New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Singer Jimmie Rodgers, who burst on the national scene in 1957 with the No. 1 hit "Honeycomb," and scored multiple hits in the decade that followed, died Jan. 18 from kidney disease in Palm Desert, CA. He was 87 and had also tested positive for Covid-19, according to his daughter Michele Rodgers.
Frederick Rodgers (September 18, 1933 - January 18, 2021) was an American singer. Rodgers had a run of hits and mainstream popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. His string of crossover singles ranked highly on the Billboard Pop Singles, Hot Country and Western Sides, and Hot Rhythm and Blues Sides charts; in the 1960s, Rodgers had more modest successes with adult contemporary music.
He is not directly related to the earlier country singer Jimmie C. Rodgers, who died the same year the younger Rodgers was born. Among country audiences, and in his official songwriting credits, the younger Rodgers is often known as Jimmie F. Rodgers to differentiate the two.
Rodgers was born in Camas, Washington, the second son of Archie and Mary Rodgers. He was taught music by his mother, a piano teacher, and began performing as a child, first entertaining at a Christmas show when he was only five. He learned to play the piano and guitar, and performed locally. After attending Camas High School, and briefly taking courses at Vancouver Clark Junior
College, he went to work in a paper mill; although he loved music, he was uncertain whether he could turn it into a career. He was subsequently drafted into the United States Air Force during the Korean War. While in the military, he joined a band called "The Melodies" started by violinist Phil Clark. During his service, he was transferred to Nashville, where he was stationed at Seward Air Force Base from 1954-1956. It was during this time that he began expanding his musical repertoire. And while he was in Nashville, he first heard the song that would become his first hit, Honeycomb.
Like a number of other entertainers of the era, he was one of the contestants on Arthur Godfrey's talent show on CBS television; he won $700. When Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore left RCA Victor for Morris Levy's company, Roulette Records, they became aware of Rodgers' talent and signed him up.
In the summer of 1957, he recorded his own version of "Honeycomb", which had been written by Bob Merrill and recorded by Georgie Shaw three years earlier. The tune was Rodgers' biggest hit, staying on the top of the charts for four weeks. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. Over the following year he had a number of other hits that reached the Top 10 on the charts: "Kisses Sweeter than Wine", "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again", "Secretly", and "Are You Really Mine". Other hits include "Bo Diddley", "Bimbombey", "Ring-a-ling-a-lario", "Tucumcari", "Tender Love and Care (T.L.C)", and a version of Waltzing Matilda as a film tie-in with the apocalyptic movie On the Beach.
In the United Kingdom, "Honeycomb" reached number 30 in the UK Singles Chart in November 1957, but "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" climbed to number 7 the following month. Both "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" and "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again" were million sellers.
The success of "Honeycomb" earned Rodgers guest appearances on numerous variety programs during 1957, including the "Shower of Stars" program, hosted by Jack Benny, on October 31, 1957, and the Big Record with Patti Page, on December 4, 1957. Rodgers also made several appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, including on September
8, 1957, and November 3, 1957. In 1958, he appeared on NBC's The Gisele MacKenzie Show. Also in 1958, he sang the opening theme song of the film The Long, Hot Summer, starring Paul Newman, Joanne
Woodward and Orson
Welles. He then had his own short-lived televised variety show on NBC in 1959.
His biggest hit in the UK was "English Country Garden", a version of the folk song "Country Gardens", which reached number 5 in the chart in June 1962. In 1962, he moved to the Dot label, and four years later to A&M Records. He also appeared in some films, including The Little
Shepherd of Kingdom Come, opposite Neil Hamilton, and Back Door to Hell, which he helped finance.
In 1966, a long dry spell ended for Rodgers when he re-entered the Top 40 with "It's Over
" (later to be recorded by Eddy Arnold, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Mason
Williams, and Sonny
James). In 1967, he changed record labels, signing with A&M Records. It was with that label that Rodgers had his final charting Top 100 single, "Child of Clay", written by Ernie Maresca, (who had a top-40 hit back in 1962, "Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)".) He performed the song on several television variety shows, including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but it never became a big hit; it only reached number 31 on the Billboard charts.
On December 1, 1967, Rodgers suffered traumatic head injuries after the car he was driving was stopped by an off-duty police officer near the San Diego Freeway
in Los Angeles. He had a fractured skull and required several surgeries. Initial reports in the newspapers attributed his injuries to a severe beating with a blunt instrument by unknown assailants. Rodgers had no specific memory of how he had been injured, remembering only that he had seen blindingly bright lights from a car pulling up behind him.
A few days later, the Los Angeles Police
Department stated that off-duty LAPD officer Michael Duffy
(at times identified in the press as Richard Duffy) had stopped him for erratic driving, and that Rodgers had stumbled, fallen and hit his head. According to the police version, Duffy
then called for assistance from two other officers, and the three of them put the unconscious Rodgers into his car and left the scene. This account was supported by the treating physicians who had first blamed the skull fracture on a beating; by the latter part of December, they concluded that Rodgers had in fact fallen and that had caused his injuries.
The following month, Rodgers filed an $11 million lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, claiming that the three officers had beaten him. The police and the L.A. County District Attorney rejected these claims, although the three officers (identified in the press as Michael T. Duffy, 27; Raymond V. Whisman, 29, and Ronald D. Wagner, 32) were given two-week suspensions for improper procedures in handling the case, particularly their leaving the injured Rodgers alone in his car. (He was later found by a worried friend.) Duffy
had had a previous four-day suspension for using unnecessary force; he had used a blackjack on a juvenile.
The three officers and the LA Fire and Police
Protective League filed a $13 million slander suit against Rodgers for his public statements accusing them of brutality.
Neither suit came to trial; the police slander suit was dropped, and in 1973 Rodgers elected to accept a $200,000 settlement from the Los Angeles City Council, which voted to give him the money rather than to incur the costs and risks of further court action. Rodgers and his supporters still believe that one or more of the police officers beat him, although other observers find the evidence inconclusive. In his 2010 biography Me, the Mob, and the Music, singer Tommy James
wrote that Morris Levy, the Mafia-connected head of Roulette Records, had arranged the attack in response to Rodgers' repeated demands for unpaid royalties he was due by the label. All of Rodgers' most successful singles had been released by Roulette, who were notorious for not paying their artists for their record sales.
In 1993, Raymond Virgil Whisman, one of the three officers who were alleged to have assaulted Rodgers, was arrested for assaulting his wife and threatening to kill her. The arrest occurred after sheriff's deputies stormed his house after being informed that he was holding his wife at gunpoint. Deputies found 11 rifles, 4 shotguns, and two handguns in the home. Whisman was charged with two counts of assault and two counts of making terroristic threats.
Recovery from his injuries caused an approximately year-long period in which Rodgers ceased to perform. Meanwhile, his voice was still being heard: several of his earlier hits were used in jingles in the 1970s, one for SpaghettiOs and another for a Honeycomb breakfast cereal. And Rodgers' songs continued to make the Billboard Country and Easy Listening charts until 1979. During the summer of 1969, he made a brief return to network television with a summer variety show on ABC (which later bought the rights to Rodgers' Dot Records releases, now owned by Universal Music
Group). It was not until the early 1980s when he began doing some limited live appearances again. Among the earliest was a series of shows in late February 1983: he performed at Harrah's Reno Casino Cabaret. He also performed a few shows in other cities, including at a nightclub called Mister Days in Ft. Lauderdale FL in late 1983.
Rodgers and his first wife Colleen (née McClatchey) divorced in 1970, and she died May 20, 1977. They had two children, Michael and Michelle. He had remarried in 1970, and Jimmie and Trudy Rodgers had two sons, Casey and Logan. He and Trudy divorced in the late 1970s, and he remarried again. Jimmie and Mary Rodgers were still married when he died, and they have a daughter, Katrine, who was born in 1989.
Rodgers appeared in a 1999 video, Rock & Roll Graffiti by American Public Television, along with about 20 other performers. He stated that he had suffered from spasmodic dysphonia for a number of years, and could hardly sing. Nevertheless, he gave "Honeycomb" a try, and he mentioned that he had a show in Branson, Missouri.
In 2010, Rodgers wrote and published his autobiography, Dancing on the Moon: The Jimmie Rodgers Story. Rodgers returned to Camas, Washington in 2011 and 2012, performing to sell-out crowds. After the 2012 concert, he returned home for open heart surgery, following a heart attack three weeks earlier.
In 2013, his neighbors successfully got a street named after him, in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Rodgers died on January 18, 2021, at the age of 87.
1957 Jimmie Rodgers
1958 The Number One Ballads
Jimmie Rodgers Sings Folk Songs
1959 Jimmie Rodgers… His Golden Year
Jimmie Rodgers TV Favorites, Volume 1
Twilight on the Trail
It's Christmas Once Again
1960 When the Spirit
At Home with Jimmie Rodgers
1961 The Folk Song World of Jimmie Rodgers
15 Million Sellers
1962 No One Will Ever Know
1963 Jimmie Rodgers in Folk Concert
My Favorite Hymns
Honeycomb & Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
The World I Used to Know
1964 12 Great Hits
1965 Deep Purple
Christmas with Jimmie Rodgers
1966 The Nashville Sound
1967 Love Me, Please Love Me
Child of Clay
1969 The Windmills of Your Mind
1970 Troubled Times