The “Other” Jimmie Rodgers
The pop and folk singer Jimmie Rodgers (James Frederick “Jimmie” Rodgers ironically was born in the same year that “The Father of Country Music”, James Charles “Jimmie” Rodgers, passed away – age 35 – from tuberculosis.
I remember back in 1967 when a very unlikely source, (my mother), told me that the pop singer Rodgers had been brutally attacked by assailants while in a men’s restroom, leaving him with brain damage. Not sure if my mother was reading something back then like the Enquirer (it was around then – founded in 1925) or what, I just remember being more surprised by mom even knowing who Jimmie Rodgers was than learning about his attack.
I never gave the subject much additional thought. I owned a couple of Rodgers recordings (Honeycomb and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine), neither ever receiving many spins from me because for me, after hearing them a thousand times on the radio, I just couldn’t bear enduring the monotonous repetitive refrains of either.
I guess what I have always liked most about Rodger’s vinyl output was his 1958 Roulette long play release on Roulette – self titled “Jimmie Rodgers” (see above). With that Preston-like hair style. Looked like a rocker to me.
It is interesting to me that the internet accounts of Jimmie’s beating strongly allude to L.A. Police involvement – providing many intricate details as well as the singer’s lawsuit again the department and so on. But then there is 2010 YouTube interview with Rodgers which is strange. Primarily he talks about his rise to fame and then dwells extensively on his bought with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a vocal disorder which brought his singing pretty much to a end – although he does perform today often via lip sync.
In this interview he makes an almost “off-handed” comment about his attack along the lines of ‘I can’t say much about (the attack) due to on-going lawsuits’. Then he follows that with a quick ‘Anyway I was driving home and somebody came up to my window and I rolled my window down, and they hit me with something.” Obviously he was not willing to reveal anything further.
Also on-line are references to Roulette Records stable mate Tommy James who alleged in a biography that the attack was “ordered” by the owner of the label – Morris Levy who had “Mafia connections”. Why? Probably have to read the Jame’s biography to find out but perhaps because Jimmy had forsaken Levy’s Roulette Record label – although that occurred back in 1962 when he moved to Dot Records. Maybe the Mafia was just a little slow on the draw.
Coincidentally, I am currently reading Richie Furay’s biography in which he speaks briefly about Levy and that he was a person “not to be crossed”. (Furay was also in the Roulette family as a member of the “Au-Go-Go” singers – a folk act with one LP release on the label back in 1964. That East Coast based group also included Stephen Stills.
So on to the “Child of Clay” track. The lyrics to this song always mystified and sort of frightened me. The song was Jimmie’s last significant hit record and was released in August of 1967 not long before the attack in October of that year. The lyrics dance with the dark side of this “child’s” activities and fate. For the life of me I cannot document any specific reason that the writers (Ernie Maresca and Jimmy Curtis) penned this song. Some example lyrics from the middle of the tune:
“Going out into the street at night
The answers he may meet hm hm
With sick and twisted minds
He shares the searching questions
His heart bears hm hm
And from the dregs
The answers find their way into his supple mind
In time the planted seeds will grow
Into a twisted vine below
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,”
Goodness Woodness! I hope they were able to catch up with the Child of Clay before it was too late – for someone else!
Ernie Maresca doesn’t seem like a likely source for this little ditty, but then again it was the late 1960’s. Ernie started off his career in a New York vocal group called the Montereys then becoming the Desires. He would depart the group who then became The Regents of later “Barbara Ann” fame. In 1961 Ernie penned two tracks for the group “Lonesome Boy” and “Oh Baby”. In the Spring of 1962, Ernie would land a big one on the Hot 100 “Shout, Shout (Knock Yourself Out) which vocally was a little lacking but had the bounce and spirit that both his earlier and future hit records would become know for.
Ernie’s compositions included:
- “No One Knows” by Dion and the Belmonts (#19 – 1958)
- “Runaround” by his former group, The Regents (#28 – 1961)
- “Runaround Sue” & “The Wanderer by Dion (#1 & #2 respectively in 1961)
- Another Dion hit “Lovers Who Wander” (#3 – 1962)
- “Come on Little Angel” this time by just the Belmonts (#28 – 1962)
- “Donna the Prima Donna” Dion (#6 – 1963)
- “Hey Jean, Hey Dean” by Dean & Jean (#32 – 1964) – I can easily picture Ernie singing this son
- “Party Girl” by Bernadette Carroll (#47 – 1964)
- And “Whenever A Teenager Cries” by Reparata and the Delrons (#60 – 1965)
Then there was a bit of a layoff – almost two years with no charting success and then along came “Child of Clay” which reached #31 on the Hot 100.
The co-writer on the song, Jimmy Curtiss composed several songs that really went nowhere for artists that included Bobby Rydell, Bobby Sherman, The Hobbits (a group which included him as a member) and even one-time Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro who took a shot at a recording career with several dead end releases.
Biographers for the late Curtiss seem to feel that he was the primary inspiration for “Child of Clay”, but none of those biographies delve into the subject matter any further than offering “The song which was a hit for Jimmie Rodgers. A catchy, questioning (the 60s remember), non-confrontational protest song.”