Jimmy Rogers, one of the most significant figures in the history of electric blues, died Friday at Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago. He was 73 and lived in Chicago.
The cause was complications after surgery for an intestinal infection, said his manager, Tom Radai.
Rogers had a smooth, rounded singing voice, but he was a rhythm guitarist above all else and is best known as Muddy Waters’ counterpart in Waters’ Chicago-based band of the mid-50s; with a mixture of single-note fills and finger-picked chords, Rogers formed a perfect bed for Waters’ piercing slide-guitar leads. He was the last surviving member of that group, probably the greatest electric blues band.
Rogers, whose name was originally James A. Lane, was born in Ruleville, Miss. When he was a teenager, he moved with his grandmother to Memphis, Tenn., where he picked up the harmonica, his first instrument. By the age of 16 he was making trips to Helena, Ark., where he met musicians including the harmonica player Rice Miller and the guitarist Robert Lockwood as well as a younger harmonica player, Little Walter Jacobs. Rogers made his first recording in 1947 for a small independent label, as a member of a band led by Little Walter, and not long afterward both musicians became steady members of Muddy Waters’ band.
In the 1950s, Rogers took part in some of the greatest blues sessions for the Chess label, some under his own name; a complete two-CD collection of his own music has just been released by Chess/MCA as “Jimmy Rogers: The Complete Chess Recordings.”
He left Waters’ band in 1958. By the mid-60s, he was only a part-time musician, setting up shop as the owner of a cab stand, a shoeshine stand and a Chicago clothing store, which burned in the 1968 riots after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By the 1970s, he took part in all-star blues tours and in the ‘80s he started to make small tours under his own name. A career boost came at the end of the ‘80s, when the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton took him to Europe for many concerts.
More recently, Clapton covered his songs “Goin’ Away Baby” and “Blues Leave Me Alone” on his 1994 album, “From the Cradle.”
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Lane; four sisters, Augusta Brown, Elizabeth Brown, Mary Shepp and Gertrude Taylor; three sons, Jimmy Jr., James and Willie; five daughters, Angela, Jacqueline, Marilyn, Deborah and Vera, all of Chicago; and 17 grandchildren.