Jimmie F. Rodgers

Not to be confused with the legendary country singer of the same name, Jimmie Rodgers (sometimes billed as Jimmie F. Rodgers) was a versatile vocalist who whose warm, inviting style lent itself to rock & roll, folk, country, and easy listening styles, and he enjoyed success from 1957 to late 1967, when a violent incident derailed his career. James Frederick Rodgers was born in Camas, Washington on September 18, 1933. Rodgers' mother was an accomplished pianist who taught her son to play, and as a youngster he also sang in the choir at church. After graduating from high school, Rodgers went to college, but after a year he left to join the Air Force and served in Korea. While overseas, Rodgers bought a second-hand guitar and formed a singing group with of his pals, giving him a taste for performing. After serving in Korea, Rodgers was transferred to a base near Nashville, Tennessee in 1954, and he started performing at local night spots in his spare time. In 1956, he returned to Washington and continued to pursue a career in music; he performed on Art Linkletter's television show House Party during a trip to Los Angeles, and the same year traveled to New York City to appear on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts program, where his performance of the song "Honeycomb" caught the ears of producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Peretti and Creatore arranged for Rodgers to sign a deal with Roulette Records, and in 1957, his recording of "Honeycomb" went all the way to number one on the Billboard pop charts. Rodgers' next two singles, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and "Uh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again," also went Top Ten, and while his fifth release, "Secretly," would prove to be his last visit to the Top Ten, he continued to record and tour, and hosted his own television series in 1959. However, Rodgers had a falling out with Roulette over their failure to pay royalties (the label's owner, Morris Levy, was connected to the Genovese crime family and had a long history of intimidating musicians who had the nerve to demand payment for their work), and in 1962 he signed with Dot Records. On Dot, Rodgers landed a few singles on the Adult Contemporary charts, but while he was still in demand as a live act, his recording career remained cool until 1966, when his recording of "It's Over" broke into the lower reaches of the Top 40. Rodgers also dabbled in acting, making his screen debut in 1961's The Little Shepard of Kingdom Come and co-starring in the 1964 film Back Door to Hell (which also featured a young Jack Nicholson). In 1967, Rodgers signed a new deal with A&M Records, and his career was looking up; his song "Child of Clay" rose to number 31 on the singles charts, and his first album for the label was faring well. But his good luck abandoned him on December 1, 1967; while driving home from a Christmas party, he was pulled over by a car he thought belonged to a friend. An assailant, believed to be an off-duty police officer, brutally beat Rodgers and left him with a severe skull fracture that had to be repaired with a metal plate. While Rodgers survived the attack (which he's said may have been the work of one of Levy's associates), it left him with ongoing health problems that often interfered with his career, and he would record only three more albums after 1967, though he hosted a summer replacement TV series in 1969 and was a guest on Johnny Cash's variety show in 1970. Rodgers continued to perform live when his health permitted, and in 2007 he successfully underwent surgery that removed the plate in his head after the fracture finally healed. Since then, Rodgers has performed regularly in Branson, Missouri and lives quietly in California. He has also published an autobiography, Dancing on the Moon. ~ Mark Deming

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