Friday, August 28, 2009
If you followed pop music in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the name "Jimmie Rodgers" wouldn't have signified the Singing Brakeman so much as a folk-pop singer of the same name, born James Frederick Rodgers in Camas, Washington. This Jimmie Rodgers was discovered by Hugo and Luigi at Roulette Records, and almost immediately had a big hit with "Honeycomb," which went to Number One in the fall of 1957.
That was followed by several more Top Ten hits before the decade was out, including "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again." But by 1960, the hits had mostly dried up. Rodgers made a couple of movies (including Monte Hellman's Back Door to Hell, costarring Jack Nicholson) and recorded a couple of dud albums before finally making it back to the pop charts with "It's Over" - which Elvis Presley covered so brilliantly on That's the Way It Is. Rodgers' version - he wrote it, too - peaked at Number 37 in the summer of '66, but hey, it was a hit. He also got a small part in another movie, and looked headed for a comeback.
Then, on December 20, 1967, Jimmie was pulled over by the Los Angeles Police Department. No one to this day is entirely sure why. "Some guy walked up to the window," Rodgers said many years later. "I rolled the window down. He hit me so hard, he broke the skull on my side. I put my arm up, and he broke my arm. I remember laying on the street. He was kicking me and I knew I was hurt real bad. He ran his foot down my leg and took all the skin off my legs.... He drove back and dumped me on the road and this black-and-white pulls up. I could see the feet and I knew it was cops."
Rodgers ended up in the hospital for a year, and needed a metal plate in his head. His career was more or less over, and he became addicted to painkillers. His first wife died. He sued the LAPD, which admitted that an off-duty cop had been involved in the beating, which Rodgers thinks was Mafia-connected. The notoriously mob-riddled Morris Levy had been the head of Roulette lo those many years ago, but why that means someone would have wanted to kill Jimmie Rodgers, I have no idea.
In 1969, Rodgers tried to cut a comeback album, Windmills of Your Mind, with forward-looking material like "Both Sides Now" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," but it went nowhere. Eventually, he gave up on the music business altogether.
Jimmie Rodgers is still alive, at the age of 75. Last I heard he was a golf instructor somewhere in the Ozarks. I'm sure he's just happy to be alive.
Here's Jimmie singing his first and biggest hit. I have no idea why he's holding his guitar that way: