NAMED AFTER THE SINGING COWBOY WHO
repeatedly rode Trigger off into the celluloid
sunset and plastered his name on a chain of
burger joints, San Francisco Bay Area-native
Roy Rogers has since re-appropriated the name
for himself on the strength of his funkified
roots repertoire and wicked slide chops. He
released his first album with harpist David Burgin
in 1976, and then gigged around the Bay
with the Delta Kings in 1980, before capturing
blues legend John Lee Hooker’s attention.
The Hook not only asked him to be part of his
Coast to Coast Band from 1982 to 1986, but
also hired him to play on and produce his 1989
comeback album, The Healer, as well as 1991’s
Since then, Rogers has released 11 studio
albums, including this year’s swampy and
swanky Split Decision [Blind Pig], which is
packed with his deft slide chops and a smorgasbord
of layered acoustic and electric tones.
Your tones are pretty adventurous on this album.
You’ve got everything from killswitch sounds to stuttering
slide and pensive nylon-string work.
I’ve always used a lot of doubled-up guitars
and different guitar textures, but in the past
I’ve had more of an acoustic-oriented, or solid,
straight-ahead guitar sound. I wanted this to
have very distinct textures and a much edgier
Did you use a lot of gear you haven’t used before
this time around?
No, it was still mainly stuff I’ve used for a
while. I have a wealth of guitars. Everything
from a ’60s Epiphone 12-string—which I
used on songs like “Bitter Rain”—to a ’57
Fender Strat reissue, a Gibson J-45 acoustic,
a ’58 Gibson Les Paul Jr., and a custom doubleneck
built by Sean Chappell. Of course,
I also used my 1970 Martin 0-16 New Yorker
with a DeArmond pickup—that’s kind of a
signature guitar for me.
What is it you find so appealing about the New
I love the playability of the short, wide
neck—it’s almost a classical-style neck. It
gives me a lot of breadth to move with slide
playing and fingering. I’ve always liked small
bodies, and I’ve never needed a cutaway
because I go up there anyway. I like the fact
that the small body and the DeArmond
pickup let me play at a significant volume
and control it—keep it right on the edge of
feedback. If I had a bigger guitar body, I
couldn’t control it as well. And I’ve always
loved that sound. It’s also comfortable to
play. I do beat them up, though. I’ve gone
through a number of them, and I’m going
through another one now. Even if I put a
pickguard on them, my picking seems to dig
into the body of the guitar.
Tell me about your incredibly compact Chappell
That’s one of a kind. It’s got two 6-string
necks with slotted headstocks. Why? The
necks can be closer together because of the
tuning pegs, which point backward like on
a Rickenbacker. And I wanted a smaller body
that was lighter than your average doubleneck.
That guitar is always on the road with
me. One neck is tuned to D and one is tuned
to G, so I can use different necks for different
tunes—or both in some tunes. The low
neck has a single P-100 pickup for a little
more kick, and the top neck has two P-90s.
Which slides and strings do you prefer?
I use a Jim Dunlop 212 Pyrex slide and a
Texas Blues Tube electropolished metal slide.
For strings, I use D’Addarios gauged .013,
.016, .022w—or .024w on a heavier guitar—
.032, .042, and .052. I use Martin Silk & Steel
strings for my New Yorker. I also use Shubb
What about amps?
I have an old 10-watt Valco amp that’s got
the best sustain and distortion. It looks like
a suitcase and has a 10" speaker. I use that
and a Bad Cat 30R and my Mesa/Boogie Mark
IIB with an EV speaker that I’ve used for
years. I also use a Motion Sound rotating
speaker for songs like “Bitter Rain” and “I
Would Undo Anything.”
Unlike a lot of blues and roots players, you’re
a big fan of modulation effects, particularly the
Arion Chorus pedal. Do you use that in the studio,
I’ve used chorusing for a while—I like the
way it widens the texture. And when you have
a direct sound like a miked acoustic paired
with a chorused guitar, it gives you more of
a bite. I like the Arion, which is a fairly inexpensive
pedal, because it gives your signal a
bit of gain boost in addition to the chorus.
“Your Sweet Embrace,” with flamenco guitarist
Ottmar Liebert, is eerily gorgeous.
That melody had been going around my
head for a while. I had the chordal arrangement,
and in the bridge part—which is where
Ottmar played—I felt we needed a different
texture. I’d met him recently, and when he
heard the track he said he’d love to play
something there. I sent it to him and he
soloed on it and then sent it back, and I put
it into Pro Tools. I was delighted that he consented
to play on the song, because his part
takes it into a different dimension. I played
the New Yorker on that, and I felt like it
needed a little thickness so my engineer Joel
Jaffe and I tried a bunch of stuff and ended
up adding a lot of delay and reverb for that
What’s the most important thing to remember
about playing slide?
First, slide guitar mimics the human voice
much more than a lot of guitar playing you
hear. It lets you get all those in-between
tones. So, if you think of it like a voice that’s
speaking, it can really influence your playing.
The classic illustration of this is Robert
Johnson. If you listen to him and Tampa Red
and all the blues guys of that time period,
the guitar and the voice are doing the same
thing. They would sing a lyric, and then oft
times they’d sing half the next lyric and then
answer the last part of the lyric with the guitar.
Thinking of it that way makes it much
more of an emotional statement. Second,
you don’t have to play slide guitar separately
from “regular” guitar. A lot of players play
slide, and then they take it off. But for me,
it’s part of the whole thing. I use my fretting-
hand fingers to fret chords and play slide,
and I can play all kinds of augmented and
ninth chords while I’m doing it. It’s a different
approach to the instrument, and everyone
has to find their own approach—but I find
it in no way limiting.