December 19, 1997 – Jimmie Rogers was born Jay Arthur Lane in Ruleville, Mississippi on June 3, 1924. Raised in Atlanta, St.Louis and Memphis, he adopted his stepfather’s surname Rogers. He learned to play the harmonica with his childhood friend Snooky Pryor and as a teenager he took up the guitar.
Big Bill Broonzy, Joe Willie Wilkins, and Robert Lockwood all influenced him, the latter two when he passed through Helena.
He started playing professionally in his late teens with Robert Lockwood Jr. in East St. Louis, Illinois .
Rogers then moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s. By 1946, he had recorded as a harmonica player and singer for the Harlem record label, run by J. Mayo Williams. Rogers’s name however did not appear on the record, which was mislabeled as the work of Memphis Slim and His Houserockers.
In that same year he began playing professionally, gigging with Sonny Boy Williamson, Sunnyland Slim, and Broonzy.
Rogers was playing harp with guitarist Blue Smitty when Muddy Waters joined them. When Smitty split, Little Walter was welcomed into the configuration and Rogers switched over to second guitar and as a direct consequence the entire post-war Chicago blues genre felt the stylistic earthquake that instantly followed.
Rogers made his recorded debut as a leader in 1947 for the tiny Ora-Nelle logo, but then saw his efforts for Regal and Apollo go unissued. Those labels’ monumental errors in judgment were the gain of Leonard Chess, who recognized the comparatively smooth-voiced Rogers’ potential as a blues star in his own right. (He first played with Muddy Waters on an Aristocrat 78 in 1949 and remained his indispensable rhythm guitarist on wax into 1955.)
With Walter and bassist Big Crawford laying down support, Rogers’ debut Chess single in 1950, “That’s All Right,” has earned standard status after countless covers, but his version still reigns supreme.
Rogers’ artistic quality was remarkably high while at Chess. “The World Is in a Tangle,” “Money, Marbles and Chalk,” “Back Door Friend,” “Left Me with a Broken Heart,” “Act Like You Love Me,” and the 1954 rockers “Sloppy Drunk” and “Chicago Bound” are essential early-’50s Chicago blues.
In 1955, Rogers left Muddy Waters to venture out as a bandleader, cutting another gem, “You’re the One,” for Chess. He made his only appearance on Billboard’s R&B charts in early 1957 with the driving “Walking by Myself,” which boasted a stunning harp solo from Big Walter Horton (a last-second stand-in for no-show Good Rockin’ Charles). The tune itself was an adaptation of a T-Bone Walker tune, “Why Not,” that Rogers had played rhythm guitar on when Walker cut it for Atlantic.
By 1957, blues was losing favor at Chess, the label reaping the rewards of rock and roll via Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Rogers’ platters slowed to a trickle, though his 1959 Chess farewell, “Rock This House,” ranked with his most exciting outings (Reggie Boyd’s light-fingered guitar wasn’t the least of its charms).
In the early 1960s Rogers briefly worked as a member of Howling Wolf’s band, before quitting the music business altogether for almost a decade. He worked as a taxicab driver and owned a clothing store, which burned down in the 1968 Chicago riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Rogers gradually began performing in public again, and in 1971, when fashions made him somewhat popular in Europe, he began occasionally touring and recording, including a 1977 session with Waters. By 1982, Rogers was again a full-time solo artist. He continued touring and recording albums until his death.
He returned to the studio in 1972 for Leon Russell’s Shelter logo, cutting his first LP, Gold-Tailed Bird (with help from the Aces and Freddie King). There were a few more fine albums – notably Ludella, a 1990 set for Antone’s – but Rogers never fattened his discography as much as some of his contemporaries did.
He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1995.
Rogers died on December 19, 1997 from colon cancer. At the time of his death, he was working on an all-star project featuring contributions from Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; upon its completion, the disc was issued posthumously in early 1999 under the title Blues, Blues, Blues.