Virtuoso slide guitarist and Grammy nominated songwriter/producer and recording artist Roy Rogers remains defiantly upbeat on his 12th solo album Into the Wild Blue — out June 2nd on CD all and digital formats.
Even though 64 year-old Rogers has lost longtime friends like blues legend John Lee Hooker, his recent recording partner of eight years, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, as well as his younger brother Robert — he says “life’s too short” to wallow in our grief or what we have lost. “I want to celebrate life through my music.”
Into the Wild Blue wails, squawks, stomps and boogies with authenticity — ready for the open road and the live stage. Years of working with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Sammy Hagar and Steve Miller has given him a pop musicality.
“I’m the guy that always likes to push the envelope,” Rogers says, at home in Northern California. “We cover a lot of ground on this record.”
Rogers says he had no “master plan” for the 12th addition to his solo catalog. “It’s just putting one foot in front of the other.” Yet Into the Wild Blue demonstrates a master’s confidence and vision.
Born in Redding in 1950 and named after Hollywood’s King of the Cowboys, Rogers grew up in the Bay Area of California and started playing guitar at the age of 12 and became entranced by the recordings of the blues, especially Robert Johnson at age 15.
By age 13 he was playing in a local R & R band, and quickly became a young blues fanatic hitting the San Francisco’s ‘60s club scene – even once taking his little brother to see Jimi Hendrix perform. When John Lee Hooker asked him to go out on tour in 1982, it changed his life.
Rogers toured throughout the 80’s with Hooker, also recording with BB King and Miles Davis along the way - becoming synonymous with feverish slide guitar skills. As a producer, he garnered dozens of production credits, eight Grammy nominations, and two Grammies were awarded for his work with Hooker.
Rogers’ debut solo LP Chops Not Chaps (1985) paid homage to Delta Blues, yet the jam-oriented, pop song structures and arrangements evoked early Van Morrison, and Steve Miller Band. Rogers repeatedly cracked the Billboard Blues Chart Top 10, with #3 best seller Slideways, and #10-ranked Split Decision. His second recording with Ray Manzarek Translucent Blues reached #1 on the Americana Roots chart.
The collaboration of Rogers and Manzarek produced 3 releases - Ballads Before The Rain (2008), Translucent Blues (2011) and Twisted Tales (2013) - Manzarek’s last recording. The seemingly odd pairing ‘just clicked’, Rogers said, and both had appetites for musical experimentation. Rogers stated Ray always like to call their music “21st Century Blues.” In reference to the blues, Rogers has stated “I’ve never felt like I was preserving anything or traditional in approach,” he said. “I just want to make good music.”
Into the Wild Blue launches right into a raucous slide guitar jam. It’s a positive take on the final fight in a relationship — the “Last Go-Around." Blues credentials established, Rogers adds some funk to the beat and ‘60s Motown female back-up vocal elements in “Got To Believe."
“I grew up when LPs first came out. You made a recording like a book, from start to finish,” he said. “I know that many people just buy individual tracks these days, but I approach recording like writing chapters in a book. The sequencing is important to me.”
Rogers worked on the lyrics and music for a year. The basic tracks of Into the Wild Blue were recorded in just four days, it was well rehearsed before going in to the studio. “I’m old and new school in the studio. To me, technology should support the music, not be the music. Spontaneity is key,” said the rhythmic composer.
Producing a record is so much about maintaining the vibe of the song’s original inspiration. “That can be hard to do,” he said. “You’re grabbed by any song usually in the first few seconds. The real excitement for me is when I know the song will work – then the real work begins.”
The self-produced Into the Wild Blue sounds up-close, stripped down, and highly intimate. “I want the music to be right in your face, but with a little bit of an edge. I just want it to feel real to people when they hear it.”
Rogers wails on his trademark custom doubleneck with a glass slide, or his vintage Martin with its DeArmond pickup, or his ’58 Les Paul. Steve Ehrmann is on bass, alongside drummer Kevin Hayes, with Jimmy Pugh on Hammond B3 organ. Virtuoso Carlos Reyes performed on the violin and stringed harp.
Losing a buddy like Manzarek, and then your brother, might make any songwriter embrace the dark side. “That’s not what the music is about,” Rogers said. “Music, whether it’s blues or anything else is about singing your heart out and hopefully feeling better in the process. As John Lee Hooker said, “it’s all about the feeling.”
The wistful, closing instrumental “Song for Robert (A Brother’s Lament)” comes from a place of acceptance, and while sometimes plaintive, it focuses on the overarching beauty and mystery of life.
“It hopefully should be uplifting, and for me it is about remembering my brother – It’s my salute to him” Rogers said.
Songs like “Dackin’’ and “High Steppin’” really capture the energy of Rogers’ live show, and Roy will rock on selected dates worldwide through 2015 featuring the songs on this recording.