From California to Chelsea, the American songbook has taken us through the hallways of infamous hotels, both real and imagined. Now, thanks to Paul Burch, we can add a new destination to the sonic trip, the Gunter Hotel, a stop on Burch’s new album, Meridian Rising, a meticulously crafted, musical autobiography for the late, great “Blue Yodeler,” Jimmie Rodgers.
Meridian Rising, which will be released on February 26, is Burch’s tenth studio album since he stormed the Nashville scene in the early ‘90s, and to realize his ambitious project, he recruited a line-up of talented guests, including Billy Bragg, Jon Langford and the E Street Band’s Gary Tallent.
His first single from the album, “Gunter Hotel Blues,” is rowdy and rambling, filled with all kinds of playful instructions to a hardscrabble concierge: “If a woman comes claiming that she’s my wife, tell her I’ve stepped out for the night. But if she says she’s my friend, give her the key and let her in.” Burch explains, “With royalties from Blue Yodel and help from producer Ralph Peer, Jimmie Rodgers built a home in Kerrville,Texas, calling it the Yodeler’s Paradise. But he also kept a room at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, 65 miles away, where he could be the life of the party late into the night. There, he also could rest in private during TB flare-ups without fear of infecting his family. The Gunter Hotel would later be the site of Robert Johnson’s first recordings in November 1936. Future Columbia Records producer Don Law set up a makeshift studio in room 414 and recorded 16 Johnson compositions including “Dust My Broom” and “Terraplane Blues.””
The beauty of the album, and of this single, lies in its symbolic instrumental intricacies. Assuming the role of a composer and conductor, Burch dedicated himself to filling the album with the sounds of Rodgers life on the road, from the sounds of a travelling tent show, to the Southern influences of New Orleans or the bustling streets of Manhattan. In “Gunter Hotel Blues,” a clarinet flits throughout the track, above Burch’s high rasp, drums and harmonica—a veritable carnival of sounds, fit for a man who was always the life of the party.
Listen to “Gunter Hotel Blues” below.