#718: English Country Garden by Jimmie Rodgers

Peak Month: November 1961
10 weeks on Vancouver’s CKWX chart
Peak Position #10
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com link: “English Country Garden
“English Country Garden” lyrics

Jimmie Rodgers was a country singer who is best known for his 1957 hit “Honeycomb.” James Frederick Rodgers was born in Camas, Washington, in 1933. His mother taught him to play the piano and guitar. During the Korean War Rodgers served in the U.S. Air Force. While there he played in a band called The Melodies. After the war ended in 1953 Rodgers entered Arthur Godfrey’s talent show. The attention he gained got him a record deal with Morris Levy’s Roulette Records. He had a string of Top 10 hits that followed in the late 1950’s including “Secretly,” “Oh-Oh I’m Falling In Love Again,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and “Bimbombey.” In Vancouver Rodgers charted nine singles into the Top 10 and eighteen singles onto the local pop charts.

On December 30, 1957, Jimmie Rodgers performed at the Frontier Room in Vancouver. In 1958, Rodgers appeared on the Giselle MacKenzie Show and sang the theme song for the movie The Long, Hot Summer, featuring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Orson Welles. He performed “The Long, Hot Summer” at the Academy Awards on April 6, 1959. That year he also recorded his third album, Jimmie Rodgers Sings Folk Songs. The album featured “Froggy Went a Courting” and “The Riddle Song.” In 1958, Jimmie Rodgers was on a 25-day tour of 17 cities in the USA. He shared the stage with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Everly Brothers, The Rays, The Shepard Sisters, Paul Anka, Danny and the Juniors, The Tune Weavers, The Hollywood Flames, Jimmie Edwards, Billy Brown, Mello-Kings and Eddie Cochran. In early 1959, Jimmie Rodgers was about to go on tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion. However, Rodgers got ill and had to cancel from the tour. Only Dion survived the tour, having declined the opportunity to board the plane. He did so because he felt the plane ticket for $36 was too expensive.

Rodgers hosted the Jimmie Rodgers Show and the last episode on NBC in the fall of 1959 featured the following guests: The Playmates, Johnny Cash and Cathy Carr. In the fall of 1959, Rodgers was on a tour to Australia with The Champs and Dodie Stevens. In mid-November, 1959, he appeared at the Chicago Music Fair for a series of concerts with Fabian, The Platters and Lloyd Price.

Rodgers decided to record another album in that vein in 1961, titled The Folk Song World of Jimmie Rodgers. It included “The Midnight Special,” “Hush Little Baby” and “English Country Garden.” The later title was not a hit in the USA. It hardly charted in any American radio market. However, it became Rodgers biggest hit in the UK peaking at #5. Simultaneously, Rodgers hosted a two year TV show also titled The Folk World of Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers also worked as a producer with DOT Records on recordings for Pat Boone and Debbie Reynolds. In 1961, Rodgers also starred in the 1860’s Civil War film, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. 

English Country Garden by Jimmie Rodgers

In 1728, John Gay composed The Beggar’s Opera, a satire of Italian Opera. It has been called the most popular play/opera of the 18th Century in England. Thomas Walker, an English actor and dramatist, composed the Quaker’s Opera later in 1728 that was an imitation of The Beggar’s Opera. In the Quaker’s Opera one of the songs was an “English Country Garden.” In the song, Rodgers sings of a variety of flowers that can be found in a typical English country garden. They include daffodils, meadowsweet, flox, heart’s ease, lady smocks, gentain, lupine, hollihocks, roses, foxgloves, snowdrops and forget-me-nots. Next, he sings of the insects that can be found: fireflies, moths, gnats, bees, spiders, butterflies and ants. He also mentions snakes. In the final verse, Rodgers sings about the songbirds who visit an English country garden. He names bobolink, cuckoo, quail, tanager, cardinal,bluebird, lark, thrush and nightingale. In this way, “English Country Garden” paints a picture of flowers, insects and songbirds occupying a garden in springtime.

While these are the signs of an English country garden, the variety of blooms is somewhat different in springtime in Vancouver. A Vancouver Sun article, In the Garden: Best Flowering Shrubs for Spring, name optimal plants for our west coast climate. They include forsythia with its yellow flowers, Mexican orange blossom, lilac, viburnum, rhododendron, hydrangea, Japanese cherry, flowering red currant, dogwood, magnolia and Enkianthus campanulatus with its tiny bell-shaped flowers. Among the flowers that can be spotted in a Vancouver garden, you can find daffodil, crocus, tulip, snowdrop, iris, lavender and hyacinth. Among the common songbirds found in Vancouver gardens, you can hear the black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, European starling, crow, robin, song sparrow, northern flicker, violet-green sparrow, house finch, stellar’s jay, downy woodpecker and Anna’s hummingbird. Some of the gardens residents and visitors to Vancouver frequent are the Van Dusen Gardens, Queen Elizabeth Gardens, Nitobe Memorial Garden, UBC Botanical Garden and the Rose Garden in Stanley Park.

Gardening is a hobby for many people and a vocation for others who offer gardening services. One of the challenges in keeping a garden is dealing with pests. For those new to gardening it may seem the best approach is to kill all bugs. However, a recent article in Affluent Magazine titled Gardening As A Hobby, advises: “Those new to gardening often feel that “the only good bug is a dead bug.” Not true! A healthy garden will always have a population of insect life good and bad. The key is balance. Remember, the garden isn’t your house, it’s theirs, and most of the insects in the flower bed and vegetable garden are good guys. They may nibble on the occasional leaf or bud, but they more than earn their keep by eating up the bad guys and providing pollination services. Less than five percent of the various insects, beetles, spiders, worms and caterpillars are true pests, so “nuking” the garden with pesticides often does far more harm than good.”

“English Country Garden” climbed to #5 in Winnipeg and #6 in Toronto and #10 in Vancouver.

In 1964, Jimmie Rodgers appeared in a film with Jack Nicholson titled Back Door to Hell. The film was about U.S. soldiers in World War II fighting the Japanese military in the Philippines.

On December 1, 1967, Rodgers was beaten when he was stopped by police for erratic driving. Rodgers was sued 13 million by the LAPD for slander. He suffered a skull fracture from the incident and underwent three brain surgeries, nearly dying during one of them. In 1973 Rodgers accepted a $200,000 settlement from the Los Angeles City Council in his $10.2 million dollar suit against the city. The case did not go to trial and the LA City Council was warned of a substantial risk of a much larger judgment in favor of Rodgers should the case go to trial. Doctors claimed at the time that Rodgers would lose vocal quality as the years progressed. In time, Rodgers was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia impairing both vocal control and range.

Fellow Roulette recording artist, Tommy James, of “Crimson and Clover” fame, wrote a biography in 2010 called Me, the Mob, and the Music. James asserts that Morris Levy, who was Mafia-connected, and the head of Roulette Records, had ordered the hit on Rodgers where he was beaten by three police who were taking a bribe from the Mafia. Rodgers singing career was impaired from the incident and his performing was greatly reduced in the following decades, though he did make occasional appearances.
Among these is a concert on August 16, 2014, in Sandusky, Ohio, at the Sandusky State Theatre. Others sharing the stage with Jimmie Rodgers that night include Randy & The Rainbows, The Skyliners, The Jarmels and The Drifters.

June 18, 2018
Ray McGinnis

References:
Jimmie Rodgers bio, Jimmie Rodgers.com.
Steve Whysall, In the Garden: Best Flowering Shrubs for Spring, Vancouver Sun, March 4, 2016.
J & S Linn, Fifteen Common Garden Birds, Vancouver Bird Week.
Vancouver Gardens, Parks and Conservatories, Tourism Vancouver.
James, Tommy. Me, the Mob, and the Music. Scribner, New York, 2011.
Jimmie Rodgers in Concert: American Doo-Wop Graffitti, Sandusky, Ohio, August 16, 2014.
Bruce Fessier,  50’s Singing Star Jimmie Rodgers Knows Both Sides, Desert Sun, August 2008.
Monte Hellman, Back Door to Hell, Twentieth Century Fox, 1964.
Andrew V. McLagen, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, 20th Century Fox, 1961.
Christie Ann DeAnda, Gardening As A Hobby, Affluent Magazine.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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