Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Blues All Day Long
The Jimmy Rogers Story
Written by Wayne Everett Goins
University of Illinois Press
by Mark Thompson
Life isn’t always fair, a fact that we are reminded of almost daily. And that axiom certainly holds true when applied to the world of music. We can all think of a musician or singer with talent to spare that never received the accolades or recognition that other less skilled performers received. Despite writing many classic blues songs and being a major factor in establishing the Chicago electric style, guitarist Jimmy Rogers has remained an afterthought for many in the blues community. With this new biography, author Wayne Everett Goins offers a thoughtful assessment of Rogers’ career that establishes his rightful place in blues tradition.
The story begins with the birth of James Lane in 1924 in Ruleville, Mississippi. His father, Roscoe Lane, was killed under mysterious circumstances several years later. After the birth of a sister, it was decided that Lane would stay under the care of his maternal grandmother, Leanna Jackson. She often found work cleaning cars on the railroad line. Young Lane would travel with her, giving him an early taste of life on the road. But the itinerant lifestyle hindered Lane from getting a formal education.
As a teenager, he started experimenting with harmonica and guitar after hearing the likes of Houston Stackhouse and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). Soon he and his boyhood friend James “Snooky” Pryor were sneaking into juke joints to further their education. Many of their friends took up the harmonica and even Pryor acknowledged that Rogers was the best player around. Eventually Rogers gave up the harmonica to concentrate on the guitar, primarily to attract the affections of the opposite sex.
When his grandmother moved them to St. Louis, he would make frequent trips to Chicago, where the thriving blues scene was populated by Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, and Memphis Slim. It took two years but Rogers finally decided to make Chicago his home. He frequented the famed Maxwell Street market and several clubs, rapidly establishing his reputation as a top player. Soon a friend offered to introduce Rogers to his cousin, another guitar player.
There was an instant connection once he met Muddy Waters. Both had been raised on the same blues music and had similar tastes. They began practicing for hours, night after night, as Rogers crafted intricate guitar lines around Muddy’s slide guitar parts. When Little Walter was discovered on Maxwell Street, it was only a matter of time before the trail-blazing harp player joined Rogers and Waters in upsetting blues music for the ages.
Goins traces those heady years as Rogers cuts his first records in addition to being a major part of the hottest blues band in the city. Rogers gets signed by Chess Records to record under his own name but his sides fail to gain the same traction that Muddy’s releases enjoyed. After a couple of years, the classic Muddy band broke apart. Rogers soldiered on but as the 1950s came to a close, he grew tired of low-paying club gigs and spotty record sales, leading to a decision to remove himself from the scene for most of the following decade. When he decided to get back to playing, he was welcomed with open arms.
Rogers enjoyed several decades playing the music that meant so much to him. Chess released the Chicago Bound collection of his material, garnering much critical praise. Rogers hit the road with his own band, traveling round the world, filling the setlist each night with classic originals like “Walkin’ by Myself,” “Ludella,” and “That’s All Right”. His easy-going manner and talent for playing the perfect guitar accompaniment kept him in demand for spots with other artists.
The career revival produced vibrant new recordings like Gold Tailed Bird for Shelter Records with Freddie King on guitar and Ludella on Antone’s Records with Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins. Rogers also cut a fine project for the APO label, Bluebird, featuring his son, Jimmy D. Lane, on guitar.
Goins does an admirable job of mixing historical facts with comments from family and fellow musicians to form a portrayal that gives you a vivid sense of Rogers, the man. The touching foreword from Kim Wilson testifies to the impact that Rogers had on several generations of musicians. His passing in 1997 marked the end of an era. Fortunately for blues fans, his legacy lives on through his recorded work and through this heartily recommended biography.
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