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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

YODELING

by George Lester
George Lester
Not many people can yodel. Even some of the best singers in the world can't yodel. It is almost a lost art and the number of yodelers is dwindling each year. If you have never tried it yourself stop for a second ands see if you can yodel. O.K., now you see what I mean. That's the way I felt the first time I attempted to yodel. I guess I was about nine. Back then the airwaves were filled with yodelers. One of the greatest was Patsy Montana, especially when she sang "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". There were many great male yodelers too and the one I think about most was "The Singin' Brakeman" Jimmy Rogers. When he sang "Waitin' For a Train" I could hardly wait until he got to the yodeling part. It sounded easy so I figured I could do it. My folks had always told me I had a good singing voice. As soon as Jimmy Rogers finished I turned off the radio, walked out into the cotton field and started practicing. The whole idea is to jump from your natural voice to an octave higher in falsetto. Well, the going up part wasn't too hard but coming back down to a note an octave lower and staying on pitch was more than I had bargained for. Even I knew I sounded horrible on my first attempt. I was glad I was out there among the cotton stalks where nobody could hear me. It was early summer to best of my recollection and I kept at it every day and always away from critical ears. One day, after weeks of working at it I went up an octave to the falsetto and came back down right on pitch. It startled me. It was a great thrill but I knew I wasn't ready for prime time yet so I kept working at it. I sang every cowboy yodeling song I knew over and over again.

I think it was about September and when I came in the house after I returned from school I found that some kin folks and dropped in for a visit. After we exchanged the usual greetings my father asked me to sing for our company. This was my big chance and I wasn't going to let it get away. I reared back and let go with one of my favorite cowboy songs and showed my stuff when I got to the yodeling part. Our guests and even my parents sat there with their mouths open when I finished. When my dad finally gained his composure he asked me when I learned how to yodel like that. I told him how I had been practicing all summer. Someone in the group said that it was remarkable how I had taught myself how to yodel. What I said next seemed perfectly logical and normal to me at the time. "You won't believe it, but I couldn't yodel a lick last year". The laughter seemed to go on for ever and I was totally mystified why. No amount of coaxing could get me to yodel for anyone again.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir
- April 15, 2006 column

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This page last modified: April 15, 2006