of his material has been overlooked by many collectors as a few of his later less inspiring releases are those that surface most frequently and I believe a some what false picture has emerged, musically, on an artist who contributed much to our kind of record collecting [hillbilly bop/hillbilly boogie].
As often happens, the early years of the singers we investigate are shrouded in mystery. Jimmie is no exception. In fact by our comencing at the start with his birth on the 29th October 1924, we meet our initial problem. I have seen two versions in print. The first said rural part of Missouri while in a radio interview in 1952 Jimmie’s reply was « Wyoming ». As his first reported radio work was at KWK in St. Louis, Missouri ; and as a boy he was a great fan of Western movies, I tend to place a little more credence on the former location. This thought is supported by these two points. During his earliest days in the music business, he did not use that tag – Ramblin’ – but by the time of 1952 interview, not only he was using that word in his name, but was often billed as « America’s Cowboy Troubadour ». In that case, maybe it was considered a better ploy to give impression of coming from a state synonymous with cowboys – Wyoming. A third version comes from www.hillbilly-music.com. Dolan would have been born largely earlier, same day and month in 1916 and…California, which would be his musical base during the ’40s and ’50s. Who knows ?
During his formative years as a young teenager, he dreamed of being a cowboy singer, or a rodeo star. At 14 he spotted an advert for a guitar and instruction book, and within a year he felt proficient enough to seek work as a singer and guiatrist : KWK in St . Louis auditioned him and kept him until he was 17 and drafted into the U.S. Navy. He then entertained troops in the Philippine Islands on radio WVTS located at Puerta Princessa (North of Borneo). At his discharge he had reached the rank of Senior Radioman.
He relocated in Los Angeles on KXLA (Pasadena) and KRKD. It became apparent he was a natural born salesman, so he got a far number of sponsors, some of whom backed him for periods of five years, like Bell Tailors for whom he would sell up to two hundred suits a week and also appeared on TV for 50 consecutive weeks at a time. He entered in contact with personalities like TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD, MERLE TRAVIS or EDDIE KIRK. His first recordings were made for the BIHARI Brothers on their Modern/Colonial/Flair labels (1947-1949).
Although they are at least 8 releases on Modern, it should be noted there is some duplication of songs as three of them were put out some time after he had left Modern to sign for Capitol.
His initial disc « Baby Did You Lie To Me » (Modern 531, 1947) is a fine uptempo ditty (good jazzy guitar, firm vocal, even some yodel), not unlike of what was doing at the time JACK GUTHRIE (hear « I’m Telling You » – see elsewhere in the site). Jimmie had a unique, strong voice and despite the fact that Modern is not really known for Hillbilly music these days (500- serie), it does seems that the Biharis had some faith in the style, as the back up musicians are of a very high standard : Porky Freeman at least for later Modern sessions (who is known to have worked with our ‘hero’), Vic Davis on the piano. For lovers of quality hillbilly, whether in the form of boppers, like « (I Knew That You Were) Fooling All Along » (540), with fiddle, steel, and piano loping redolently behind a sprisingly assured vocal on a self enned number. (The flip of this record, « One True Heart », is a superb hillbilly ballad that deserved to be a hit). The same session that gave us « One True Heart » was also responsible for the bopping « If You Care Again » (541) with its freat steel (Bill Tennison) and fiddle solos, and « Why I’m Wondering Now » (542) which also show cases a pianist who certainly sounds like Pruett, but is Davis ! These three consecutive releases came out in 1947 : all in all, Dolan recorded 18 songs for Modern, then had solitary issues on 4* and Crystal in 1948/49. But with his popularity climbing fast, he recorded again for Modern, this time slowing the tempo for the A side of « Tennessee Baby » (576), again self penned too. The B side is very unusual : his only known instrumental « Spanish Bells », credited to Dolan & Freeman. It should be pointed out though that Porky Freeman had already released the same tune and title on 4 * (1233) back in December 1947.
As stated earlier the last three Modern (798, 799 and 1017) were put out in 1950/51 after he had left to sign for Capitol. As far as the Biharis recordings are concerned, that just leaves us with Colonial 100, « The Sooner Song/You’ll Be Crawlin’ Home To Me » (latter reissued on Modern 798). Sometime prior to signing his six years contract with Capitol in 1949, Jimmie starred on the CBS networked « Oklahoma Roundup » emanating from Oklahoma City. While working there, it is highly probable he also worked on another show from the same city, the « Sooner Shindig ». By cutting a song called the « Sooner Song », he would certainly gain favour with the local populace and thereby stimulate sales. According to matrix numbers, this song was cut at the same session as « Tennessee Baby », and it’s a fine full sounding bopper, worth searching for.
Jimmie Dolan signed a six years contract with Capitol ; during those years he was to see some twenty five records released. He seems to have been clerverly marketed as « Ramblin’ « by his label, after Capitol 1245 (September 1950). Hist first session took place in June 1949 with the usual Capitol crew of Cliffie Stone, Billy Liebert (piano), Merle Travis and Harold Hensley (fiddle), and saw a revamp of his previous Modern recording of « Tennessee Baby » with a fuller sound, a gently uptempo number.
When assessing the material that Dolan cut for Capitol, it does seem that the label wanted to use him as a number things for he was asked over the next 6 years to cover hits (or potential), following a particular year’s trend or even later on at a pop market. Interspersed between these are some excellent Hillbilly boogies and Boppers, as « Wham ! Bam ! Thank You Ma’am » (1150), with clever guitar runs, or « RFD Blues » (1302), which conjures marvelous pictures in the mind of a lonely man waiting for some mail to be delivered via the Rural Free Delivery service : sawing fiddle, some super steel (Noël Boggs) and a thudding string bass. As from April 1950 and Moon Mullican‘s « I’ll Sail My Ship Alone » until October 1955 « Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots ». His greatest chart entry was also a cover, « Hot Rod Race » (1322), following Arkie Shibley‘s original, and his version really rips along, thanks to boogie guitar runs, more hotsy work on the bass, and some fast and furious fiddle work on the second break. Flip side is « Walkin’ With The Blues » : Jimmie’s voice could clearly suit to bluesier things.
1951 saw him very active, no less than six discs and radio/television work. « Lost Love Blues » is a bopper, while the brilliant « Juke Box Boogie » (1720) was an visible attempt to follow up on « Hot Rod Race » : fine steel (Speedy West), boogie guitar, honky tonk piano, and even a upright bass solo (the undefatigable Cliffie Stone). The remaining sides are uptempo novelties.
The year 1952 saw Jimmie moving further north to sign with KYA radio and KGO-TV, both in San Francisco. On the radio he had two shows a day. Recording wise he remained prolific, but the raw edge of the fiddle was gone, although he was still laying down good things like « Rubber Ball Heart » (2118) and the superb twin-sider « Hot Rod Mama/Nicotine Fits » (2244). 1953 and 1954 saw the number of releases slowing rapidly, but his cover of Slim Willett‘s « Toolpusher On A Rotary Rig » (2713) is arguably one of his best. Changing face of hillbilly music can best be summed in Jimmie’s last two records, a travesty of such a good singer/songwriter’s talents.
There is no evidence of his ever recording again for small labels, like many others. Maybe he didn’t like the route country was going : remember his love for Western music. Last time he was heard of was that he was employed as a second hand auto sales man in Los Angeles. He died July 31, 1994.
The scans of Modern 78 rpm’s were kindly taken from Tom Kelly Archives site. Music from various sources.