By Ray Shasho
Eight years ago, slide guitar virtuoso Roy Rogers began an amazing musical collaboration and momentous friendship with The Doors legendary keyboardist Ray Manzarek. After Manzarek’s untimely death in May of 2013, Rogers felt awkward at first about releasing Twisted Tales their final studio album together.
Rogers stated … “I just decided to release it, music is made to be heard, there’s no agenda, it’s good music, fun music, and a great testament to our collaboration.”
Twisted Tales was released on June 18th 2013 and dedicated to the memory of Ray Manzarek. The unlikely musical duo of Manzarek and Rogers substantiated the concept “opposites attract,” and in this case… beget innovative, eclectic, and obscure musical magic. Although Rogers is perceived for slide guitar and delta blues, Twisted Tales is a completely new adventure.
The lyrical content is primarily penned by songwriter/poets Jim Carroll and Michael McClure. Some of the tracks on the album are reminiscent to a concept album. There are minor hints of Zappa, Burdon, and The Doors intermingled with diverse melody. Noteworthy tracks include … “Just like Sherlock Holmes” and “Eagle in a Whirlpool” highlighting the slide virtuosity of Roy Rogers and keyboard mastery of Ray Manazarek ... “Street of Crocodiles” An obscure, fun and interesting ditty! My favorite track… “Black Wine/Spank Me with a Rose” …An incredible mix of musical artistry and … “Numbers” The final track on the album may conceivably be Manzarek’s swan song while echoing the music of The Doors.
I gave Twisted Tales the final studio release by Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers (4) STARS.
Roy Rogers and Ray Manzarek also released … Ballads Before the Rain (2008) and Translucent Blues (2011).
ROY ROGERS: In 1976, Rogers and David Burgin formed an acoustic duo. They recorded the album Rogers and Burgin: A Foot in the Door and performed on the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie soundtrack.
In 1980, Rogers formed his own band Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings. The band quickly became universally recognized.
Upon returning from Europe, Rogers was asked to join John Lee Hooker’s Coast to Coast Blues Band. Rogers toured and performed with the legendary blues performer for four years, establishing a strong personal and professional relationship with Hooker. Roy Rogers went on to produce four historic recordings for John Lee Hooker … The Healer, Mr. Lucky, Boom Boom and Chill Out. Some of the tracks included co-producing credits with Ry Cooder and Van Morrison.
In 1985, Rogers released his critically-acclaimed solo debut album entitled Chops not Chaps and was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award. Rogers continued a string of successful releases with the album Slidewinder (1988) which featured guest performances by John Lee Hooker and Allen Toussaint and Blues on the Range (1989).
Roy Rogers incredible talents were also featured on the soundtrack for the film The Hot Spot (1990) which he recorded with Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal.
In 1991, Rogers collaborated with harmonica virtuoso and vocalist Norton Buffalo to record the highly acclaimed R&B album. The duo followed with Travellin’ Tracks in 1992.
Subsequent studio albums by Roy Rogers … Side of Hand (1993), Slide Zone (1994), Rhythm and Groove (1996), Pleasure & Pain (1998), Everybody’s Angel (1999), Slideways (2002), Roots of Our Nature with Norton Buffalo (2002), Split Decision (2009).
Over the years, Roy Rogers has collaborated with some of the greatest musicians in the world including … Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Miller, Sammy Hagar and most recently Ray Manzarek.
Roy Rogers scored eight Grammy nominations as a performer and producer.
Rogers remains one of the elite slide guitar players in the world.
I had the unique pleasure of chatting with Roy Rogers recently about the release of Twisted Tales, his most recent and final collaboration with The Doors legendary keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
Here’s my interview with legendary slide guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer …ROY ROGERS.
Ray Shasho: How are you doing Roy?
Roy Rogers: “I’m doing alright, a little bit of hot weather here out west but it’s cooling down. It’s been kind of hot here! I’m here in Northern California; I live up near a big lake between California and Nevada by Lake Tahoe. So I’m up in the Tahoe National Forest. I’m a bay area guy, grew up in the bay area and raised our family out in the San Francisco Bay area. But we moved up here about five years ago and I love living in the mountains man.”
“You’re in the Tampa Bay area, when I think about Tampa, I think of Skipper’s Smokehouse. I used to play there a lot.”
Ray Shasho: You’re sort of in-between gigs right now?
Roy Rogers: “I’m actually doing some local gigs and then I head back over to Scandinavia again in October. I don’t tour as much as I used to, it’s more of a young man’s game anyway. If there’s a festival, I’ll fly out and maybe work at some smaller venues like Ray and I did. We’d go out and he didn’t want to hit it for long periods of time like a lot of people. As long as you can have that pivot date like a festival, book around that and fly back home, and don’t stay out on the road for a long period of time.”
Ray Shasho: I think there are a lot of countries that continue to support the blues.
Roy Rogers: “It’s true. Our culture, our music especially is so strong and that’s our biggest export in a lot of ways, what that means and where it comes from and people really get that … the whole thing of where jazz comes from and all the multifaceted things of that and the blues and rock and roll and into pop music. It’s so strong and a worldwide phenomenon. It’s really amazing when you think of it in those terms.”
Ray Shasho: Without the birth of the blues, there may have never been jazz, rock, pop or even country music?
Roy Rogers: “I always point out to people, Jimmie Rogers the so-called father of country music, when you listen to Jimmie Rogers stuff of the 20’s, you can totally get where he got that from and listening to the field hollers and plantation folks. You know as well as I do, the delineation of music was to sell it. Music was always cross-pollinated and people were either ignorant and didn’t know how that cross- pollination worked, the musicians certainly felt that way. It didn’t matter if you were Elvin Chamblin or Charlie Christian you could still play and appreciate the riffs.”
Ray Shasho: Twisted Tales, your latest and final album with Doors legend Ray Manzarek is a riveting piece of music that features an eclectic mix and some very obscure tracks. I heard a lot of musical styles in the album including …Frank Zappa, Eric Burdon and The Doors.
Roy Rogers: “It’s very eclectic. Interesting analogies there, it’s probably all that in there somewhere. We had a lot of fun. Obviously I wrote some of the songs but especially the songs that Ray had, he was sitting on these lyrics of some friends of his which was sort of an extension of the first record Translucent Blues but much more eclectic musically as you were saying. We just knew it was going to take it that way because the lyrics almost demanded it. It gave it a skew that made it interesting to arrange it. That was the great thing about collaboration because we both wanted to make different records. Every time you make a record you can extend ideas that you have from previous stuff. But it’s a new record and a brand new day … what side of the bed did you get out of today? We both felt that way and were both into pushing the envelope and that was part of the reason why we got along so well. Because we really became very good friends over the past seven or eight years and it was about that.”
“We started literally as a duet playing more of an extension of his solo thing and telling stories about The Doors and that sort of a thing. That was fun and we established our relationship doing that. But we both knew eventually that the band was going to push it in a way it needed to be pushed. The new album was fun to make. Even when I was producing John Lee Hooker stuff long ago and you had people in the studio, I firmly believe that it’s not that you can’t make good records with a lot of angst and what are we doing in the studio, but I could never make a record and take a year to make a record. You make a statement and go in unprepared and you let it flow and that translates to the record. I like records like that.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Billy Cobham recently and he said the Spectrum album was recorded amazingly fast. I think you’re right; many of the classic albums and tracks were recorded quickly and without a lot of preparation.
Roy Rogers: “Yea, look at Miles Davis Kind of Blue. Very seldom, even in the Hooker days … we didn’t always get it on the first take, but if we tried it two or three times and didn’t get it, we would put it to rest and tried it on another day. This thing about having to be perfect or trying to go for perfection … I don’t buy that at all. You just want to make a statement and have fun with it. That’s what I like about this record a lot, obviously very eclectic material but it covers a lot of ground and there’s a lot of depth in there that people can either find or not find.”
Ray Shasho: I really enjoyed the album. It sort of reminded me of a concept album at times. The music camaraderie between you and Ray became even more apparent on the track “Black Wine/Spank Me with a Rose.”
Roy Rogers: “Black Wine” was a first take for Ray’s vocals. We were doing “Black Wine” and obviously it’s a long tune, we even edited it, I think it’s six and half minutes or something. Ray was doing the vocal live as we were playing it, not going in and doing the vocal again. So he was doing his thing and playing and that’s the vocal we used. He was so ecstatic because it’s unusual to do the vocal live as you’re cutting the track; it’s not always done and getting it right. He was ecstatic after that and that’s when he did that thing at the end of the record. He was so happy that he went into this ad-lib thing. That’s why it’s such a glorious train wreck. I said Ray; we have to end the record with that. It was a perfect way to end the record and became a very precious moment in light of his demise.”
Ray Shasho: The album was a pleasant surprise. Fans of Roy Rogers may have thought the album would spotlight a majority of blues tracks.
Roy Rogers: “I don’t really consider myself a real traditional blues artist and never have. I’ve always wanted to stretch it. Even though I have covered my fair share of Robert Johnson stuff, I always feel that certainly in the blues, I respected enough where you have to make it your own and have to work with it. I don’t care if it’s in a Captain Beefheart kind of way or the traditional blues. The whole thing about the collaboration with Ray is … he was a Southside of Chicago kid and I didn’t know that when I first met him. He said I remember when music shifted from “How Much is That Doggie in The Window” to “Hoochie Coochie Man” (All laughing). I said, well that was about ten years before I was around, because Ray was eleven years older than I was. But I don’t really consider myself real traditional although I’m obviously known for that slide guitar kind of thing.”
Ray Shasho: When was the last time you saw your musical partner Ray Manzarek?
Roy Rogers: “The last time I saw Ray, we were discussing the artwork for the album. He was leaving for Germany to go to this place to kind of detox and he had gotten a bad diagnosis but was certainly going to take it one day at a time. Then he’d come back and who knows maybe play a few shows, well he never made it back obviously. It’s just ironic because it was very important for the both of us to get the record out. So I’m just happy to get it out, I sort of held it for a bit and was vacillating between how should I do this, it was awkward. So I just decided to release it, music is made to be heard. There’s no agenda, its good music, its fun music and a great testament to our collaboration.”
Ray Shasho: When did you and Ray Manzarek first meet?
Roy Rogers: “We met about eight years ago here in the bay area. He used to do solo shows. Sometimes he did shows with Michael McClure, they would do the poetry and then he would backup Michael. Ray would sometimes do solo shows and he would do mainly Q&A’s and answer questions about The Doors and Jim Morrison. Then he’d go into… this is how I played the intro to “Light My Fire” and that sort of thing. It was kind of a one on one with Ray. The guy that was booking him as a solo artist was the same agent that booked my band. He said you know Ray is doing a solo show why don’t you go sit in with him. So I called him up and Ray heard of me, so I took my little amp and sat in with him and it was just one of those situations man … instant simpatico.”
Ray Shasho: Did you ever think one day that you’d be collaborating with The Doors legendary keyboardist?
Roy Rogers: “I used to always kid Ray …I was a blues aficionado from ‘day one’ so I wasn’t a big fan of The Doors. All I wanted to do was to see Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. So I used to laugh and say, Ray, it’s so ironic because I wasn’t a big fan of you guys, obviously I knew you guys and he’d say … “Well to hell with you Rogers!” (All laughing) He’d say …“Okay we’re going to play “Love Me Two Times,” are you sure you want to play this one Rogers?” (Laughing)”
“Our friendship really started from a duet and we travelled actually a lot. We did a couple of tours in the Midwest and one back east, and this was as a duet and before the band. We also cut a fairly obscure record as a duet called Ballads Before the Rain … no vocals, no blues, and completely instrumental, mainly acoustic guitar and piano. That was really the gelling of the friendship.”
Ray Shasho: What were your future plans with Ray?
Roy Rogers: “He’d always do the stuff with Robby Krieger and continued to do so and toured with him, so this was a parallel universe if you will. We were definitely planning on promoting the record and our next meeting was going to be … Now what songs are going to translate live? Some songs translate better than others when performed live. So that was going to be our next meeting. So we were greatly looking forward to touring it, but he had a pretty good run of it didn’t he.”
Ray Shasho: Did Ray know he was sick or was it unexpected?
Roy Rogers: “Totally unexpected. We did a last tour in Hawaii in February, four dates on four different islands and he had a great time. He did say he was getting a little tired but that’s all. I said Ray we’re all tired after the tour and he said, “Yea, well I think I’m gonna go to the doctor when I get home.” So one day he goes to the doctor and within two or three weeks he got a diagnosis that nobody wants to hear. He wasn’t sick for a long period of time because he was really diagnosed in the first part of March and was gone by the middle of May.”
“He was a very deep cat. I called him a renaissance man. He wrote books, he was obviously in a film, interested in a lot of different music. We didn’t always talk about music; we had very similar political leanings and both liked to read a lot of good books and he was a very well-read. He was just a very interesting guy. At the memorial they had for him, that echoed to just about everyone who got up and spoke. They said the same thing, from the earliest days to the present; he was that same kind of guy. He was the steadying influence type of guy.”
Ray Shasho: When you worked with John Lee Hooker it was much like how Johnny Winter helped Muddy Waters?
Roy Rogers: “When I had Johnny in the studio with “Hook,” there was the analogy for both of us. Of course all those great records he produced for Muddy. It was very similar. Johnny was very close in friendship with Muddy from what I’ve read and the same for me and Hooker. We had a very close friendship. I had toured with John and was in a lot of situations with him on the road as well as in the studio. When you can make music like that with geniuses in their own right, guys like Muddy and guys like “Hook” they can dig as deep as you can go when they feel like it. Not many people can even think about doing that. To see those guys dig down on stage, if they feel like it, and they’re in the mood, it’s a done deal and they own it. It’s just a great thing to behold and how that can move people so dramatically.”
“I just took my kids to see The Rolling Stones and they’ve never seen them before. Of course I’d been a fan of The Stones for a long time and saw them when they first came out. My kids loved them. Here are these guys in their late 60’s and early 70’s, and whether you like them or not, they still know how to rock. They had a bare bones show and not all the bells and whistles that they had before. It was a juggernaut man and it still amazes me, and the audience can rise and fervor, almost like a revival meeting (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: I’ve been patiently waiting to ask you this question, have you ever met the Cowboy Roy Rogers?
Roy Rogers: “Are you kidding me … three times! Here’s my favorite Roy Rogers story. I was nominated for a Grammy the same year as Roy Rogers the Cowboy. He was nominated with Clint Black in a different category for a song he did. I was nominated for a song I did with Norton Buffalo who I did some records with, for a song I wrote called “Song for Jessica” when my daughter was born. So you got two Roy Rogers. They still held the Grammy's in New York at Radio City Music Hall at that time. Roy and I were staying at the same hotel and they completely screwed up the phone calls. So we both go there and his son Dusty was with him and I get to meet him. I’ve got this great picture hanging on the wall with me smiling with this sh*t eating grin on my face and Roy has his arm around me. Its Roy and Roy both wearing our medallion things when you’re nominated, everybody’s a winner type of thing. Neither one of us won the Grammy. So I had a great conversation with Roy.”
“The best part of the story, honest to God truth … My wife and I are going to leave, I’ve got a car coming to pick me up and take us to JFK. I’m out in front of the hotel and the driver comes and looks at me and says, “Roy Rogers, I’m a big fan of slide guitar, it’s a pleasure to give you a ride to the airport.” So we’re half way passed the East River on the way to JFK and the dispatcher comes on and says … “Who the hell do you have in the car?” The driver says, “I’ve got Roy Rogers.” The dispatcher says, “No, you don’t!” The conversation between the driver and dispatcher then went like this … “Wait a minute, is he a musician?”…
“Yea”… “Was he nominated for a Grammy?”… “Yea”… “Does he have a hat on?”… “Yea” … “Well, is he the cowboy?” … “No man, he’s the blues musician.”… “Dammit, you’ve got the wrong guy!”
So, I got Roy Rogers limo to the airport. I got the wrong car, isn’t that great? He probably never forgave me for that. He was supposed to pick up the other Roy Rogers. I will probably laugh about that till my dying day (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: That’s a great story Roy! How were you treated in grade school with a name like Roy Rogers?
Roy Rogers: “Are you kidding me, I wore my cowboy boots about one day and then I never wore them again (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: Roy, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview, If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present …who would that be?
Roy Rogers: “Man, there’s too many to go there, but it would certainly have to be doing something with either Robert Johnson or up to either a Captain Beefheart or Keith Richards. Captain Beefheart was a fascinating character; he influenced a lot of people and not for everybody, but that’s okay. I think that’s the thing for me. You said collaboration, sure we’d all like to sell as much music as we can, but you don’t have to try and make music for everybody, you just want to make good music. Miles said it best; there are two kinds of music, good and bad. Robert Johnson would have been so interesting, not just only because he’s a ‘Blues God’ of sorts, but the guy could have gone electric. It would have been very interesting to see where he would have gone. That’s how I think of that. His capabilities would have taken him to a lot of different realms if he was out of his traditional one. So that would have been interesting for sure. Keith Richards I’ve always liked.”
“If I had better chops it would probably be somebody like Ben Webster because I dig that kind of stuff completely, it moves me.”
Ray Shasho: Roy, what are your future plans?
Roy Rogers: “I’m starting to woodshed now for my next project. Although there are a lot of different directions that I could go frankly and I haven’t decided which one. I could make a solo record and if I have the material do maybe the singer/songwriter thing. I love collaborating and would like to do possibly a big band record with slide guitar, which has never been done. My secret desire would be to make another Wall of Sound record. I’m not talking about a Phil Spector type of Wall of Sound but a new approach to that.”
“It’s going to depend on the material for me frankly. That was the thing about Twisted Tales … Ray already had some great lyrics and I already had some stuff, it was really a back and forth thing about arranging and writing the tunes and those were in place. We had a lot of those lyrics from Michael McClure and Jim Carroll, so that helped things.”
“I could also do classic covers. That would really cover much more of a range of material, not just blues, but maybe even do some standards that I think would translate for slide guitar.”
Ray Shasho: Roy, thank you for being on the call today and more importantly for all the great music you’ve given us and continue to bring. Come to Florida soon!
Roy Rogers: “Good talking with you man, I wish you success with your project and it’s always great to talk shop. Look for me to come to a festival there, no plans, but maybe sometime next year.”
Purchase Twisted Tales the latest album by Roy Rogers and Ray Manzarek at amazon.com
Roy Rogers official website www.roy-rogers.com
Ray Manzarek official website www.raymanzarek.us
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