A while back, I wrote an article that included some info about country music legend Jimmie Rodgers, but there was another Jimmie Rodgers who achieved some fame, but in pop music. In fact, he was a fast-rising, popular star for over a decade — until a mysterious event in 1967 interrupted his career.
The second Jimmie was born in the Pacific Northwest in 1933, the same year that the original Jimmie died. And although the two weren’t related, it’s at least possible that young Jimmie’s mother – who was a piano teacher and music lover – named him after the well-known singer.
Whatever the case, as her son grew she taught him guitar and piano, and as he approached adulthood he soon found outlets for his musical abilities. In the early 1950’s, he formed bands and played when and where he could — although his burgeoning career was briefly interrupted by some time spent in the armed forces.
Eventually he worked his way into a spot on the talent show hosted by Arthur Godfrey, which in turn led to a recording contract and the beginnings of a rising career. His singing style, smooth and easy-going with a sound that was a combination of folk and pop, appealed to many who found early rock and roll a little too strident.
Lightning struck in 1957 with his number-one tune, “Honeycomb,” a song he’d also written. It was followed by a string of hits that included “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again,” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” among others. Jimmie was a star, and began showing up everywhere. Guest shots on TV and success on tour went along with his record sales in the millions.
Throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s his success continued, with the addition of a few movie roles and his own TV variety show. Things looked very good for Jimmie in those days, but it all came to a crashing halt one night in 1967.
Conflicting accounts were given, but what’s known for sure is that Jimmie was stopped by an off-duty cop on the freeway in Southern California one evening. When the night was over, Jimmie had a severe skull fracture and permanent brain damage that included memory loss. He later sued the city and settled out of court, but the facts of the incident were never really determined.
Although Jimmie underwent several surgeries and was eventually able to re-start his career, there’s no doubt that his momentum was halted and he had difficulty regaining it. He continued performing but also dabbled in music production and real estate, and in later years had his own theater in Branson. However, continuing physical problems caused him to eventually retire from performing.
Although he has 14 gold records and 4 gold albums to his credit, I wonder how his career would have progressed if things had happened differently that night on the highway.