Born: June 3, 1924 | Died: 1997 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Jimmy Rogers has long been considered one of the most important and influential figures on the American blues scene. He co-founded and developed the Chicago blues sound with his former band mate Muddy Waters - together they pioneered the sound that became known as Chicago Blues between 1947 and 1954.
Jimmy Rogers was the guitarist around which the Muddy Waters band turned. His rhythmically acute guitar progressions lent direction and diversity to Muddy’s emotive singing and playing. As second guitarist in the Muddy Waters band of the '50s, Rogers forged the classic ensemble sound that came to be standard for all post-war Chicago blues bands. As Waters played his sparse bottleneck guitar, Rogers would add further depth and dimension to the group sound with his ringing bass figures and propulsive rhythm accompaniment.
Rogers was born in Ruleville, Mississippi in 1924. He taught himself how to play harmonica and guitar by listening to the records of popular artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie and to the radio performances of Sonny Boy Williamson and Joe Willie out of KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. In his late teens Rogers moved to Helena and then Memphis, where he played with Robert Jr. Lockwood and Robert Nighthawk. He then moved to St. Louis with Sunnyland Slim before settling in Chicago in 1947, teaming up with harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs.It was with Jacobs that Rogers first started playing professionally.
When the team arrived in Chicago, it wasn't long before they were sitting in at local taverns and at the wonderful open air market on Maxwell Street, meeting many of the upcoming generation's most popular performers, including Waters, and the rest as they say, is history.
The Waters' band of this period set the standard for urban blues. Their ensemble approach featuring Little Walter on harp, Sunnyland Sim on piano and the twin guitars of Waters and Rogers ruled the clubs and gained a reputation as head cutters wherever they appeared. Their recordings for the Aristocrat/Chess label were the ultimate synthesis of primal Delta sounds and electrifying urban cool. As an integral part of the Waters' band, Rogers had little time for self-promotion until his recording of That's All Right hit big in the early '50s.
Leaving Waters for a few years, Rogers assembled a top-notch band including Big Walter Horton, S.P. Leary and the great Willie Dixon. In 1954 Jimmy launched his own recording career with Chess Records and went on to chart 13 tunes on the R&B charts. This track record puts him in the top 10 all time best sellers in the blues field. Some of his recognizable hits that have become the staple of blues bands around the world include Chicago Bound, That's Alright, Ludella, Walking By Myself, Sloppy Drunk and The Last Time.
Rogers sat out the blues boom of the '60s, opting instead to run a clothing store to support his family, which included 6 children. In 1968, during riots sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rogers' store was burned to the ground, precipitating a return to music. A 1974 recording for the Shelter label, “Gold Tailed Bird,” brought Rogers back into the recording studio with longtime student and admirer Freddie King, which then put Rogers back on the road. Tours of Europe and the United States followed together with many recording opportunities.
In 1983 Jimmy recorded an album entitled “Feelin' Good,” which has been reissued on Blind Pig. Rogers recreated his classic Chess sound and provided further testimony to his unabated ability and place in blues history.
One of his best contemporary releases, “Ludella,” was produced by Kim Wilson on the Antones label in 1990, and features vibrant vocals and guitar from Rogers as well as some of the best harmonica Wilson has ever recorded.
The decade of the ‘90’s saw Rogers continue to receive recognition and accolades and he was in ’95 inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and was named Living Blues Magazine's blues artist of the year.
Just as it appeared that he would rise into the upper echelon of blues stardom with major tours scheduled and an all-star CD set to be released by Atlantic, Rogers passed away in 1997.
Jimmy Rogers was an essential contributor to the Chicago Blues genre, and created a body of work that will sustain his legacy.