Born: June 3, 1924 in Ruleville MS
Died: December 19, 1997 in Chicago IL
One of the greatest of blues guitarists, and sadly one of the most underrated, Jimmy Rogers was both an accomplished solo artist and, as a member of Muddy Waters' original band, one of the architects of the Chicago blues sound. As a session player, Rogers lent his great tone and bass-heavy rhythms to recordings by fellow Chess artists Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson, among others. Still, Rogers' contribution to the development and success of the Chicago blues style is often overshadowed by his legendary musical partners.
Roaming the Southeast
Born James Lane in rural Mississippi (some sources show Atlanta, Georgia), Rogers later took on his stepfather's last name. As a child, Rogers moved all over the Southeast and Midwest United States, including Atlanta, Memphis, and Helena, Arkansas. Influenced by blues artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie that he heard on the radio, Rogers' first musical instrument was the harmonica, which he taught himself to play.
Rogers began playing guitar as a teen, and he frequently performed with, and learned from guitarists like Robert Nighthawk and Robert Jr. Lockwood. During the late 1930s, Rogers was playing with pianist Sunnyland Slim in St. Louis before moving to Chicago in 1941. He began performing in the city's clubs during the mid-40s, and while playing harp in bluesman Blue Smitty's band Rogers met recent Chicago immigrant McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters. When Smitty left the band, Little Walter came in on harp, Rogers moved to rhythm guitar, and the blues would never be the same again.
The Muddy Waters Band
Playing behind the ambitious, charismatic Waters, their outfit became known as "the Headhunters" for their ability to crash another band's gig and "cut their heads" by outplaying them. Rogers first played behind Waters on record on an Aristocrat Records release in 1949, and would stay with the bandleader until 1955. That's Rogers' guitar sound that you'll hear on such 1950s-era Waters classics as "Mannish Boy," "Rock Me," and "Hoochie Coochie Man," among many others.
Rogers left Waters' employ in 1955 to pursue a solo career. He had recorded several songs for the Ora-Nelle label in 1947, along with sides for Regal and Apollo, all of which remained unreleased at the time. Leonard Chess of Chess Records envisioned Rogers as a solo artist as well as a session musician, and released the guitarist's first single, "That's All Right," in 1950. Recorded with Big Walter Horton on harmonica, the song would become a blues standard. Other singles would follow, all of them respectable but none particularly successful. In 1957, however, Rogers scored a minor hit with "Walking By Myself."
Retirement & Rediscovery
By the late-1950s, Chess Records was moving towards rock 'n' roll artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and old-school bluesmen like Rogers were being edged out. After spending several years as a member of Howlin' Wolf's band, Rogers retired from music in 1960. Rogers spent the bulk of the 1960s raising his family and running a clothing store, which burned down in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. In 1971, Rogers returned to music, signing with Leon Russell's Shelter Records imprint for the 1973 release of his Gold Tailed Bird album, recorded with Freddie King.
Rogers recorded sporadically throughout the ensuing decades, although he played frequently in Chicago-area clubs and performed across Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival tours. Blind Pig Records released Feelin' Good in 1984, Rogers backed by harp player Rod Piazza and his band the Mighty Flyers. Rogers' 1990 album Ludella won the guitarist widespread critical acclaim, while 1994's Blue Bird earned Rogers a W.C. Handy Award. The posthumously-released Blues, Blues, Blues featured guest stars like Jeff Healey, Carey Bell, Taj Mahal, and Eric Clapton, among others.
Recommended Albums: Rogers' Chicago Bound is an excellent collection of the guitarist's 1950s-era recordings for Chess, including "Walking By Myself," "Chicago Bound," and "Ludella," and eleven other great songs. The 1990 album Ludella was considered by many to be a late-career comeback, while Blues, Blues, Blues, with its all-star cast is, perhaps, Rogers' best-known album.
Jimmy Rogers - Select Discography
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