He’s as patriotic as Old Glory. His song lyrics strike a powerful longing in our hearts for the days when things were simpler and all Americans stood strong, proud and together. His music sets us free to dream knowing that dreams can come true as long as you believe. We are able to soar with his music much like his beloved eagles now soar above our great country. This is James Rogers, entertainer extraordinaire.
James was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on December 22, 1949 without any trace of a silver spoon, but Hershel and Elizabeth Rogers gave their son a healthy respect for hard work and music during his childhood instead. The Rogers family and friends used music to escape the drudgery of working at a textile mill. James’ father played the steel guitar and his mother often sang with her sisters. Other family members played a number of instruments or sang harmony. Occasionally, they performed at church or gathered at home to sing and play—just expressing their love of music.
After James started school at East Lake Elementary in Chattanooga, he was chosen to represent his class in a talent show. For the first time, James Rogers met his public.
In 1958, the Rogers family moved across the Tennessee state line to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where James’ mother still lives. The family joined the First Baptist Church and the children entered Fort Oglethorpe Elementary. James’ older brother, John, became the school Romeo and James acted as his personal manager by selling John’s pictures to the girls. In the following years, James
became the person who was always picked to sing the solo during performances before the PTA.
His first guitar arrived on Christmas morning when James was 11. Along with the guitar came the promise that if he learned to play the instrument, the next Christmas would bring a more expensive model. The new electric model arrived as promised. For a 12 year old, James’ career took a quantum leap forward. He describes it this way, “I started to travel around to all the best garages in Fort Oglethorpe, playing in as many groups with as many different people as there were garages to play.“
During high school, James lettered in track two years. He lifted weights. After school on weekends he worked at the drug store, but still found the time to play in local bands at sock hops, talent shows and church gatherings. Graduating from Lakeview High School in 1967, he was chosen for many honors, including Most Popular and Most Handsome.
James entered Dalton Junior College in Georgia in the fall of 1967 with the hope of becoming a lawyer. He continued his part-time job at a drug store and added a job pumping gas and changing oil at a station in Chattanooga. Because his parents couldn’t afford to send him to school, James remained determined to do whatever it took to get his degree, but he never felt sorry for himself. He hung on to his music and his dreams. “Sometimes when business was slow and homework was done, I would sneak in my guitar and sing songs to the oil cans, grease guns and used tires,” James says of this period in his life.
In 1969, after receiving his associate of arts degree from Dalton, James entered the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with his sights still set of becoming a lawyer. He majored in political science and took a second shift job at the factory where his mother and father had worked most of their lives. He was kicked out of a band, The Expressions, because he had to miss practice due to work.
At this time, James’ music began to change.
Elvis, the Beatles and other rock groups of the period had influenced him, but the music of the times was a-changing’ and James changed with those times. The music of Bob Dylan, Jim Croce and John Denver became James’ stronger influences during this time in his life. He also taught himself to finger-pick the guitar in a classical style. “Perhaps getting kicked out of the band for missing practice was the greatest thing that happened to me since I got that first guitar at 11,” he says.
A member of the Tennessee National Guard, James’ senior year was interrupted by a six-month tour on active duty with the U.S. Army. Prior to being called up for active duty, the Guard was briefly activated in Chattanooga. During this period, James entertained in the mess hall. Later, on active duty, he became famous for his “latrine concerts.” Between military obligations and the pressures of finances, James missed a year and a half of school, but he was determined to graduate. He bagged groceries, worked for a real estate company and worked as a carpenter’s helper to save money. Soon he was back in school again. The carpentry work brought him a new friend who suggested he audition for another friend at a local nightclub to fill in for the regular act who was away.
On June 19, 1972, James became a two-week replacement performer at the Light Fantastic in Chattanooga. When the other act returned, James had become so popular that the club owner refused to let them back on stage. James Rogers hasn’t had to sing to an oilcan since!
His career now included school and the status of professional entertainer. He began to put money away for law school. After taking the Law School Admissions Test, he was accepted by three schools, but his career and the popularity garnered at the Light Fantastic were growing larger and larger. Then James’ dreams and the Light Fantastic both went up in smoke when an arsonist torched the building. With the building went James’ first guitar. It was April 1973 and James was still in school as well as the National Guard. Fortunately, he found another guitar in a pawnshop and began to make the rounds. He was determined to find another place to play and sing his songs.
A group of investors had begun to reclaim the old railroad station in Chattanooga and turn it into a complex with restaurants, shops, entertainment and a Hilton Hotel. With guitar in hand, James went calling, but he was informed that “big name entertainers” would fill all the entertainment slots. In an effort to get rid of James, a bartender pointed out Allen Casey, the short-with-words chairman of the board who was strolling by. “Check with him,” James was told. Running after Casey in the rain, James had no idea who the man was and didn’t know that he was the wealthy mastermind behind the entire multi-million dollar Choo Choo complex. Once again, James was told that all the slots were filled and his faced dropped. Casey hesitated and said, “Hey kid, how good are you?” James, knowing his back was to the wall, smiled and said, “Sir, I am the best.” Casey laughed and invited him to audition sometime. “I have my guitar with me,” James said. And then Casey really began to laugh, but said, “Well, go get it. We’re going to drown out here.”
Needless to say, the impromptu audition went incredibly well. James worked his way into the featured spot at the Choo Choo and Allen Casey became his manager.
During his long tenure at the Station House, James met his wife, Debbie. In the summer of 1974, James received his BA from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. On December 22, 1974 James and Debbie were married in the Crystal Room of the Choo Choo. They now have two children, Heather, born July 14, 1977, and Justin, February 21, 1982.
From 1975 to 1983, James spent most of his time traveling all over the country. He performed in large show rooms and in concerts with some of the biggest names in show business, including Alabama, Suzy Bogguss, Roy Clark, Steve Martin, Ricky Skaggs and superstar Dolly Parton. While trying to land a recording contract, James was advised to enter a talent contest at a theme park in the Smokies called Silver Dollar City by some friends at a popular radio station in Knoxville, Tenn. (WIVK-FM). James had heard of this contest and knew that it was open “to all comers.” Out of 2,000 contestants, James won the 1983 National Mountain Music Festival at Silver Dollar City in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Through years of working with the corporation, he won the respect and friendship of the Dollywood Company, who became his business partners in Music Mansion in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee from 1993-1998. During this time, James Rogers and Company (as the huge production show was called) earned the title of “the number one most attended show in the Smokies”. His 2000 seat, multi-million-dollar theater received worldwide acclaim. Their performances won several awards, including the Peoples’ Choice Award for “Best Show” 1997 and 1998, “Best Theater” 1996, 1997, and 1998, and “Best Entertainer” 1997 and 1998,just to name a few.
In recent years, James’ music has taken on a very patriotic tone. Many new songs feature tributes to the Armed Forces, the American Bald Eagle and other causes that bring the listener closer to God and country.
James Roger’s song, “I Guard America” was adopted in 1997 by the Enlisted Mens and Womens Association of the National Guard as their official theme song. It was also adopted in 1999 as the official song of the National Guard. “This is truly the greatest honor I have ever received,” he said. “For a performer, this is bigger than having a hit record. Many people have hit records, but very few singers or songwriters can say they’ve been granted an honor like this. I wrote the words for ‘I Guard America’ from my heart and out of deep admiration and respect for those who will fight to defend America and its freedoms.”
In 2002, James wrote a special song for the Fraternal Order Of Eagles. As a result, he wrote “Where Eagles Fly” which has been adopted as their theme song on August 7th, 2003. James also wrote and recorded “Save the Eagle” as a benefit song for the American Eagle Foundation. Collaborating stars included Lee Greenwood, Ricky Skaggs, Tanya Tucker, Deborah Allen, Deanna Carter, Ricky Lynn Gregg, Joy White and The Oak Ridge Boys. ”When Challenger Flies,” his new song for the American Eagle Foundation, has had three million hits on YouTube. After the loss of his father to the disease, James wrote “Find The Way” for the Alzheimer’s Association.
In 2006, James Rogers headlined as a singing angel in the musical Fixin’ 2 Rain Starring James Rogers which played for a year at the Governor’s Palace Theater in Sevierville, TN. The show featured Broadway style singing, dancing and original music to support the cast of humans and sophisticated animal puppets that re-imagined the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark in 1930s Appalachia.
During his off-season from Dollywood, James gets a chance to get out on the road and perform benefit concerts at various places around the country to raise money for needy projects such as food ministries and training programs for mentally challenged people. In Florida, he performs at St. Petersburg University, the Citrus County Food Bank, and Key Training Center to name a few. He also makes annual trips to schools and churches in surrounding states such as Marion Primary School in Virginia where he has visited for over 15 years as part of Discovery Day.
James Rogers has a deep respect for all that is good about America. It is this unique combination of American spirit and love that keep his fans coming back for more. Not just content to sing the song, he walks the walk by demonstrating his patriotism for his country and his love for his fans in every performance. James Rogers has lived his dream of performing and entertaining audiences around the country. His new song, “Dreams Can Come True as Long as You Believe” illustrates that the healthy respect for hard work and music he learned from his parents has made his dream come true.
“Dreams really do come true, if you are willing to work for them and sacrifice for them. You know, it beats the heck out of singing to oilcans,” James says with a mischievous smile.