Singer of Beautiful Songs

There were two singers named Jimmie Rodgers.  One was a brakeman who made his mark and then passed on some years ago.  The other one is still alive.

I met Jimmie at the Caravel Studios in Branson.  The recording studio was built by Bob Millsap who called it Ironside Studios.  Now that it was Caravel, it was run by Rodney Dillard a member of the Dillard Family band.

Jimmie Rodgers in Branson

Rodney introduced me to Jimmie one day and said he was now working there as a producer.  I was familiar with Jimmie and his music, knew the story of his tragic assault by police officers at the height of his career.  I had wondered what had happened to him, and now, there he was in Branson.

My family had known him and his family in Camus, Washington.  These were my cousins, aunts and uncles, the Whitings. So, Jimmie and I hit it off and we talked for some time.  Later, I went back there with my wife, Charlotte and Tommy Overstreet.  Charlotte had said she would like to meet him since she loved the songs he sang.

She got flustered when I introduced her to Jimmie, and she blurted out: “I saw you on’This Is My Life.’”  We all laughed, because we knew she meant “This Is Your Life” and Jimmie had been featured on the program.

Later, Tommy and I spoke privately with Jimmy in one of the studios.  I wanted to know what he was doing there, and he said he was writing a children’s musical for a firm in Florida.  Tommy asked him about any new songs and Jimmy said he had written one for Frank Sinatra. The song title was “Leader of the Band.”

He played and sang it for us.  It was a beautiful song and Sinatra would have loved it.  Tommy offered to send it to Nancy Sinatra, whom he knew, but I don’t think he ever did.  I told Glen Campbell about the song as I thought he might be interested. This was after Glen’s farewell concert in Branson.

Jimmie invited Charlotte and me to his home.  He gave me a copy of his CD, THE BEST OF JIMMIE RODGERS and I gave him a copy of my novel, GRASS KINGDOM.  Jimmie and his wife and daughter lived in Forsyth on Lake Taneycomo.  His living room was filled with movie posters and gold albums.

He has a steel plate in his head and his voice is scratchy and much lower than it was when he recorded HONEYCOMB and all his other hits.  But, he had a small theater in the Imax facility there on Shepherd of the Hills Boulevard where he performs on weekends.  He later left Caravel and I don’t know if his children’s musical was ever produced. He played and sang some of the songs he was composing for it as Tommy and I listened and marveled at the beauty of the lyrics and music.

I asked Jimmie about his guitar and he told me he tuned it to an open D, which surprised me.  He knows music, all right.

I play his album frequently and still love his songs.

But the one I love most is HONEYCOMB, with the poignant CHILD OF CLAY a close second.  Jimmie did not like to sing the songs the recording company insisted on that were in the same vein as HONEYCOMB.  So, he broke free and recorded slow ballads and love songs, which showed his versatility and tenderness.  He sang the title track of the movie, THE LONG HOT SUMMER, for instance.

Frank Sinatra died without hearing LEADER OF THE BAND and I don’t think Glen Campbell ever heard it either.  But, the song has stuck in my mind just as HONEYCOMB and I wish someone nearing the end of his run would record it, someone like Tony Bennett, since it is a kind of farewell anthem.

Meanwhile, I’ll listen to HONEYCOMB and all of Jimmie’s great hits and feel the pleasure of his company.


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