James Rogers: a local treasure

Talk about an unsung hero: how about James Rogers!

James is a humble fellow.  He has no idea I’m writing this story about him.  If he did, he would laugh and say, “You mean there’s nothin’ else goin’ on in the world?”  Truthfully, there is.  This holiday season has worn me down with politics, scandals, and violence.  I have to talk about that stuff every day, and you are bombarded with it constantly.  That’s all the more reason to shine a little light on a homegrown picker and grinner.

Last time I checked, there were no local roads, buildings, or highways named for our friend James.  For reasons that will always be a mystery to me, some government officials don’t like to honor people while they are alive.  Thankfully, I don’t have to walk that line.

James is very much alive, quite well, and incredibly generous.  He’s a yes man if there ever was one, and I mean that in a good way.  James says yes each and every time he is asked to raise funds for his hometown, and other places near and far.  If the funds raised will benefit children, he will say yes even quicker.

During a career that has spanned more than forty years, he has picked up his guitar and sang to millions of satisfied listeners.  Never a frown, and no sign of any ego trips or temper tantrums.  Recently on UCTV’s auction for the Sheriff’s Department Stocking Full of Love, he was asked quite often to perform songs he hadn’t sung in years.  You know what?  He strapped on his guitar, and sang them, flawlessly.

Like many of you, my friendship with James goes back many years.  I didn’t know him when he was a kid, but he has often told the story of how that first guitar under the Christmas tree changed his life.  He was 11 years old, and there has been a guitar by his side ever since.

While working at filling stations, drug stores, factories, supermarkets, and construction sites, James would sneak away during breaks teaching himself to “finger-pick,” classical style.  After high school and college, he planned to go to law school.  Several well-meaning adults told him he needed a real career.  He could still fool around with music on weekends, they said.  He was accepted by three schools of law.

We will never know what a great attorney he might have been.  As is so often the case, fate intervened and put him where he was supposed to be.  A Chattanooga nightclub needed a fill-in act for a couple of weeks, and James just happened to be available.  The “fill-in” guy became permanent, at least until the National Guard called.

After his service was over, James talked his way into an audition at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Station House, where he became a local legend.  As the featured attraction at the Station House, James did what we all aspire to do: he embarked on a career that allows him to say, “I’ve never worked a day in my life.”  You can say that if you’re fortunate enough to do something you love.

Along the way, he married his beautiful wife Debbie, and they raised two great children, Heather and Justin.  James gives Debbie much of the credit, because a performer’s life is on the road.  For many years he shared America’s stages with the biggest names in music, most notably Dolly Parton.

It was Dolly who saw such potential in James that she made him the marquee name at the Music Mansion in Pigeon Forge during much of the 1990s.  When I went to see his show there, I was lucky to get a seat.  It was another in a long string of daily sellouts.  I said to the lady at the box office, “I’m an old friend of James, but do the rest of these folks even know who he is?”  She said, “No, not when they get here.  But they do when they leave.”  She added, “When people ask about his show, we tell them if they’re not totally satisfied, they can get their money back on the way out.”  I said, “Does that ever happen?” She said, “Never. Not once.  They keep coming back for more.”

Now a proud grandfather, James has cut back on performing. Last week, he performed his annual Christmas show at the Colonnade. It wasn’t the only thing happening in the world, but to me, it was the most joyful.

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

16 thoughts on “James Rogers: a local treasure

  1. Dennis Norwood

    David, I was fortunate to get to know about James in 1974 when he played for a yearbook party at Rossville High School. I followed him as a loyal fan at the Station House, sitting in the “Marijuana Section.” After going into the Air Force I came home on leave once before going on to an assignment in the Azores. While home I was fortunate enough to see James at the big theater at the Choo Choo in 1983. I still have the album he signed for me, “Good luck in Portugal, James.” Saw him many times at Dollywood and always got my money’s worth! James is a local treasure with national implications. “Fly Eagle Fly” always gets me teary eyed. Thanks for a wonderful tribute to a wonderful friend and entertainer!
    Dennis

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  2. Doug Mullins

    I really enjoyed seeing him at dolly wood and music mansion
    A true performer and friend
    BTW his birthday and anniversary is 12/22

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  3. Pat wright

    James has been a friend of ours for years. First met him at the Hyatt in Knoxville. Then later on worked with him at Dollywood and Music Mansion.
    He has always been such a great person. Love him and his family so much.

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  4. Diane Kay

    I love James Rogers, he is my neighbor and I often run into him at the local grocery stores and post office, I have known him since the 70’s. He never meets a stranger and is always pleasant, have never seen him a foul mood, he always has that wonderful smile on his face. One time years ago I had went to the Golden Gallon and I had parked in front of the dumpster and I looked and there was this man rummaging in it and low and behold it was James he was looking for some boxes, we still laugh about that to this day. I have seen him perform so many times and he always does a fantastic job. I have watched his kids grow up and marry and have children of their own. He is a proud Grandpa.

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  5. Rick Haston

    James and I met at a outdoor party in 1965. He and two friends were playing guitar and singing and I sat there in front keeping rhythm by slapping my hands on my knee. At some point after James finished the set, we got talking and he said something to the effect that I kept good rhythm and he asked if I happened to be a drummer. I lied and said “sure, I’m a drummer” (though I had never even touched a drum kit! 😂). Not long after that party James invited me to a friends garage and I “auditioned” to be a drummer for their band. Because I didn’t have a drum kit, a small plastic tub used to wash dishes and two tubular cardboard “sticks” from clothes hangars became my first “drum kit”! They liked my “skills” so I became drummer for “The Misfits” (named after a Clark Gable Marilyn Monroe movie). We played for sock hops, backyard parties and garages all over Ft.Oglethorpe, Ga until graduation in 1967. James and I have been friends ever since. He is truly an “unsung hero” that I love as if he was my blood brother. Happy Birthday James!!

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  6. Jack and Gale Haggard

    Ask James and Debbie where they got fresh veggies straight from the garden when they lived in Tennessee. I even broke and bagged green beans for them. But his wonderful mother taught him how to put up okra. We were just happy to be able to share everything we grew with them. The whole family means the world to us, and we’re glad to call them good friends. All our love goes to the Rogers family.

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  7. Anne Gerrard

    I first met James in the mid eighties at Dollywood. Over the years we became friends, I went to see his shows any time I could. The Music Mansion years were some of my favourites. I met his family, they are all great people. I miss seeing his shows since I moved out of Tennessee. Love and miss them all.

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  8. Anne Gerrard

    I first met James in the mid eighties at Dollywood. Over the years we became friends, I went to see his shows any time I could. The Music Mansion years were some of my favourites. I met his family, they are all great people. I miss seeing his shows since I moved out of Tennessee. Love and miss them all.

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  9. Ronald G.Eberhardt, San Diego CA

    I’ve had the pleasure of knowing this fine man since the early 1970s. When he put The Chattanooga Choo Choo Station House on the map it was SRO every weekend. So 47 years ago I was proudly part of a band of brothers known as The Chattanooga Choo Choo Tabernacle Singing Choir. From the audience we joined in many of his songs and soon entire audiences would join the Chorus. It was great fun always. Made so by James’ talent and personality. He would go on from there to entertain tens of thousands and revive highest accords. That included his Alma Mater UTC. He’s a wonderful soul I’m proud to call friend.

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  10. Linda Dawson

    Met James at Dollywood (then Silver Dollar City) in 1983). Best show in the park. But then, Music Mansion was the most beautiful venue and the Best Show in all of Pigeon Forge. James is, without a doubt , the best entertainer around. It’s always fun to attend his shows and watch people in the audience that are seeing him for the very first time. He is definitely a people person and he’ll have one laughing hysterically one minute and crying the next. He has a gift of making everyone feel loved and appreciated. He has a beautiful wife and children and 3 absolutely precious grandsons. So, I guess you could say….he has it all! And yes, he is a Treasure! Thank you for your story of James and his career.

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  11. Janet Wilson Overman

    Have been friends with James since childhood – we grew up on the same street in Ft.O – we were baptized together. James is one of those rare people who is nice to EVERYONE! He never thought he was better than anyone and treats everyone as if they are special.

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  12. Newman Edwardson

    We met James in the early 70,s when he used to come to Green Bay and he would be there for a month, we there almost every night. He announced our engagement. We have had a bequtiful life together and James has been a part of it. One of his last performances in Green Bay he went and named eceryone on the dance floor. I will never forget that night. Then God blessed him with his chance to be a star at Dollywood. We lost track of each other by We always remembered him.Then he came back to Green Bay and after 30 years he still recognized my wife and I. What a tremendous man. He is definitely our hero

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  13. Debra Cooper

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I saw James Rogers perform at the Choo Choo Station House way back when and I fell in love with his singing and his talent. I LOVE “Fly Eagle Fly” so much. I truly miss those wonderful shows he did. His performance never disappointed and you always left feeling good and looking forward to the next time you got to see him perform. And you know, it didn’t cost you a second mortgage for your admission but the performance was always wonderful.

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  14. Phyllis Jeffery Thomas

    I Frist met James as a young teenager.We lived three houses apart from each other.I would often hear him learning to play his cords because he was in his back yard, his Mother ran him out of the house because she couldn’t take it anymore..I was so impressed of the young man for pushing himself so hard …to become what he is today .My husband and had the privilege of hearing him sing Fly Eagle Fly as he played it for the Frist time at the Station House at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. It was my pleasure to be his neighbor and my pleasure to hear such a beautiful voice from such a young man at that time .Thank You James I’m glad you didn’t let them change your name …..Your friend
    Phyllis. Jeffery Thomas.

    Reply

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