|Muddy Waters' band, circa 1954. Waters is at far left, Jimmy Rogers at far right|
In the late 40's, Rogers was playing harmonica with guitarist Blue Smitty, who then welcomed Waters into the group. When Smitty left, Waters brought in Little Walter and Rogers moved to second guitar. That band was dubbed "the Headhunters" for their habit of dropping by other musicians' gigs and "cutting their heads" by outperforming them on their own stage or even stealing their gigs outright. During this time, Chess decided to record Rogers as a solo act and some of his recordings are considered blues standards today, such as "Walking By Myself," "Ludella," "Chicago Bound," "Sloppy Drunk," "That's All Right," and "You're The One." He also was an indispensible session musician for Chess, backing Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson on several recordings.
Throughout the 80's, Rogers performed regularly, but recorded infrequently. What he did release was very good, including a live session with Ronnie Earl in the early 90's and a set backed by Rod Piazza. The standout recordings were a part-live/part-studio recording on Antones with all-star backing (Ludella) and a fantastic session for APO, called Blue Bird, that he recorded with his son, Jimmy D. Lane on second guitar and Chicago harp wizard, Carey Bell. Below is a song from a mid 80's appearance in Antones' ("You're Sweet," with Kim Wilson on harp), a mellow track recorded in the late 70's with Left Hand Frank Craig, "Fishing In My Pond," and a track from Blue Bird, "I'm Tired of Crying Over You."
Today, Jimmy Rogers is rightfully acknowledged for his role in the formation of the classic postwar Chicago Blues sound. His role in Waters' band cannot be overstated. His rapport with Waters was second to none. He played a major part in bringing Otis Spann into the group, and he helped Waters keep good harmonica players in the band after Little Walter departed for a solo career. His recordings for Chess in the 50's were widely influential and when he returned in the 70's, he had barely lost a step and remained a vital part of Chicago's blues scene until the end.
The Complete Chess Recordings (MCA/Chess) - 51 tracks, covering Rogers' entire recorded legacy at Chess. It may be more than the average fan would want, but trust me.....if you do pick it up, you won't be sorry because EVERYTHING Rogers recorded for Chess was of the highest quality. There's not a bad song in the bunch.
Sloppy Drunk (Evidence) - This session, recorded for the French
label, Black & Blue in the early 70's, was a laid-back set teaming the rejuvenated Rogers with Louis and David Myers, Fred Below, and Willie Mabon. Rogers sounds wonderful here. This is one of my favorite Rogers recordings.
Ludella (Antones) - This set is a part live, part studio recording that teams Rogers with many of the Austin music scene's top talents (Kim Wilson, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, and Ted Harvey. It's hard to go wrong with any of Rogers' post 70's recordings.....the Blind Pig session with Piazza is great and so is the live set with Ronnie Earl on Bullseye Blues, but to me, the Antones set is slightly better.
Blue Bird (APO) - This is the best recording that Rogers did after his comeback, bar none. It features Rogers with his son, Jimmy D. Lane, Johnnie Johnson, Carey Bell, Dave Myers, and Ted Harvey. The sound is fantastic, as might be expected on an APO recording. The set list is a mix of old Rogers favorites with a few Chicago favorites. Seek this one out at all costs.
Blues Blues Blues (Atlantic) - Rogers' swan song, his shot at the "big time," his star-studded tribute disc, has some nice moments, but there are just too many distractions. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I purchased it, but I can count on one hand the number of guest star-heavy blues recordings I do like. This one is slightly above the middle of the pack.