Jimmie Rodgers, Who Sang ‘Honeycomb’ and Other Hits, Dies at 87


Jimmie Rodgers, whose soft voice spanned the line between pop and country and brought him a number of hits – none larger than his first record “Honeycomb” from 1957 – died on Monday in Palm Desert, California. He was 87 years old.

His daughter Michele Rodgers said the cause was kidney disease and that he had also tested positive for Covid-19.

A decade after Honeycomb, Mr. Rodgers was a regular hit on the pop, country, R&B, and easy listening charts. Records included “Oh-Oh, I’m In Love Again” (1958) and “Child of Clay” (1967), both of which were nominated for the Grammy Awards.

Without an ugly incident in December 1967, he could have continued that success when he was stopped by a man who he later said was an off duty police officer in Los Angeles and severely beat him.

Three brain operations followed and he had a metal plate in his head. He eventually resumed the performance and even briefly had his own television show, but faced constant difficulties. He had to take a break for a while because he had seizures during concerts.

“Once it becomes known that you are having seizures on stage, you cannot work,” he told The News Sentinel of Knoxville, Tennessee in 1998. “People won’t hire you.”

Mr. Rodgers was diagnosed with convulsive dysphonia, a disorder characterized by spasms in the muscles of the voice box, a condition he attributed to his brain injury. He later settled as a performer and producer in Branson, Missouri, the Mecca of country music, where he had his own theater for several years before retiring to California in 2002.

James Frederick Rodgers was born on September 18, 1933 in Camas, Washington, in the southwest of the state. (Four months earlier, a more famous singer, Jimmie Rodgers, known as the father of country music, had died; the two had nothing to do with each other.) His mother, Mary (Schick) Rodgers, was a piano teacher and his father, Archie, worked in a paper mill. Jimmie began singing in church and school groups.

After graduating from high school, he briefly attended Clark College in Washington State, but entered the Air Force and served in Korea during the Korean War. In an interview with The Spectrum, a Utah newspaper, he recalled a particular evening near Christmas 1953.

“I bought a battered old guitar from a man for $ 10 and started playing and singing one night and all the men went along,” he said. “We sat on the floor with only candles for light, and tears ran down these tough soldiers. I realized that my music could have this effect, that’s what I wanted to do with my life. “

Back in the United States and stationed near Nashville, he performed in a nightclub for $ 10 a night with free drinks before returning to Washington after raising. In 1957, he traveled to New York to appear on a television talent show and grabbed an audition for Roulette Records. He sang “Honeycomb,” a Bob Merrill song he learned from a recording by Georgie Shaw that was playing at the Nashville Club.

“They were basically like, ‘Don’t go any further, this is great,” he said in an interview with Gary James for classicbands.com.

Mr. Rodgers was taken to a studio to record a demo with musicians he had just met.

“They brought four players and three singers, and we recorded it in about two hours – no charts, no music,” he said in a 2010 oral story for the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association.

A week or two later he was surprised to hear the song on the radio. It peaked on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts.

Later that year he had another hit with his version of a song that had been a hit with the Weavers, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” which gave him a quick kick and made important changes, much like he did in “Honeycomb” had used. ”

“I was told they weren’t going to sell – records that change the key, people can’t sing along,” Rodgers recalled in an oral story recorded in 2002 for the National Association of Music Merchants. The public disagreed.

His early songs, released when Elvis Presley shook up the music scene, were a kind of comfort food, snappy yet melodic and not too earth-shaking. In 1959, his rapid popularity earned him his own TV variety show, which ran for a season.

“If his singing style puts more emphasis on beat than on lilt,” wrote Jack Gould of his New York Times premiere, “at least he has the advantage that he is good at this side of rock and roll.”

Mr. Rodgers played acting in the 1960s, including a starring role in Back Door to Hell, a 1964 war film that cast Jack Nicholson. In 1965, “Honeycomb” found new life when Post introduced a cereal with that name and reused the song for commercials, the jingle sung by Mr. Rodgers. He also sang a SpaghettiOs jingle that ruffled his “Oh-Oh, I’m falling in love again”.

Mr Rodgers said he was being considered for a lead role in the 1968 musical “Finian’s Rainbow” when the encounter on the freeway affected his career. In his story, he was driving home late at night when the driver behind him turned on his lights. He thought it was his conductor who was also going to Mr. Rodger’s house and stopped.

“I rolled the window down to ask what was going on,” he told The Toronto Star in 1987. “That’s the last thing I remember.”

He had a broken skull and a broken arm. He said the off duty officer who dragged him over had called two officers on duty to the scene, but all three had dispersed when his conductor, looking for Mr. Rodgers when he hadn’t come home, pulled up.

The police told a different story: They said Mr. Rodgers was drunk and injured in the fall. Mr. Rodgers sued the Los Angeles Police Department and counterclaimed; The matter was settled out of court in his favor for $ 200,000.

During his long recovery, Mr. Rodgers got another inclusion on a television series, a summer substitute variety show in 1969.

“I looked like a ghost,” he admitted in a 2004 interview.

His marriages to Colleen McClatchy and Trudy Ann Buck ended in divorce. In 1978 he married Mary Louise Biggerstaff. She survived him.

In addition to her and his daughter Michele, a son, Michael, survives from his first marriage. two sons from his second marriage, Casey and Logan; a daughter from his third marriage, Katrine Rodgers; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.