JIMMIE RODGERS (By Colin Kilgour)

Born James Frederick Rodgers, September 18, 1933, Camas, Washington (very near to Portland, Oregon)

Jimmie Rodgers' creamy, high, sweet voice and blend of folk-tinged pop provided him with a run of hits from Autumn 1957 to early 1960, with one more in Britain a couple of years later. He succeeded as a country-pop crossover star.

It was the reason for his enforced long-term exit from the profession however (an incident from 1967 described later) that bestows his story with a kind of morbid fascination in a life, which it must be said has had more than its fair share of misfortune.

His mother was a silent movie house pianist, piano teacher and mill worker. While Jimmie was young she gave him lessons and instilled into him a love of music. He majored in Music in college in Washington but with the idea of becoming a teacher rather than a performer. Jimmie's mother being a believer, he had been raised a Christian, committing his life to Jesus. Growing up in Camas, Rodgers sang in the high school and church choirs but he also worked a stint at the paper mill, where both of his parents were employed and had a summer job maintaining the grounds at Clark College.

He left college before graduation to enlist in the US Air Force, volunteered for Korean War duty and was transferred to Seoul where he made the fateful purchase of a battered old guitar from a fellow airman. With some Air Force buddies Jimmie formed a group, The Rhythm Kings. They played military installations in Korea for a year until J. was transferred back home to a base near Nashville. Here he heard another performer singing 'Honeycomb' and liked it enough to rearrange it to suit his own style (writer Bob Merrill's song had first emerged in 1954). On finishing his service stint, Rodgers returned to Washington State where he became a popular artist. Singer Chuck Miller lent Jimmie the airfare to travel to New York in the summer of 1957, to audition for 'Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts' TV programme (which he won) and for Hugo and Luigi at Roulette Records. The pair had left Mercury Records to form their own label.

Rodgers' first wife, Colleen McClatchey, an aspiring actress, also from Camas, did not travel to New York as she was still recovering from a traumatic automobile accident.Rodgers was washing his car in his parents' yard shortly after when he heard "Honeycomb" on the radio for the first time. The disc jockey said the label had lost contact with the singer and wanted to find Rodgers. Anyone who knew him was advised to contact the station, so Rodgers made the call himself. Roulette signed Jimmie - and his audition song 'Honeycomb' shortly became his only No.1 in the States (for 4 weeks). It hit around the time of other number ones such as Diana, That'll Be The Day, Wake Up Little Susie and Jailhouse Rock. His run of hits during the next 12 months (from Autumn 1957) also includes Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, Oh-Oh I'm Falling In Love Again, Secretly, Make Me A Miracle and Are You Really Mine.

In 1958, just a short time after his father had drowned in a lake outside of Camas, Rodgers was performing with Bob Hope in front of 98,000 people at Chicago's Soldier Field. A year later, NBC gave Rodgers his own TV variety show. Meanwhile, he became good friends with such musicians as Buddy Holly, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Connie Francis. Rodgers was one of the biggest stars in the late fifties, playing the Brooklyn Paramount with Holly, The Diamonds and the Del-Vikings. Rock and roll was sweeping the world. "I roomed with Buddy and we also shared a dressing room at the Paramount" he said in an interview. "Buddy was very much the gentleman and I had the feeling that he was not a four-letter word guy and pretty much kept to himself. In fact, both of us did. We were both really shy kids". Jimmie doesn't sit squarely in the world of rock 'n' roll as such but he knew the guys and competed for sales and chart placings with them. He also toured back then with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Frankie Avalon who remains a good friend. He appeared from time to time on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and Dick Clark's "American Bandstand". His own weekly TV variety series premiered at the end of March 1959 and a year later he starred in the film 'The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come'. Other hit records (up until early 1960) incl. Bimbombey, Tucumcari and Tender Love and Care. In the UK, Woman From Liberia was an extra hit for Jimmie (late 58) then English Country Garden reached no. 5 there in mid-1962. Presumably its Anglophile sentiment precluded a Stateside release for the song. Songwriter-wise it's credited 'Public domain adapted J. Rodgers/Honeycomb Music' so hopefully it has earned Jimmie a few bucks. One of his two recorded versions of 'Waltzing Matilda' is also terrific.

A payment dispute with his record company slowed his career in 1960 and following a long barren spell. J. moved to Dot and just made the Top 40 in mid-66 with It's Over. The following year he switched again, this time to A & M and late autumn of that year he had his last hit with Child of Clay (#31).

Jimmie was due to appear in another motion picture scheduled to shoot in Europe but he never started the movie owing to an incident which most reports date a few days before Christmas (20 December) 1967. In the early hours of the morning Rodgers was motoring home from a party when he was pulled over, apparently by an off-duty police officer for suspected traffic violations. "I had been at the Twentieth Century Fox studios in L.A. all day," Rodgers explained. "I was getting ready to do a film with them and I was working on a motion picture script and musical story for stage called 'The World Through the Eyes of Children' which is a complete two-hour musical. "We had been to a Christmas party and I had been with my conductor all evening. I'd had a couple of drinks but I left the party in pretty good shape. I was driving at about 2 a.m. and someone pulled up behind me and blinked his lights. I pulled over and stopped in a little side street in the San Fernando Valley (also c ited as being on the San Diego Freeway / near Mission Hills, north of Los Angeles). This guy walks up to my window. I rolled it down thinking it was my conductor but he said he was a policeman. That's about the last I recall. "My conductor had gone on to my home and waited for me there. When I did not show up, he came back and found my car and there was a car parked behind my automobile with a police car behind it. The car behind my automobile took off and then the police car left. We eventually found out was the guy that stopped me was an off-duty policeman who later called the police to come out to the scene where I had been beaten". Though police denied it and Rodgers remembers only a blur of police uniforms as he lapsed in and out of consciousness, the singer maintains that the officer beat him senseless and then drove off. "Apparently I'd made him mad, cut him off or something and he hit me," Rodgers says. He seemingly became a victim of 'road rage' before it had a nam e.

Rodgers was so badly injured that he underwent three brain surgeries following the beating. Doctors had to reconstruct his skull and use a 20-inch square plate. He also had a broken wrist. In the long court battle that ensued, the off-duty officer who stopped him said the singer was driving erratically and slipped and fell when he got out of the car. Rodgers claims that the officer beat him until he was unconscious, then left him bleeding from the head wound. Other officers showed up but it wasn't clear to Rodgers what they did at the scene, except leave him without medical attention. After he recovered, he filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, who following five years of litigation settled out of court for $200,000, a very large sum at that time. "It was a pretty good sum of money," Rodgers says now "and I went on with my life".

In the attack, Rodgers was hit with a blunt instrument that caved in the right side of his skull. The Police Investigation concluded that Rodgers climbed out of his car and fell while talking with the officer, crushing his skull. All three of the officers were suspended for 15 days for the 'improper handling' of the case. Rodgers said he still was wearing leg braces two years later when Carol Burnett invited him to make his comeback as part of her show. "I looked like a ghost," he said. "But I could still sing". "I think they just picked on the wrong guy, realized their mistake and tried to cover it up." His ability to walk and talk were left temporarily impaired and he still has trouble with his balance. His weight dropped to 118 pounds. At the same time, Rodgers' wife was suffering from a brain disorder. The couple eventually separated though Rodgers continued to take care of her until her death in 1978 aged 38 after complications with brain surgeries related to her ear lier car accident - she had a clot on the brain.

As part of his attempted comeback, in 1969 he appeared regularly on "The Joey Bishop Show." He began suffering convulsions, however, and withdrew as a full-time performer several years later. "I sang pretty well, but I wasn't happy with the way I looked," Rodgers said, adding that the brain injury left a portion of his face drooping. "It took so much out of me to physically get better." Rodgers said the premature end to his career and the failure of his first marriage were direct results of the head injury and the health problems that followed. "This incident ended my career at that time and it took just about thirty years for me to get back to being able to work - I had to learn to do everything all over again. That's when God came back into my life."

Jimmie believes a healing miracle brought him back to a full commitment to God. "After the beating, I couldn't walk very well and I couldn't speak or pick things up," Rodgers recalled. "I could ambulate a little bit but I had a lot of difficulty with my motor senses and the nerves. I suffered from seizures because of the extensive surgery. I was fortunate to be alive". The miracle took place at a prayer meeting at his Southern California home. "Some of the members of my church came over one evening," he said. "I was bedridden at that time. After the prayer meeting where I was prayed for, everybody left and this was at Christmas time and I told my wife, 'I'm starting to feel very strange.' It was like air going out of my body. We had prayed about this. The next day I got out of bed, got off all the medication and ended up never really going back, except to sleep. It was a sudden healing. "God just reached out and put his arms around me. There is no doubt about it whatsoever. I went from walking with a walking frame to running 23-mile marathons! I was running 10 miles every other day. "Unfortunately, it sometimes takes something dramatic to bring you back to God."

For a while after the attack, it looked like he might resume his career. Within months of undergoing brain surgery, and having taught himself to walk and talk again, he was back in the studio, recording the hit album "The Windmills of Your Mind" on A & M. But he tried to do too much too soon. He played a concert at LA's Cocoanut Grove at the end of January 1969 but it took him more than a decade to regain his full health and faculties but by then, his window of widespread popularity had closed. He doesn't wear the leg braces anymore and he's a regular golfer. Come the early nineties, Rodgers had turned things around. He had a successful marriage, a baby girl, faith that had carried him through two decades of mostly hard times and hope for the future. Whatever happened - and nothing was ever proved - Rodgers' life took a chilling turn in the early hours of that cool winter's morning in 1967.

"I had a seizure on stage in Seattle in 1969 and another in San Francisco," he says now. "And then the business quit calling". Years of slow, often painful rehabilitation followed. He finally made a more or less full recovery, also learning to fly, taking up skydiving and becoming a physical fitness fanatic who ran as much as 13 miles a day. From time to time, he tried to revive his music career but with little success.

To this day Rodgers has constant physical reminders of the attack. He still has the pompadour he had when he became famous in the '50s, but the full head of hair that hides the huge metal plate in his head has turned to gray. He has spasmodic dysphonia, a vocal affliction he believes stems from his brain injury, that began to affect him in the early '80s. Twice-a-year medical treatments help control it but it has robbed him of some of his range.

More recent times:

"Honeycomb" and "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again" were adapted to commercial jingles for Honeycomb cereal and Spaghetti-O's (Oh-Oh, Spaghetti-O's).

1978 :

Rodgers harked back to when he last performed locally, in 1978 when he played a double bill at the Clark County Fair, followed by a couple of benefit concerts in his hometown of Camas.

He turned up later on RCA (an album in 1987) and then on Accord.

from the Early nineties:

He owns a music publishing company, has taken up skydiving and dabbles in real estate.

He remarried and with his new wife, Mary, he had a daughter in 1990. In early 1999 long after giving up any thoughts of returning to the stage, at 65 he stumbled into the "Golden Girls U.S.A." a nostalgia-filled song-and-dance show two years ago after Mary, became one of its featured singer-dancers.

In 2001, Rodgers spent much of the year delighting audiences at the Remember When Theater in Branson, MO. He describes the format as "loose and based on audience interaction". He performs alone, on a stool, with his guitar. Jimmie's last show there on December 11, 2001 was made into a 90-minute video.

>From mid 2004 (Jimmie now lives in Bermuda Dunes, Calif.):

Singer Jimmie Rodgers and the Clark College Foundation had been debating for a while about what would bring the celebrated singer back to this area for a performance. They finally found a common inspiration in the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts, a proposed $30 million arts hub in Vancouver, expected to be shared by the community and the college.

Rodgers, who attended classes at Clark in the fall of 1951 before joining the Air Force, played fund-raising concerts in support of the center. I have seen reference to Jimmie writing his autobiography.

This piece was pulled together by myself and I ack. articles down the years by Dan Wooding, Steven K. Wagner and Brett Oppegaard.

Other Movies:

Back Door to Hell (1964)

Teamed with a very young Jack Nicholson in this tale of three Intel-recon rangers, landing in the Philippines just prior to McArthur's return.

websites:

if you look at just one, check this first listed for a newish pic Jimmie
http://biblenetworknews.com/northamerica/082902_usa.html
http://www.columbian.com/07192004/life/167770.html
http://across.co.nz/JimmieRodgers.htm
http://www.stevenkwagner.com/rodgers.htm
http://www.oakridger.com/stories/011599/stt_0115990029.html

Colin Kilgour: August 2004

 
These pages were saved from "This Is My Story" for reference usage only. Please note that these pages were not originally published or written by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe. For comments or information please contact Dik de Heer at dik.de.heer@ziggo.nl

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