By Jim Traegeser
Staff Writer -- North County Times
That he was named after the singing cowboy of the silver screen did not prevent blues guitarist Roy Rogers from pursuing a life in music, despite the confusion and probable teasing it has entailed.
In fact, Rogers (who is playing Wednesday at the Belly Up Tavern with a band he co-leads with Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek), said by 13 he was already playing in bands in Northern California.
"I was a little rock 'n' roller as a kid," Rogers said by phone from his Bay Area home last week. "I got in a band in junior high with high school guys. We're talking gold lame jackets, Bo Diddley to Chuck Berry to the Righteous Brothers."
But his interest shifted to blues pretty quickly after that, he said.
"When underground FM radio came into being, you got to hear all these amazing people that weren't on mainstream radio.
"My older brother brought home a Robert Johnson record," and that changed everything, Rogers said.
"The blues always spoke to me. I went to the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore, got to see Jimmy Reed and B.B. King.
"Each generation, you listen to stuff that blows your mind. Certainly, though, the '60s ---- that's when a monumental shift happened in music.
"People were getting turned on to Elmore James and Muddy Waters on FM. They were playing all the folk guys, too ---- Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins. The whole soul of things."
Going to blues shows and being a budding young musician, Rogers said he made it a point to get to meet some of his newfound idols.
"You hang out with those guys, you learn about life. It's not just about this or that technique; it's about attitude, about how you approach your music.
"That's why the blues always appealed to me ---- either you dig it or you don't. They weren't trying to be popular. That's been my approach. It's always held a great appeal."
While he kept busy playing in blues bands around the Bay Area growing up (his family lived in Vallejo), Rogers said he also continued with his studies ---- finally earning a history degree from Cal State Hayward, and then going to work at a shipyard.
"I didn't really know how to implement the music as a career. I remember playing casuals and clubs and weddings and bar mitzvahs.
"I always had a day gig, like most people ---- up until I went on the road with John Lee Hooker in '82.
"I'd been playing in bands and making music, but not full time. ... I was 32 when I gave up the day gig. I was working in an office for a parts company in San Francisco. I'd just quit working in a shipyard.
"My attitude was, 'I've been playing music and slide guitar since I was a teenager.' When I got the offer, I thought, 'If I don't do this, I'm going to kick myself for the rest of my life.'"
Touring with Hooker, and then producing one of his albums, opened doors by giving him name recognition, Rogers said.
"I was able to tour and people knew me from playing with John. I haven't looked back since '82."
His project and tour with Manzarek was set up (in terms of his approach to music) through a series of CDs and tours he did with the late Norton Buffalo, the longtime harmonica player with Steve Miller.
"We weren't real traditional ---- we didn't want to be traditional blues. We wanted to write songs and be very dynamic. We never used a backing band.
"When I look back, the thing about playing with Buffalo. ... it's like the Ray thing. It just happened. It's about stretching music. I don't want to be about, 'This is what I do' ---- and not try anything new.'
"For me, it's got to work ---- you don't try it just because it's different, it's got to work musically.
"It comes with playing and hanging out together. We've done a lot of gigs as a duet. With Ray's left hand, you can do a lot of stuff because it's the Rock of Gibraltar. It was just seamless in the studio, and that always translates to tape in my book.
"I was very delighted with the sound ----- because we definitely achieved a sound of some sort. I knew when we had achieved that sound, and Ray felt the same way.
"The live show is just so much fun ---- we have a ball."