Sliding into home
Legendary slide guitarist Roy Rogers returns to the Sierra Nevada Brewery
Roy Rogers edged into music slide-ways.
Born in Redding in 1950 and raised in the Bay Area, Rogers developed an early passion for the blues, especially the Delta blues and in particular the slide guitar. While most guitarists dabble with slide, Rogers dived in and dedicated himself to the instrument. He is currently regarded as one of the most technically proficient slide players of the modern era. His technique now hovers somewhere at the indescribable far side of awesome, and his reputation as the current master of slide guitar grows with every new person who hears him.
This time through town, Rogers will again front his band The Delta Rhythm Kings but has invited harmonica man Norton Buffalo—they’ve played together so many times they’re psychically linked—to lend some riffs. Anyone in search of a candidate for a new style of living, breathing guitar god should head out to hear Roy Rogers. Expect to be taken on a sonic roller coaster ride. You’re guaranteed to hear some smoking hot contemporary blues, ranging from jacked-up boogies to steaming numbers that will shake ’em all down the line.
Rogers’ refined slide playing shows lots of polished, smooth sustain and a heavy touch when the long slow notes call for it. He throws in every conceivable technique, from the quick slash to the slow quiver and bouncing staccato notes. From the heavy metal attack to the sexy quaver, Rogers can play it all and usually does.
That’s because Rogers knows his blues. In just slightly more than 20 years, Roy Rogers has carved out a distinguished career in American roots music. He first honed his chops in San Francisco blues clubs, then in 1982 joined up with blues great John Lee Hooker for the high-flying Coast to Coast Blues Band. In 1990, Rogers repaid the kindness to his mentor and produced Hooker’s star-laden comeback album, The Healer, which won a Grammy for Hooker and Bonnie Raitt.
Rogers followed that success by producing a Grammy-nominated album for Hooker every year thereafter, until they struck gold again with 1994’s Chill Out, which waltzed away with another Grammy. All of this national recognition coming late in his career helped Hooker maintain his status as a living legend and assured his stature as a blues giant. Rogers continued working with the great blues man almost all the way to the end, with Rogers producing some tracks for him in Italy in April 2001, just a few months before Hooker passed away.
While Rogers knows his business in the studio (at last count he’s notched up eight Grammy nominations) and knows the blues straight down to the bone, he also has a strong performance record on his own. This year marks one of his busiest and highest-profile years yet.
He’s been touring nearly constantly throughout the United States and abroad and is just back from a recent performance itinerary stretching from Scandinavia all the way through China. In between show dates, he worked with Bonnie Raitt on her latest album, Silver Lining. Together, they co-wrote “Gnawin’ on It,” then Rogers joined up with Raitt for the Silver Lining session, her subsequent tour, as well as the season premiere of the live concert television show, Austin City Limits. Raitt, no mean beginner at slide guitar herself, marvels at Rogers’ skills and admits, “The guy is frightening.”
Roy Rogers released two records of his own this year on labels famous for serving up rich blues-drenched material. His first all-instrumental album, Slideways, appeared early in the year on Evidence and showcased Rogers’ dazzling, groove-laden, well-articulated playing. Roots of Our Nature, his latest collaboration with harp player Norton Buffalo, has just been released on Blind Pig and marks a revisit to older, “rootsier” material, featuring some of Rogers’ finger style blues guitar.
While his music is blues-based, Rogers is not a blues purist. Drawing inspiration from a variety of influences, he looks on his career as “a continuing journey through American roots music.”
Next year, Rogers will be featured in a one-hour show for a new PBS series on American Roots Music sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Brewery called "Behind the Scenes" featuring artist interviews and live performances. Taped in the Big Room, a million-dollar digital-arts theater and showroom, the series will be aired nationally via PBS satellites.