Happy birthday, Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers was born James A. Lane on this day in 1924.

As Wayne Everett Goins notes in Blues All Day Long, his new biography of Rogers, the legendary guitarist carried a no-nonsense version of how he came to be.

“My mother was Grossie Jackson,” Rogers said. “My father’s name was Roscoe . . . He was from Georgia, around Atlanta. So he came up there in Mississippi, workin’, I guess. They got together and I was born.”

Under a bad sign? Was mojo involved? Did he ask for milk and his mama gave him gasoline? Apparently not, though Jimmy’s father Roscoe did suffer the blues-inflected fate of being killed in a workplace altercation when his son was two.

Eventually, Jimmy came into the care of LeAnna Jackson, Grossie’s mother. LeAnna cleaned railroad cars for the Illinois Central, and young Jimmy took to riding the rails alongside her while she worked. During time at home he shot rabbits with future harmonica virtuoso James “Snooky” Pryor, or rather, Jimmy shot a rifle and Snooky flung a three-foot stick with deadly accuracy. Jimmy also fell in with a young John Lee Hooker, who had eyes for Jimmy’s teenaged aunt, Annie Lou.

Around 1950, LeAnna married Henry Rogers of Charleston, Mississippi. Though Jimmy would always sign his name “J.A. Lane,” onstage he adopted the surname of his step-grandfather. By then Jimmy had discovered the blues. He had to sneak around to listen to music at juke joints because LeAnna, like most religious folks, disapproved of the devil’s music. If Jimmy strayed musically, LeAnna saw to it he stayed on the straight and narrow otherwise. “She would get this hide [his rear end],” he said, “she’d break those switches together and get that butt, boy. And they hurt. So I was a pretty good guy.”

Jimmy was on his way to a life in the blues. Here’s a late-career appearance on Conan O’Brien with a bonus interview at the end.