“I’VE COLLABORATED WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE AND I LIKE working that way,” says guitarist and slide-man extraordinaire Roy Rogers.
“It’s a new rush every time.” The result of Rogers’ latest musical merging is
Translucent Blues [Blind Pig], a stellar effort with legendary Doors keyboardist,
Ray Manzarek. “Ray and I did a duet thing for six years, which culminated
in the album Ballads Before the Rain, but we finally decided we wanted to do
our thing with a band.” To that end, Manzarek dusted off some lyrics he had
kicking around—from such heavyweights as Jim Caroll, Michael McClure,
and Warren Zevon nonetheless—enlisted a bumpin’ rhythm section (drummer
Kevin Hayes and bassist Steve Evans), and he and Rogers got to work
crafting the soulful 12-song album that fully flaunts Rogers’ searing slide
work and a palette of tones ranging from funky warbles to howling hell fire.
Ray Manzarek (left) and Roy Rogers.
“Ray and I have formed a great friendship and we woodshedded a
lot together constructing this album,” explains Rogers, who along with
Manzarek will be touring behind Translucent Blues. “In the studio we were
having big fun,” he continues. “It’s serious work, but you have fun in
that seriousness. It’s funny, but for all the years I’ve been doing this,
when you’re actually tracking in the studio you don’t really know how
good the end product is going to be. It would be ludicrous to say, ‘This
is going to be the best record I’ve ever made.’ You can’t say that! You
just have to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and give it your best shot.”
You and Ray dip into the jazz bag on the new album with tunes like “An Organ, a Guitar,
and a Chicken Wing” and “Greenhouse Blues.” What’s your relationship with jazz?
Well, I’m not a jazz player, but I listen to a lot of saxophone players
such as Ben Webster and Cannonball Adderley—real blues-oriented
players. I love John Coltrane, but he’s above me. Believe me, I’d like
to play better jazz! I’m definitely a fledgling, but I find the jazz chops
that I do have make for a great textural element in a solo.
The trippy pre-solo section on “Fives and Ones?” really shows off the interplay
between you and Ray. You’re doing some pretty wild, over-the-top sustained stuff.
Yeah, Ray does that bluesy, grooving, arppegiated thing that he’s
so famous for, so that’s why I did the long sustained notes—because
he’s already playing a lot. That’s why that section works. As a guitarist
you have to be able to weave in and out of dense note situations and
make it sound good. On that track I used my ’58 Les Paul Jr. straight
into my ’60 Fender Princeton and that’s it.
You’ve worked with everyone from John Lee
Hooker to Miles Davis to Bonnie Raitt. Have you
ever been star struck going into a session or
sharing the stage with someone?
No. Simply put, if you’re in awe of someone
you’re working with, you’re not going
to do a good job. You can’t be shy. I certainly
wouldn’t want to work with someone who
was in awe of me. I’ve been in the studio with
Pete Townshend, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, even
Sammy Hagar, and each time everyone is just
going for it—taking care of business. The
music comes first and nobody’s ego is on the
line. People get a little shy when a “legend”
is there, but the music can suffer as a result.
Talk about the rhythmic aspects of your
playing. Is that something you work on?
I consider myself a rhythm guitarist first—
much more so than a lead player, as a matter
of fact. Rhythm has always been important
to me because without it, you’d have nothing
to play over. Obviously I can play slide
solos until the cows come home, but you
have to put it over something with a good
pulse, right? The emotion of the whole song
is contained in the rhythm, and rhythms are
a great tool to evoke the mood of a tune.
You played with John Lee Hooker for many years.
What was it like to watch and hear him groove?
Obviously you learn playing with him. You
had no choice; he did it different every night!
Thankfully, I was pretty steeped in Hooker’s thing
from a rhythmic perspective before I ever played
with him. A lot of folks just think it’s about the
boogie with John, but it’s the subtleties in the
boogie that make it magical. It’s between the
lines—it’s almost impossible to describe, but
I do know this—the pulse is following John’s
singing. The other thing about John’s groove
was that it could shift, quite frankly, and I think
that’s okay. I don’t like the groove to be defined
by a machine. Sure, drum machines have their
place and they can enhance what’s going on, but
the groove has to be in human hands. I react to
the human feel. Besides, most of my favorite
records move a little bit, from Muddy Waters
to Howlin’ Wolf to Led Zeppelin.
What did you use to record Translucent Blues?
I used my Sean Chappell doubleneck on the
record quite a bit. It’s modeled on a Gibson
ES-125 that I used to use a lot. It’s basically
two ES-125s stuck together. The top neck is in
standard tuning and the bottom neck is tuned
to open E. It’s so much fun—I jump back and
forth between the two necks during the same
song all the time. Most doublenecks are way
too heavy for me—I don’t know how Jimmy
Page did it—but mine is small and light. It’s
solid mahogany and the top neck sports two
P-90s, while the bottom neck has a single P-100.
I also used my ’57 reissue Strat, a Martin New
Yorker, and an Epiphone 12-string acoustic for
some textures. For amps I used my main stage
amp, a ’79 Mesa/Boogie Mark IIa combo, and
a Bad Cat combo that I won’t use live because
it’s way too heavy and I don’t want a hernia.
My slides are a Dunlop 212 for glass and a
Texas Blues Tube for metal.
You’re using a lot of modulation effects on
I love my old Arion Chorus pedal. I obviously
dig the modulation, but it also gives me a
little gain boost as well. They are hard to find,
but I’m sitting on a bunch I got from Japan
a few years ago. I also used a Motion Sound
rotary speaker on the record. It’s a heck of a
lot lighter than my Leslie, and it sounds great.
How hands-on are you in the studio as far as
miking your amps?
I trust the engineers. I don’t claim to be an
engineer, and I don’t second-guess their choices—
as long as it sounds good. They know where
mics go better than I do, but I know what my
ears tell me, so it works out really well. For the
most part we always use one close mic and one
distant mic. It seems that the magic is always
captured by the room mic. It’s pretty simple
actually—rather than searching through lots of
Pro Tools plug-ins, you can lean on the room
mic that already has all the mojo you need.
Do you consider yourself a player who takes
chances on stage?
Absolutely. As a musician you’ve got to
be willing to jump off the cliff. More importantly,
you have to be willing to fail. That’s
how music can get to some very interesting
places. You have to tell yourself it’s going to
work. And if it doesn’t, oh well, you tried.
Is there anyone who epitomizes that “go for
it” attitude for you?
Oh yeah, when I first saw Howlin’ Wolf
at the Avalon Ballroom in the late ’60s, that
was an education. He was in front of all these
white kids and he didn’t give a s**t! He was
just going nuts and he had a “This is what I
do,” attitude that was just incredible. He went
for the throat at all times. That impressed me.
The other thing he did was, if he felt one of
his musicians didn’t give it his all and solo
well, he’d call them out and tell them to do
it again, right up there onstage. That’s heavy.
That will keep you on you toes!
We all need to be on our toes. I’m going
to be 60 this year, and I can tell you that
music is still such a learning process. If you
think you’ve achieved all you can with the
guitar or that you’ve figured it all out, then
you need to just give it up. You have to go
for it ’til the day you drop.