By Jeff Stevens
Jimmy Rogers, one of the last links to the classic Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, died of colon cancer in Chicago at age 73 on Dec. 19, 1997.
Rogers, born James A. Lane in Ruleville, Miss. on June 13, 1924, played a crucial role in the formation of the great Muddy Waters blues band in Chicago in the late 1940s and '50s. Rogers, the band's rhythm guitarist, helped introduce harmonica player Little Walter and piano player Otis Spann to Waters, thus forming the nucleus of arguably the greatest Chicago blues band ever.
Rogers' second guitar was the ideal complement to Waters' own guitar playing. Noted blues writer Robert Palmer said Rogers' "ability to anticipate Muddy's guitar moves sometimes seemed postively telepathic."
The two men met shortly after Waters' arrival from Mississippi to Chicago in 1946. Rogers had made a similar trip several years earlier.
By 1949, Waters and Rogers were playing together, a partnership that lasted through the mid-'50s. During that time, the Waters' band cut many of the Chess recordings that defined the classic Chicago blues sound - "Baby Please Don't Go," "Blow Wind Blow," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "I Just Want to Make Love To You," and "I'm Ready."
Rogers' work with Muddy Waters overshadowed his own records on Chess, often cut after Muddy's sessions in the studio and backed by greats such as Muddy himself, Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Spann.
Nonetheless, many of these solo recordings for Chess from the 1950s were important in their own right, including "That's All Right," "Walking By Myself," "Sloppy Drunk" and "You're the One." These recordings, written by Rogers, and other great Chess sides of the era are collected on the classic album, "Chicago Bound" on MCA/Chess.
Rogers was in great demand as a session player, backing the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Sunnyland Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson on their records and tours.
Despite this impressive resume, Rogers stepped away from music in the 1960s, as he was tired of the poor rewards of a bluesman's life.
"I got inactive in music in the '60s because the blues players wasn't really makin' too much money, wasn't doing too much movin' around and touring," Rogers told writer John Anthony Brisbin in the September-October issue of Living Blues.
Rogers and his wife, Dorothy, bought a clothing store on Chicago's west side and made a decent living until the business burned in the riots precipitated by the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.
The disaster sent Rogers back on the road as a musician, including an extended stay in Europe, where his music was well received.
Since then, Rogers was a permanent fixture on the blues scene in clubs and festivals. He recorded a number of albums in recent years, including "Ludella" on Antone's and "Feelin' Good" on Blind Pig. In 1995, his album "Blue Bird" (Analogue) received a W.C. Handy Award for best traditional blues recording.
Also that year, Rogers was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and was named Living Blues Magazine's blues artist of the year.
Just weeks before his death, Rogers was active as a performer, despite his age and battle with colon cancer. His backing band often included his son, Jimmy D. Lane, on guitar.
He also recorded tracks for a new album for Atlantic, which features guest appearances by Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. The record is expected to be released in 1998.