The title for this week’s column was so easy; I’ve wanted to write about singer Jimmy Jenson for a long time. My dad liked Jimmy Jenson so he was played in a very heavy rotation around our house when I was young. He enjoyed the sort of status normally reserved for Lowell Lundstrom , Tennessee Ernie Ford or the Beatles if my sister came to visit; I even brought his records to High School to play at noon during Christmas. The Singin’ Swede has always had a nice spot in my memory which is fine but this week I want to pull that memory out and take a look at it.
Christmas was made so much better with Jimmy Jenson playing in the background. I liked to hear my dad sing along with “Life in the Finnish Woods” while “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” really created a picture in my mind of Christmas Chaos. I loved listening to Jenson describe, in this song, how a family of Minnesota Swede’s gather for Christmas dinner when a fight breaks out. Meanwhile, Gabriel Heatter’s WOR radio program plays in the background with wishes for “peace on earth and good will to men“ -it‘s quite a contrast.
I remember the song, “Ingevald” because it scared my young mind. As I recall, it was the tale of a man gone crazy and the wrath he visited upon a fictional Minnesota town. More happily, was Jenson’s tune “Nicolena” which my dad used to sing as he cleaned up after milking cows. “You Gotta’ Have a License” took a gentle poke at how almost anything fun, requires a license; the song actually reminds me a little of “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical band but I’m guessing that they and Jimmy never toured together. All of Jenson’s songs painted such a vivid picture; although he was not a writer he phrased the songs so I really understood them.
Okay, here’s the kicker to this column; I recently spoke with Jimmy Jenson. I took a chance and looked up everyone in the Alexandria, Minnesota area with the last name Jenson. I called the person who’s first name was Jimmy and it was him! I was so excited; it was an honor to talk with the talented man but I also felt like I was shaking hands with my own childhood memories. Jimmy Jenson is doing fine, although he has been a little sick the last year. Last week-end he played at the Vet’s in Alexandria and the Galaxy in Barnesville, Minnesota although he’s delayed any future performances until he feels better.
Jimmy Jenson has quite a history in entertainment. He played the organ on the WDAY television show “Party Line” from 1957 through 1958. Jenson hosted his own television show on Sunday at noon in Alexandria at a time when there was only one station. He’s also played at the Flame Café and Brady’s in Minneapolis in the mid fifties at a time when they featured a Grand Ole Opry performer each week-along with Jenson and two other bands. Jenson’s music was popularized in the Twin Cities by the children’s show “Lunch with Casey.” Casey, who’s real name was Roger Awsumb, like to pantomime to favorite Jenson songs like “Yingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland.”
Jenson told me that there is a book about him that someone wrote for friends and family but it caught on with fans and so is for sale, his seven albums are on compact disk and are also available. A simple internet search will find pretty much anything that was created by, or written about, Jimmy Jenson. He gave me quite a bit of his time and evened listened to my stories about the place his songs had in my memories.
Jimmy Jenson’s music always sounded like a party to me, and the words to his songs reminded me of what was going on around me in my little home town of Viking. Jenson made me feel that eating lefse, listening to Polka music and being Lutheran was something tremendously special and worth singing about; maybe the folks who bought all of those records felt the same.