The San Francisco Bay area has long harbored a healthy blues scene, due in part to the open-minded hippies who hung around Golden Gate Park and the neighborhood known as Haight-Ashbury in the late '60s. Those care-free individuals spent the "Summer of Love" embracing up and coming rock legends such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane right alongside traditional blues artists such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Regular concerts at San Francisco concert venue, the Fillmore West, often featured the elder bluesmen performing with the hot rock acts of the day.
Naturally that strong blues influence found it's way into the lives of many young local musicians, whether they were hippies or just guitar players. Roy Rogers is one of those guitar players who grew up within a bus ride of the Fillmore and that wide-open music scene, and it lead him down a path that began with rock 'n' roll, but evolved more and more into the blues world.
Today he's known as one of the hottest slide guitar players on the blues scene. He's released nearly a dozen of his own discs, including his most recent, the 2002 duet with Steve Miller Band harmonica player, Norton Buffalo, called Roots of our Nature. Rogers was also a member of John Lee Hooker's band for four years, and produced two great albums by Hooker before Hooker's death, The Healer and Mr. Lucky, working with folks like Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, and Bonnie Raitt along the way.
In this Guitar.com interview, Rogers discusses his relationship with Hooker, his classic slide technique, his favorite guitars, and more. And don't miss the excellent instructional videos Roy shot exclusively for Guitar.com.
Guitar.com: Hi Roy. Thanks for doing the great video guitar lessons for Guitar.com. They're already up on the site. You also have a show that's coming out on PBS?
Rogers: I did a live DVD and it's going to air on PBS and then it's going to roll over to BET Jazz.
Rogers: And so it's going to be on PBS for three months and then as you probably know, local PBS stations can use it or not use it. They just make their own local decisions.
Rogers: And then they may use it for some pledge stuff and we may give some away and then it's going to roll over to BET after that They're (BET) expanding their format so that's cool.
Guitar.com: Cool. What's the title of the DVD?
Rogers: The title is "Roy Rogers: Live at Sierra Nevada."
Guitar.com: OK. And we're looking for this in stores and on PBS in the fall of 2003, right?
Guitar.com: And then December/January on BET Jazz.
Guitar.com: Good, I'm really looking forward to that.
Rogers: Yeah, it should be good. It's really a nice one. As you know, man, capturing the live thing is always the toughest and people don't realize it so I've always kind of fought against it. But we did a seven-camera shoot and it was really a couple of good nights of the band to choose from, alternate takes and that kind of thing. That's really what you need to do. We finally did it, so...
Guitar.com: And in front of a live audience?
Rogers: A live audience. It's a small audience maybe 400 people, 500 people. It was a nice little theater. It's really a pro shot so I'm very pleased that we could do it in that manner.
Guitar.com: Cool. And then the shoot that you did for Guitar.com, tell those who haven't watched it yet (for free, right here on Guitar.com) what you show in that video.
Rogers: That was in front of the board of mixing room, the Garden they call it and it was more of a hands on look. Nice lighting in the back. I mean, it's really like a beautiful studio. And so I'm at the board sitting there and the cameras are coming at me; you see the screens and just the full 96-track board and so forth like that.
And I'm playing. I show stuff: this kind of a lick and this vibrato, they could do it this way, and if you do a hammer on... .and that kind of stuff. More of a show and tell of how I do stuff.
Guitar.com: You're also involved with a slide that is being marketed through Planet Waves, right?
Rogers: I put them in touch with Tom Harrison who made the electro polish slides which they're gonna market as EP Slides and I'm really a big fan of these slides. I knew Tom before I met up with Planet Waves. He had sent me his slides and I kinda linked them up and then Tom and I flew to New York and met with all those guys. That was a couple of years back. Now they're marketing them as EP Slides... EP meaning electro polish. So I did a blurb for them... for their marketing for that because it's really quite an amazing process that..it basically feels like a glass slide, it's that smooth. You know, normally a lot of slides have regular stainless steel and there are various degrees of thickness kind of thing. But this one has really got a great feel and everybody that they ever sent it to, I guess including Johnny Winter and all kinds of folks, they really flipped out about this slide. And me to so I'm the one that put him in touch with Planet Waves.
Guitar.com: I see.
Rogers: He licensed it to them. That's a whole separate deal.
Guitar.com: So it's a metal slide but it feels like glass?
Guitar.com: What did he do to it? Is it coated or something?
Rogers: It's coated with this electro polish. The way the metal adheres to... it's real soft. It's not like a stainless steel, like a knife or something. It's got a totally soft kind of feel. It's glass-like. So when you've got a tool like that, it's very different. I use both. I don't just use metal slides. I mean I think that every guitar player evolves into slide, he should have a metal and glass. This is a different kind of deal. But this one is glass-like in feel which is the best of both for me. So that's what that blurb was all about.
Guitar.com: And you did do an educational video for Homespun Tapes a few years back, didn't you?
Rogers: I did one for Homespun about 10 years ago. A slide video.
Guitar.com: Yeah, OK.
Rogers: A slide video.
Guitar.com: Right. You still link to that from your site, right?
Rogers: Yeah, exactly. So I've just done that one and that's probably over ten years ago.
Guitar.com: I see. Any thoughts about doing any others?
Rogers: That's a lot of work. Maybe. I have to defer on that, Adam. I could do another one cause I have a very, I guess a distinctive style of playing so I get asked a lot of questions about that stuff, but... .maybe. Nothing in the works. I've got other stuff going on.
Guitar.com: So did the questions that I sent through for the Guitar.com video shoot make sense to you?
Guitar.com: Were they applicable?
Rogers: I covered them all. I didn't do them in any kind of... I incorporated the questions within how I explained it. I didn't do it real clinically or anything like that cause it's just better to do it like in a conversational way so not having seen how you do stuff, I just did it in a very matter-of-fact way and in the course of explaining my style of playing and just answering questions about tuning and that kind of thing.
Rogers: So you can snip at it and knit it how you want, but ... and sometimes if I didn't feel we got it just perfectly, then we would just do it again. And obviously, that's easily discernable.
Guitar.com: Well, the videos turned out great. Thank you very much for doing that.
Rogers: Sure, sure.
Guitar.com: You have a long and interesting musical history. A lot of our readers are younger. So tell me what really made you want to get into slide and bluesy stuff when you first started.
Rogers: When I first started I was a little rock 'n' roller. I started playing guitar in a band in '63.
Guitar.com: And you lived in the San Francisco area.
Rogers: I live in Vallejo. A town called Vallejo. I started playing when I was 12 but I got in a band when I was 13 with older musicians, with high school guys. So I was like a budding young 13-year-old and I was playing with 16- and 17- year-olds.
Guitar.com: Well that's cool.
Rogers: So like a little sponge, you learn... and we were playing "the book." And in those day the book was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, "Louie Louie," all that stuff. So that was really where I started playing and then in the course of playing, of course, we started doing some Jimmy Reed stuff... .blues oriented. And I was just attracted to the whole feel of the blues. It had an allure just from a feel... .an emotional standpoint. Just the music about it and the rhythm, no question, that was a great part of it for me also. So I learned that obviously through Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
It's a really close trip back to heart of blues. But really, the role of the Rolling Stones was big for me also 'cause when the Rolling Stones hit after I was in this band, we started doing some of that stuff. You know you check people's records... .it was kind of at the same time, you know, we were starting to do some Jimmy Reed stuff, but then along comes the British bands and I didn't know who McKinley Morganfield was and Chester Burnett. These people were not played on the radio. So when the Stones and people like that covered their songs... I'm sure you've heard this many times: You would say, 'Well who is this guy?" And you'd find out that they covered that song and then that was it.
As the story goes, I have an older brother - 4 years older than me - and when I was like 14 or 15 (yeah, he was what 18, 19) and he brought home the king of the Delta blues singers, Robert Johnson, his red Columbia record. And that just blew my mind. Robert Johnson just completely... .the whole country blues thing... .I hadn't heard that up until then. I mean there was no... ..and then you'd get like a Sing Out magazine. Do you still print Sing Out magazine?
Guitar.com: Yes. http://www.singout.org
Rogers: That was the folk magazine. And all these guys had been re-discovered, of course, as you know and they were being re-recorded by Vanguard and people like that. So this whole thing ... .the picture... I was one of those guys... .I was already playing guitar and playing rock 'n roll at that time, but it was such an exciting time because you had all these converging things; the British bands covering blues, you had Sing Out magazine, you had Sun House re-recorded, you had Mississippi John Hurt, all these people and the blues just hit me and bonked me on the head and that was it. And slide guitar in particular, when I heard Robert Johnson, that was... .it was just one of those light bulbs that clicked on. And in my early years I started pursuing slide guitar and started incorporating that in early bands in high school... .
Guitar.com: Did it come to you pretty easily?
Rogers: Pretty easily, yeah. I would learn it off the record, I never really had a mentor for slide guitar. Learned it off the records and then just continued. I had a duet. My first recording was with a harmonica player, David Bergen, we were slide guitar and harmonica playing traditional stuff, you know, "Wish I was in Heaven Sittin' Down," stuff like that. We just got more into the Delta blues, it's just what appealed to me. At the same time I was playing other kinds of music, but I was ... .over the course of playing, now it's been many years, it's really become expanding the envelope... .it's got the Delta blues as the foundation, but I'm by no means a traditionalist, nor ever wanted to be.
It's about taking the music outside the box. So that's really what it's about and it's really exploring through my recordings now which, I don't know how many - I've got 12 or 13 records. It's various explorations of... .some records are more, shall we say, traditional than others, but all are just exploring slide guitar as I see it and the sky's the limit. But I still consider myself based on Delta because I use open tunings. I don't like playing slide guitar outside of open tunings because that's just the feel that I like so that's how I explain it. When you base your music, whether you're playing jazz or taking it outside or doing whatever you're doing with it, if you're playing straight ahead, when you're on an open chord and you can do the base, the rhythm and the lead at the same time, and stomp your foot, that serves to help define your music.
Rogers: And that's the music that I like. Is that enough of an explanation?
Guitar.com: That's excellent. So these days what kinds of open tunings are you into? I know you play a variety of them, don't you?
Rogers: Yeah. I only listed three in the video segment. I use open E (depends on the guitar), for the Martin I use open E major, then I'll use open D, which is of course, the same intervals, but just a step down. And I'll use open G. Every once in a while I'll use like a G7 or a minor. On the Buffalo record I used minor open tuning, but mainly I'm in major tuning Delta style, either open D or open E or Vestapol.
Guitar.com: Can you please explain Vestapol tuning?
Rogers: That's open G. Where you have... .hold on just a second... .I just wanted to see... . Wait, no, Vestapol is the open D not G. I was confused there. But open G is D, G, D, G, B, D. But the Vestapol is open D which is D, A, B, F-sharp, A, B.
Guitar.com: Is that the open D that you're talking about?
Guitar.com: And then what's your open E?
Rogers: Open E would be... .well, it just a whole step up so it would be E, B, E, G-sharp, B, E.
Rogers: And that's mainly the ones I use. And that's pretty much what you're talking the Robert Johnson stuff and Sun House. And I just am comfortable in that setting. Whether or not you're using a pick or your fingers, you can get that thumpin' style. But not everything is, you know... you can still take it pretty outside. I mean, I don't see it as any limitations. Some guys say, 'Well aren't you limited 'cause you're in open tuning?' And I say, 'Not at all. You can hit any kind of 9th chord, any kind of weird chord you want. You just gotta know how to do it.'
Guitar.com: Did it take time for you, when you first got into a certain new tuning, did you put a lot of thought into where the notes had moved from your previous tuning or did you just search for sounds?
Rogers: Really just searched for sounds. It's really becoming comfortable. I mean, you're searching for what works and what doesn't. For me as an improviser it's about the trial and error of that. Improvising is something that you've gotta kinda be willing (to experiment with). As I tell people you've got to be willing to take it to the edge and you have to be willing to make a mistake because you got to go for it. And that's the way I feel about improvisation. You know when you listen to like Slideways, with the band, it's going for it, it's stretching the limit of slide. It's not... it doesn't sound real traditional to my ear anyway.
Guitar.com: Especially the tune "Avalanche." That one rocks, man.
Rogers: Yeah, so it's just balls to the wall. So to do that you've gotta be ready to fail and say, 'Man, I'm just blazing... I'm gonna go for it.' That's how you can reach higher ground. I always just kinda tell that to people when they ask me about producing Johnny Hooker. I say well, you know, we just want the music to go to higher ground and the only way to do that is to like... you don't put it in the box to begin with. As Johnny never did. He never did the same tone twice... the same way twice, which is cool. That's a cool thing.
Guitar.com: How did you hook up with John Lee Hooker?
Rogers: Well, I went on the road with him. I became a member of his band.
Guitar.com: But I mean how did you first get that gig?
Rogers: I had a guy playing with me, Steve Ehrmann, who currently plays bass with me still. I've known Steve for over 25 years and he used to play around the clubs with me in and around San Francisco Bay area, and he played some bass on my first record and he was going on the road with John Lee Hooker and a guy left the band... .actually the organ player left the band and said why don't you come down and see if you can fill the bill and I did and I went on the road site unseen. I just tried out for the band. First gig was in Detroit. I met John in Detroit. So, I stayed with John for about 4 years and became very close friends with John and then I left the band to do my own thing and then he called upon me in '88 to produce The Healer, and then Mr. Lucky.
Guitar.com: Right, right.
Rogers: That was the beginning of the production stuff. But we were real close, I mean, I became a real close friend of John's other than just a sideman in a band kind of thing. We were like family.
Guitar.com: What was he like?
Rogers: Oh John, he was just an amazing man. He really cared about the people around him. He was an extremely gentle man and as soulful as you could possibly get. He could take the music as deep as he wanted at any particular time. Very few people on the planet that can do that. He was a wonderful guy and had a great sense of humor.
Guitar.com: Did he?
Rogers: Oh yeah. Loved to laugh; enjoyed life. He had a great life. Every time I think of John Lee Hooker I'm not sad... great life. He lived to be 83 years old, just shy of his 84th birthday, played a gig four days before he passed away. Went home and died in his sleep.
Guitar.com: Wow. I guess that's the way to go, huh?
Rogers: Not a bad run.
Guitar.com: Yeah. When you produced his stuff, was there any contention in the way you were doing things or was he pretty easy going about that too?
Rogers: You know we had a real mutual respect for each other. We disagreed sometimes. John was not one that wanted to do multiple takes. And we didn't do many multi-takes, but when I did request multi-takes sometimes, he was a little reticent. 'You sure we want to do that again?' 'Yeah, I'm sure... I am sure we want to do that again (laughs).' But other than that, no, no contention. I did that in a friendly fashion.
I tell people when you work... .working with John Lee Hooker, I can't imagine doing that without being good friends, you know, because you can't be in awe. We were friends and like family and you can't be in awe of somebody. I mean, I got to work with great folks, you know... Keith Richards and... I'm sure you know all these folks and, I mean when you're working with people you can't be in awe of them. It's about getting the job done.
Same thing with interviewing. I'm sure you must feel the same way. You may think about it later, but when you're there doing it man, you have a job to do and you want to do it the best you can. That's the way you get great work. So it was really that. It was about that and of course, with John Lee Hooker, you know, I was there to facilitate and just kinda set it up for him, because it's the musicians that play the stuff in a studio. It's not the producer. The producer helps it and facilitates it, hopefully with the set up, but once the people start playing, you can try a song a little faster or a little slower, or you change something, but it's about the musicians. You want to really create a comfort zone.
I've said that many times. If people have a comfort zone about what they're doing, and they don't feel at risk and they feel comfortable, then you have the possibility of the music going higher - and higher than you ever could have thought possible. And if you just try to organize everything and say, 'Well this is what we're going to do,' it has no possibility of going anywhere other than how you define it. That's no good. Why would you want to do that? Especially with the blues.
But I'd say that's true of any music. But then again, if somebody doesn't know... I was working with a John Lee Hooker, so he was tried and true. If you're working with a young artist and someone who needs direction, that would be a whole different thing. They need more help. But I've had the good fortune to work with two of the real greats in their respective fields; John Lee Hooker and Ramblin' Jack Elliot. So these guys have been around the block more times and you and I my friend.
Guitar.com: What about your album, Slideways? You didn't produce this album?
Rogers: I co-produced it.
Guitar.com: Did you? Okay, because it lists Scott Matthews as producer.
Rogers: Well, it's actually both of us.
Guitar.com: I'm sorry, yes it does. Why do you bring somebody else in to do that? Is it too much to be playing and producing at the same time?
Rogers: It's good to have another set of ears in there. Since I'm doing the playing and when I'm on a session, I mean, I can wear both hats, but I prefer to have another set of ears. It's good to have someone that's coming at it from a different aspect. I feel that it can enhance the music and make it easier to assess things. If I'm in the middle of doing a take and I'm involved in the playing session of it, it's good to have somebody else on the other side of the glass as opposed to me having to come back [into the control room all the time]. Scott Matthews is a very talented producer. He's done a lot of stuff. I've known Scotty for a long time and I've done that on other projects by the way; Arne Frager [Editor's note: Vaunted blues and jazz producer Arne Frager co-produced Roy's Pleasure & Pain record.] It's the same kind of thing. It's just a better set of ears and another prospective that is helpful to have in the studio.
Guitar.com: And what about when you do session work. You've done quite a bit before. And do you still do.
Rogers: Yeah, I just did a video game for Lucas Arts.
Guitar.com: How cool.
Rogers: It's called "Full Throttle Two." I do some commercial work and that kind of stuff.
Guitar.com: The Sammy Hagar stuff you did, I'm interested in that because I know Sammy pretty well. I heard those tracks and they're really cool tracks. How did that come about?
Rogers: Well, I met Sammy I think at the Plant [Editor's note: The Plant is a famous recording studio in Sausalito, California]. He was just dropping by. He was checking out something he was going to do some years back and I think we met through Arne Frager, the owner of the plant. And he was looking for a slide guitar... well he already had Slash I think for part of it when he did "Little White Lies." When he first left Van Halen he wrote this song called "Little White Lies" about leaving the group. And I mean that was really a fun track.
He hired me to come in and... it was just kind of an experiment I think for Sammy. He didn't know how I was gonna... .I mean he'd heard of me, but I came in and did this acoustic stuff and then I did some blazing electric stuff and Slash was already on there doing some power cord stuff and it just worked fabulously. And then we went on Letterman together. And I played on, I think, three of his records, just one track and... you know Sammy: He's one of my favorite fellows. I mean he's really a great guy and we just formed a friendship and he would call me for these very specific songs. He'd say 'Roy, I've gotta have you play on this track,' or 'I got this idea and what would you do on this kind of thing?' I came down and one was I think a Wilson Pickett tune, "Don't Fight It," and I forget what the other one was. Anyway... I became friends with Sammy... we're still good friends.
Guitar.com: Wasn't it that one about Cajun food and stuff? Wasn't that one a slide tune?
Rogers: Yeah, what was that. I forget.
Guitar.com: I don't remember.
Rogers: Anyway, I sat in on shows with him and had a ball. Like I said, I did the Letterman thing. He's just a great guy. I run into him all the time.
Guitar.com: Yeah. I wrote his tour program a couple of years back. He called me up and asked me to do that. And I teched for him down at Cabo Wabo during his Birthday Bash shows.
Rogers: Did you? I played down there once and the other guest was John Entwistle.
Guitar.com: Oh yeah, cool.
Rogers: That's a wild place isn't it. Holy mackerel.
Guitar.com: It's hard to get any sleep down there.
Rogers: Yeah, you gotta force yourself to sleep down there.
Guitar.com: But it's a good time. That show is a good time. Those birthday bashes and everything.
Rogers: Unbelievable birthday bash. Had a ball. That's the other place we sat in. I had a ball. Actually I went down and I did an opening set for the band. He said just do an opening set so I used Mona and the drummer... Dave Lauser... and we did a trio thing before... and it was fun and Vic's a great player... great band. But it's Sammy's attitude that really carries the day. He's really open for stuff and he's, you know, hell he's a little older than I am, but he's going strong. Age has nothing to do with it does it Adam?
Guitar.com: No it sure doesn't.
Rogers: Those Stones guys are still rockin.
Guitar.com: Still out there, man. It's pretty amazing.
Rogers: Little did we know.
Guitar.com: Well, I hope I die before I get old. So tell me about the way you take the music to new places. As you said, you are not a traditionalist, you lean on the tradition, but you expand on it. Is that a conscious decision every time you sit down to write a song?
Rogers: Not really. It's not something I think about, but it's just something that's part of it for me. Because sometimes I'll do something that feels way traditional to me... it's much more in that direction. Like a finger picking tune. For example, I'll do "Stones in My Passway." I was just reading an article today that John Mellencamp just made a blues record. He covered "Stones in My Passway" and I guess Joel Sullivan and the San Francisco Chronicle was reviewing the thing and they said it's pretty good.
So I'll do more traditional blues oriented things every once in a while. But I think just on the whole, it's about taking the music outside a box 'cause that's real safe, and music is not about being safe. I think that speaks true for an artist trying to do something. You don't do it just... you just don't do it to do it, it's gotta mean something obviously. So I mean, you don't just do it and say I've got to do something different. Nevertheless, related to that thought, you're always looking for new ways to apply what you can do in a different musical context. Whether that be writing a new song or, like I've done some songs with some Latin feels.
I did a song called "Blues for Brazil" after I went on a tour to Brazil one time. I came home and did this whole rhythmic thing and it was great fun. I had Norton play some harmonica, but it's called "Blues for Brazil" and it's way different. It's gotta mean something... .it's gotta mean something. And that's an individual choice and some people are gonna be, I suppose, better at it than others. It's OK to be traditional by the way. It's not a value judgment about being traditional. Just for me, I don't want to be in a tradition [prison]. It doesn't appeal to me to do that. It's much more appealing to take it outside the box, and a good way to do that is obviously co-writing or having special guest musicians, like I did on Slideways. That helps.
Guitar.com: Do you ever find that... .especially with fans, there's a lot of people that kind of lean in one direction or the other. They either want to hear something a little more modern and/or they get upset when you start stretchin' those traditional boundaries?
Rogers: Don't worry about those people. Nope.
Guitar.com: Yeah. Are they a minority?
Rogers: Doesn't matter to me. I think a lot of people, I don't know about most people, but a lot of people want to know what they're getting as opposed to not know what they're getting. But musically speaking, I don't sell like millions of records. That has probably more to do with a marketing thing for people and selling lots of records and appeal and demographics and that stuff.
Guitar.com: How did people like John Lee Hooker feel about that kind of thing.
Rogers: He didn't even worry about it.
Guitar.com: He didn't care?
Rogers: Nope. Just did what he did, played a song. we would spend a great deal of time searching for the right songs to do with the right artists or for John, something new or something out of the past that was real for him at that stage of the game. There was a great deal of time spent pre-sessions. We didn't just go into session saying, 'What are we going to do today?' You know, we spent a lot of time on it. I'd make a recommendation for a song or maybe something would come to his mind or maybe if he'd write a new song. We did a lot of re-recording of old song in new ways. That was a lot of fun to do, you know? We didn't worry about comparing it to the original. Who cares. If it looked good for John to do it and it was cool and we wanted to redo it, like "Crawlin' King Snake" with Keith Richards, which Keith wanted to do anyway, and we wanted to do it. That was the one.
Rogers: You know, "I'm in the Mood," that was one of his first hits. His first hit was "Boogie Chillin'." Well everybody knew that. But "I'm in the Mood" was his second major hit. Well, that was the cross gender song to do with Bonnie Raitt... .that they both could sing. Now the Santana song, that was different. Santana, here's a great story: Carlos had written a song that was already an existing instrumental song and Carlos and keyboardist Chester Thompson had written that. Carlos came to me and said, 'Well I've got this instrumental song, "Curandero," which means the healer. See if John or you guys can come up with some lyrics.' So we kept playing that song over and over, just kind of the rough version that Carlos gave us, and low and behold, we came up with the lyrics to "The Healer."
So John and I co-wrote the lyrics and Carlos and Chester had already written the song, so that was really a stretch for John. There's no Johnny Hooker stamp of guitar in a traditional sense there, but it works because it's got the feeling, and it's got... it's really Carlos and his band as you can tell and just John singing. That was John doing his thing, but it worked. Those were the kind of things like I'm saying, like you know, you've just got to go for it. And in that context, probably a traditionalist, although a lot of people do like that song, but a real traditionalist probably would not like that song.
Guitar.com: But you feel artists should ignore those people? Don't worry about those people?
Rogers: Not ignore them, just... I don't ignore them. I'm not trying to belittle the fact... Music is such a thing that appeals to you from so many different levels, you know? As a musician, you just have to do what's right for you and I've always done that and I'm from that yolk. And it's carried me this far, it'll carry me out, I'm sure regardless of success. Some people are interested in appealing to a certain this or that; a mass or... It's never is how I approached my music, never.
Guitar.com: Right. Personally I play bluesy rock. I grew up with the Beatles and the Stones, Zeppelin and Aerosmith and all that kind of stuff. About ten years ago, for various reasons, I started moving more towards the bluesy stuff and I like traditional stuff, but I like to play it with a more... .with a rock edge, you know? And now I've got it to the point where it's like, you know, I really miss writing and I want to get back to it and do this thing, but I'm a little... ..I wonder, like okay, I wanna' do the stuff that's blues, but it's going to be pretty rock blues oriented. It's not going to be hard rock, it's going to be bluesy stuff, and I wonder about that, you know, is there going to be too much guitar solo-ing going on?
Rogers: Yeah, exactly.
Guitar.com: ... .is there going to be too... is the tempo going to be too much for this song or that song? You know, how are people going to deal with this, you know, but it's what I want to do.
Rogers: That's what you should do.
Guitar.com: So I've just got to follow my heart.
Rogers: You really should because... you know what I tell people? Because I've had this conversation many times: You can't lose going that way. You see? Even if nobody likes the music, you haven't lost. You pursued your music and you did it regardless. You won. You can't lose.
The other way you're not winning because even if you got more successful, you didn't really win because you didn't do it like you wanted to. It'll be like a little nick in your side. If you didn't quite do it like you wanted to, that far outweighs any success that you might have. You look at the scheme of things and careers and whatever, money, that far outweighs anything else in the scheme of things. You read biographies, you read stories of people in the music business or anything. If you follow your music, you can't go wrong because you win whatever happens. And I think if you look at it that way, it gives you the perspective of the long term. Wherever you go or whatever decisions you make. Now you might say, well I just think this is going to be more commercial and I'm well aware of what I'm doing and this is what I'm going to do and then I'm going to do that. Well, that's totally cool. I'm just saying for the long term, if you follow the muse, then you're doing yourself a favor. And I think that's more of a win. So that's kind of how I analyze that.
Guitar.com: Right, right. Do you have any studio tips for recording? Especially with your originals and the songs that are coming from your heart?
Rogers: The best studio tip is go in prepared. That is the best, you know. Not rehearsed to death, but whether or not you're laying tracks or doing it live, whatever, you have to be prepared and have a vision for how you want to do it. A lot of people don't.
Guitar.com: A production vision for the song?
Rogers: Yes. Yes, and that's the best advice you can have. There's so many different tools. I mean, I don't have any secret method or anything. Most of my records have been recorded on analog. But I'm a fan of Pro Tools like everybody else these days. I still probably prefer basics in analog, simply because they sound better to me. I'm not against digital recording whatsoever, I mean digital recording is just here to stay. It sounds so good these days. It didn't use to sound so good to me, but that's history now.
So you know, I'll go either way. Certainly the editing, if you want to do that for digital, it's like the way to go. But if I had my druthers, I would record basics on analog still and move it over to Pro Tools. That's the main thing. I would still use analog. I love analog. In fact there was an article, I'll mention it again for this Mellencamp record. I know a little bit of his music, but I can't say I know much about him. I know he was a big rock guy, but... . He pulled out a 16-track analog machine and recorded his record in analog and he was describing in this article about how he loved it and about how good this sounded.
Guitar.com: That's cool.
Rogers: Yeah, it is cool. I think it doesn't have to be an either or situation. For so many years, not to get technical on you here, but if you thought it was going to be either/or, it's not either/or. I mean, it hasn't been either/or for a long time. When they make machines, as you well know, they try to put the analog back in your digital. I had to laugh. They've been out for a number of years now, but the human ear, I mean, we grew up with distortion for God's sake. We like distortion, don't we?
Guitar.com: Yeah, a little bit.
Rogers: The good kind though.
Guitar.com: When you're recording your acoustic guitars, how do you mike them up?
Rogers: Oh, I like the [Neumann] KM 184s, double miked in stereo. Great mikes.
Guitar.com: Where do you place the mikes?
Rogers: Usually one at the base of the neck and one almost to the... .just below the bridge. Just so you get one getting the liveness of the frets and one getting the real body of the guitar.
Guitar.com: Right. How close to the guitar do you put them?
Rogers: Oh maybe 6-8 inches. Not too close.
Guitar.com: And when you're doing an electric guitar, are you playing straight through an amp? Or what do you do.
Rogers: Straight through an amp, I like little amps. I have an array of many little amps, from old Epiphones to Gibsons to DeFalcos, Epiphones... .my rig from my live stuff is a live Boogie, about 25 years old. I like the old ones. They have more of a tonal aspect. But yes, I'm going through an amp, usually a small amp. I record with a lot of little amps. You get more controlled sound and just more of a warmth. You don't have to play super loud in the studio to get it to be really crankin'. That's not necessary. Though I do it sometimes! Also I use a Leslie.
Guitar.com: An actual full size Leslie cabinet?
Rogers: Not full size, it's about 3/4 size. It's an extension cabinet. I just have the low end. It doesn't have the high end horn. But I've used that before. I find that I just need the bottom end.
Guitar.com: There's a small manufacturer down in Southern California that makes something called the Little Lanilei (http://www.songworks.com/rotary.htm). It's a little tiny Leslie cabinet, basically, with a rotating speaker in it. Have you ever seen it?
Rogers: Well I have something on another company. I don't know if it's the same company, but there's ... ..what are they called? Maybe it's the same one you're talking about.
Guitar.com: This is just like a little box, it's probably about a foot tall by about 8 inches square and it's got a pretty cool little sound to it.
Guitar.com: And it's a hell of a lot easier to carry around than a big old Leslie.
Rogers: Well, these other ones are a little bit bigger, so I think it's a little bit different. I want to say it's a transponder, but I don't see it. I'd be interested in those kinds of things. They're getting better and better at that stuff... ..puttin' them in little boxes. I very seldom use the fast Leslie, I just use the slow because I like the low end just going (makes woo sound), a nice 60 cycle or whatever it is, a little hum to it. Nice sound.
Guitar.com: So what else are you using? Is your main guitar still the New Yorker?
Rogers: A New Yorker with a DeArmond pick up, but I usually have four guitars with me, when I'm playing with a band; a '57 Strat reissue, and a '57 ES125 Gibson 3/4 neck.
Guitar.com: It's an actual '57? Not a reissue?
Rogers: Nope. And it's got one P90; it's a honker. And then I have a very unique 12-string Dobro electric. And that's a neat sound.
Guitar.com: Uh huh. And you take all four of those with you?
Rogers: Uh huh.
Guitar.com: And what do you usually take on the road, amp wise? The Mesa Boogie?
Rogers: Mesa Boogie with extension cabinet and the Leslie.
Guitar.com: Do you use any effects of any kind?
Rogers: I use a chorus pedal. Just a basic chorus pedal, that's the only effect I use. No others. I like to crank the amps, I don't like any kind of distortion pedal. Haven't found any to my liking. I like to have the tubes glowin, that's the best kind. And then the guitar and the amp should be one. Just to my ears, the distortion pedals, you just don't have the air moving. What can I say.
Guitar.com: The chorus pedal is what brand?
Rogers: Actually, it's an old Arion that gives it a little bit of gain boost and I keep buying them and now I can't get them anymore. I have to keep getting them repaired. It's a cheap one... a little cheap one. It was made by Arion and I don't think they're making them anymore. The reason I like that one... .Actually I'm looking for one. I'm looking for a good chorus pedal. The reason I like the Arion is because it gave it a little gain boost and most do not. I like that little gain boost when I push it, so I'm looking for one.
Guitar.com: Do you go on line much?
Rogers: Not much, but every once in a while.
Guitar.com: Are you familiar with a site called GBase.com? It's like a vintage gear website?
Rogers: Nah... but I've... GBase?
Guitar.com: It's http://www.gbase.com. It's the other site that we run. It started out as a vintage guitar site about 7 years ago and it's got about 24,000 items in the database.
Rogers: I bought many of these pedals off of Ebay, but you probably... .
Guitar.com: Basically we've got about 320 dealers from around the country and actually a few from around the world that lists their inventory with us so it's up to them what they list, you know. And some of these guys may have one of these pedals but they just didn't list it. But a... .
Rogers: They use to sell them a lot. I guess it's like the old school in me, but the simpler, the better. And the same thing with studio gear. I mean, the old Pultec and the 11-77... . I mean, the simpler the better. I don't like gadgets that can do everything on the planet. I much prefer a piece of gear and this is the function it does, and it does it well.
Guitar.com: Right, I hear you.
Rogers: It's much more desirable than trying to cover all the bases, and then you've got to figure it out. And then you can get lost trying to get whatever you need. It doesn't make any sense to me at all.
Guitar.com: Anyway, you should check out Gbase.com once in a while and see if there are some of those things in there. These dealers post new things every day.
Rogers: Yeah, very cool, very cool. It's got a direct and a stereo and it's very nice. Three buttons, no fuss, no muss.
Guitar.com: But they break down on you a little bit?
Rogers: Yeah, they're not built to last. In the last 15 years I've probably bought 15 of them. So I have a lot of them and sometimes you can fix them and sometimes you can't. It costs like $60. I have many to be repaired. Plus on the road, you know, they can get whacked and all. I don't use a full blown pedal rack like a lot of folks. Maybe I should get one of those things that protects them, but I don't. I only have one pedal and an AB box. That's it. I change guitars and just hit it and have it go off while I change guitars and plug in something else.
Rogers: So it's a pretty straight forward rig for me. I should say something about the set up for the strings for the Martin because it's a rather unique string set up of which I have D'Addario to thank. I use silk and steel strings on my Martin which is rather unique to get it to sound the way it does because normally you wouldn't think of silk and steel strings as slide strings. Of course, the silk strings don't have any metal core, but, I still get plenty of sustain.
Guitar.com: They're purely silk?
Rogers: Well, the core is silk. And then it's wrapped with metal and that's what a silk and steel string is. The top two strings are metal; the E and B strings, but then the bottom four are just a silk core. They're not a wire core.
Guitar.com: What does it do for you.
Rogers: Just better playability. I like the tone. It gives a softer, mellower tone. And with the old DeArmond pickup it just kicks butt. I mean, I have more guitarists come up to me and say, 'That guitar can't sound like that. That's a little acoustic guitar with a pick up,' and, 'What kind of strings do you use, silk and steel strings? That guitar can't sound like that.' (laughs) I kind of have a secret delight. I've used that for years.
Guitar.com: That's cool.
Rogers: That's very cool and the strings are very good. It's a very unique sound, but you know, whatever you think about D'Addario, they make good strings. I like D'Addario strings. Their electric strings are good, so I'm happy to be associated with them. They do good work. They don't break. My strings don't break at all. That's very nice.
Guitar.com: That's great. How often do you change?
Rogers: You know, the Martins I change quite often because silk and steels, you know, the way I play them, I have to change often with those. Otherwise my electric guitar strings, oh I don't know, once in a great while. It depends on how many gigs I have. Maybe once every 4 or 5 or 6 gigs, maybe. But the Martins I'll change like every other gig because the silk and steel, since it doesn't have a steel core, the bottom strings go a little bit dead on you simply by the nature of the string. And I'm hard pickin', but I don't mind.
Guitar.com: This guitar... this Martin... did you wear out the finish like that?
Rogers: I did.
Guitar.com: Have you had it all those years?
Rogers: I have.
Guitar.com: Yeah? When did you get this guitar? Early in your career.
Rogers: Oh yeah, 25 years ago. They're all my marks. I'm not known for being Mr. Finesse with guitars. Like I say, I weigh a little bit so the guitars do get... shall we say, trashed a little bit. But that's just the way we do it.
Guitar.com: Hey, it works!