Folkie crooner Jimmie Rodgers enjoyed a run of twelve Top Forty singles between 1957 and 1960, including “Honeycomb,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling in Love Again.” After a six-year dry spell in the early Sixties, the curly-haired, smooth-voiced singer was well on his way to his first major comeback, making the charts in 1966 (“It’s Over”) and 1967 (“Child of Clay”), when a mysterious “accident” derailed his career and nearly cost him his life.
“I got beaten up by an off-duty Los Angeles policeman,” Rodgers recalls. “I went to a Christmas party in December of 1967. On the way home a car pulled up behind me, blinked its lights. I pulled over and stopped. This guy got out, stood outside the car. I rolled down the window, and he hit me through the open window with a bar or something. I don’t know what transpired because I was unconscious. I might have said something to him, ‘Who are you?’ or whatever, and that’s all it took. Whether I cut him off on the road or what, we don’t really know.”
Rodgers’s conductor went looking for the singer and found him left for dead in his car on the side of the road. Rodgers spent the next year in the hospital, underwent brain surgery three times and “couldn’t walk or really communicate very well for a long time,” he says. Rodgers launched a comeback in 1969, appearing regularly on The Joey Bishop Show and at Caesars Palace, but it was interrupted. “I started having convulsions,” he says. “After that, I couldn’t get back. Nobody wanted me.” When his suit against the city of Los Angeles was settled out of court, Rodgers withdrew completely from the music business. “I even painted houses for a while,” he says.
Eventually, however, Rodgers took a few tentative steps back into the public eye. He did occasional concerts and some ads for the Carpeteria carpet-store chain, and “Honeycomb” and “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling in Love Again” were used as jingles (“Oh-Oh, Spaghetti-Os!”). Although Rodgers resisted the Fifties nostalgia circuit at first (“I didn’t want to tie a whole life on the things I did in 1957”), its momentum ultimately swept him up: “People are coming out in droves!” In fact, Rodgers, at fifty-two, now commands a high enough fee to support himself, his wife and their two boys, even though he makes only one or two concert appearances a month. He’s also written the music for a planned film about his life, and he hopes to get more involved with the world of Christian broadcasting, largely due to the spiritual awakening he experienced after his injury.
Rodgers made an impressive demo tape of new songs with Nashville producer Art Sparer last year. “If I can find a label that would really stick with me and let me do what I do and see if there’s still a market out there, it would be great. They’re not kickin’ down the door, and I don’t blame ’em,” he says, laughing. “But if I get a hit, then they’ll be kickin’ down the door!”