Yodel-ay-ee-oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World
Yodeling is the Rodney Dangerfield of singing styles, suffering from a lack of respect and an overabundance of misunderstanding. Bart Plantenga pulls yodeling out of the shadows of musical history for an overdue examination of this centuries-old form of vocal expression. Billed as the first book to view yodeling as a global phenomenon, Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo serves as both a musical travelogue and a documentation of yodeling’s influence on popular music.
Plantenga begins his account in Switzerland, where yodeling’s use of bass and falsetto voices allowed herders to communicate across great distances in the Alps. Plantenga shows how yodeling developed in Europe, Africa and North America, uniting musicians in the process.
Jimmie Rodgers’ blue yodels reflected his love of the blues and hillbilly music. Across the Atlantic, S.E. Rogie, an African singer, fell under the American’s influence and began his career billed as “the Jimmie Rodgers of Sierra Leone,” becoming one of his country’s biggest stars.
In the 20th century, Plantenga notes, American musicians made yodeling part of the repertoire of the blues (Mississippi Sheiks, Furry Lewis), singing cowboys (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers) and western swing (Tommy Duncan). Hank Williams’ yodeling turned “Lovesick Blues” into his breakthrough hit in 1949.
Plantenga is an informative writer who brings an intense curiosity, bordering on obsessiveness, to his subject. He balances scholarship (including a listener’s guide to the each of the artists he discusses) with a lighthearted approach when needed. (He suggests Autry’s movie-acting ability was “as stiff as road kill on screen.”) Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo is a book that ensures you’ll never hear yodeling the same way again.