Blues Musician Roy Rogers
By Phil Reser
Making MusicDecember 2015
By Phil Reser
Musician Roy Rogers was born in Redding in 1950, and has been recognized as one of the finest practitioners and innovators of the modern slide guitar.
Nominated eight times for Grammy awards and three times for the prestigious Blues Music Awards, he started playing the guitar at 12.
“They never had to tell me to practice. I loved the guitar. I loved practicing. When I got into a band it was like, ‘Wow! What was that?’ All these guys are playing together.”
As a young rock ‘n’ roller influenced by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, he got hooked on the Delta Blues while listening to a recording of a 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that included performances of jazz, blues and gospel.
“That was when the blues thing hit me. The power and the essence of it struck me like a thunderbolt,” Rogers says. “And then there’s the feel and the groove, especially when it’s between the lines and really laid back.”
Spending a lot of his early days in San Francisco, he says, “I started seeing all of these old blues guys playing live in front of me. The whole scene at the Avalon and Fillmore clubs was wide open; it convinced me that it was the style of music I wanted to express.”
Rogers began touring with Bay Area bands, and two years later, he joined John Lee Hooker’s Coast to Coast, launching a lifelong friendship.
“He was really a man that was comfortable in his own skin.
"He knew how to communicate about what he saw in life. Like all great blues work, his was not talking about the flavor of the month, but real things people feel and experience in life. Guys like that, who are digging that deep into a form of music, are like being next to a Zen master.”
In 1986, Rogers struck out on his own with his Delta Rhythm Kings band, releasing his debut solo album, the W.C. Handy Award-nominated “Chops Not Chaps.”
He followed that up with “Slidewinder” and closed out the decade with “Blues on the Range.”
By 1990, Rogers slid behind the controls to produce Hooker’s comeback album, “The Healer,” and several others.
That same year, he was featured on the soundtrack for the film “The Hot Spot” which he recorded with Hooker, Miles Davis and Taj Mahal.
Next up, Rogers begin collaborating with good friend and harmonica virtuoso/vocalist Norton Buffalo to record the highly acclaimed “R&B” album. The duo continued to record and perform as a duet until Norton’s death in 2009.
“My writing influences come from a lot of different places,” he says. “However, I will always have a blues–based foundation in my songwriting.”
Legendary Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek hooked up with Rogers in 2008 and they made three records together over a fiveyear period of collaboration.
Rogers has largely ignored the big-label approach to making music by self-releasing his albums on his independent label, Chops Not Chaps Records.
On his latest CD release, “Into The Wild Blue,” he transcends the blues into a rocking Southern stew with his long-time trio, the Delta Rhythm Kings.
“I make records when I have something to say. When I feel the songs I’m working on are strong enough. I’ve never done the typical make-a-record, go-on-tour-to-support-it thing. I make a record when I feel I’m ready.”
Rogers offers up a foot stomping assortment of blues-tinged jams recorded with long time bassist Steve Ehrmann, drummer Kevin Hayes, keyboardist Jim Pugh and special guests, violinist Carlos Reyes and singer Omega Rae.
“There’s nothing better than when you’re playing in front of a crowd,” says Rogers, “whether it’s a small club, a festival, a big club, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing like that communication that can happen between a performer and an audience. That will never get old. Every gig is like waking up in the morning, saying, I’m alive. It’s a new day. It’s a new audience. You give it your best shot. You never rest on your laurels. Ever. That’s the worst possible thing a performer can do. And you always stretch it.”