WHILE FANS OF SINGER (AND WHIP-ASS GUITARIST) BOBBY LEE RODGERS may know him best from his role as the frontman of the internationally known original pop-fusion band The CodeTalkers, this former Berklee School of Music instructor and prolific tunesmith has spent years collaborating both onstage and in the studio with a fairly dazzling array of respected musicians in the genres of blues, funk, soul, jazz, bluegrass and rock.
Between Rodgers’ omnivorous musical tastes, his instrumental proficiency and his ebullient nature, he’s a natural pick when it comes to adventurous sidemen who live for the chance to play at the edge of their skill set. A rising attraction at major jam-oriented music festivals as well as a solid touring act on the club and theater circuits, this fairly recent transplant to Savannah stays busy on the road when not helping Savannah Country Day School’s jazz program, giving private guitar lessons or forming new groups with the likes of guitarist Jimmy Herring (The Dead, Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic) or keyboardist Ike Stubblefield (Eric Clapton, Al Green, Boz Scaggs).
He and his current rhythm section of bassist Andrew Altman and drummer Mark Raudabaugh will play a special New Year’s Eve gig with local Southern pop-rockers WormsLoew at River Street’s newest venue, the LiveWire. This will be one of his last area appearances until a featured slot at the 2009 Savannah Music Festival.
I caught up by phone with Rodgers following a packed gig with modern bluegrass sensations Larry Keel and Tony Rice at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse.
First of all, I know you just got back home to Savannah from playing a few road gigs. Where were you performing and how did the shows go?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I played in Atlanta with Tony Rice and Larry Keel at Larry’s Christmas Jam at the Variety Playhouse along with folks from my bands and Snake Oil Medicine Show. It was really fun. There was a great turnout. Everyone did 30 to 40-minute sets, and then we all sat in with Tony and Larry and all those other guys.
Had Larry done this sort of show before?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I don’t know if there have been others ones quite like this. It was the first one I’ve been in on. But I’ve played with Larry a bunch. We’ve been on some co-bills with each other and he and I always enjoy playing together when we hang out. He’s one of my best friends.
A while back you hired a completely new backing group when you switched out rhythm sections. Is it true that you met your current bandmates here in town and that you essentially offered them the job after an impromptu jam session at an open mic night?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yeah! (laughs) That’s pretty much how it went down. The other guys and I were going through some changes. We’d been together a long time, and I was wondering if I was just gonna take a break for a while and wait till I found some good new guys to play with. My wife encouraged me to go down to Kokopelli’s for one of their jazz open mic nights, and I really didn’t want to go! I had just come off of the road, and you know, when you do that, you’re REALLY tired. You don’t even wanna turn on the TV. (laughs) You just wanna sort of stare at the ceiling and try to remember what it’s like to feel like a human being. (laughs) You shake in a van for so many miles , and the whole adrenalin thing is going and you just get numb to it after a while. It’s kinda like having vertigo. I just wanted to rest, but she pushed me and actually went down there with me.
So, I was kinda spaced out, you know? I see these two guys playing and thought to myself, man, what in the world is happening here? I was literally questioning what I was hearing. I thought maybe I was just overly impressed because I was hearing live jazz after hearing nothing but rock stuff for a few months. But, I went out to my van and got my gear and I got up and started playing all these old standards. The musicians I had been playing with don’t always know the old jazz standards. See, in the jazz world, there’s a different harmonic language that I had been wanting to delve back into for a while. So I called these two guys the next day and I just said, hey, do you wanna join my band? I’d only heard them play jazz and so I actually said to them, “You guys play the funky stuff, don’t you?” (laughs) It’s ridiculous, I know, but I actually asked them that. (laughs)
I met them on a Wednesday night, called them on Thursday, the drove up from Florida where they lived and we rehearsed a little bit on Friday and then Saturday night we literally played a show at the Freebird in Jacksonville! (laughs) We rehearsed one day and that was it. I didn’t even give ‘em a CD. They listened to my music over the internet! (laughs) See, I’m so bad with computers, because I just didn’t grow up with all that stuff —downloading and everything— but these guys are hip. And that was it, man. It was “back in the van and off to the races!” It was funny how it all went down.
So these guys weren’t from Savannah?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: No, and that’s the craziest thing about this story! There was a young guy here in town named Alex Nguyen who plays horn, and I met these guys while they happened to be in town doing a session with Alex. He was trying to find the best players he could for the jam night, and they had literally driven up just for that audition. One’s from Gainesville and one’s from Fernandina Beach. They went to Florida State together and studied in the jazz program. I get up and start playing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Moment’s Notice,” which was kinda my way of checking the guys out. But then of course, I was also hoping I remembered the songs because I hadn’t played stuff like that in two years! That material is tough and it’ll slip away from you if you don’t keep up with them.
The whole scene was so surreal, man. I went home and honestly didn’t know what to say. Possibly the weirdest part was that when I got there, they had walked up to me and said hey, you’re Bobby Lee Rodgers! They’d seen me play in Asheville about a year ago. So the rest is history. We had all this jazz language in common, which is a major thing in a band like this. I don’t profess to be a bluegrass player, although I often play with all these bluegrass guys. But I’ve just never been in a band before where I had guys playing with me that really understand what I’m talking about when I discuss jazz harmony or soloists or whatever.
- Bobby Lee Rodgers
A lot of people you find who play in jam bands just get into “noodle-ville.” It kinda turns into “just play here” or “just play there.” It’s not about the actual phrasing, it’s more about catching a vibe and riding a wave. But for real jazz players, there’s always form. Even in free jazz, they’re setting up forms and that takes even bigger ears! For guys who’ve never really played or studied jazz, though, it’s really rough.
I’ve never considered myself “a jam-band guy.” I saw John Scofield and Medseki Martin & Wood and cats like that who were getting into it and I thought it was a great place for people to appreciate improvisation. But then it became labeled as that. I’m really a jazz musician. That’s where I come from. In my songs, you play the head —or sing the head— and then I improvise. I always thought the great jazz standards were first and foremost great songs! I wondered, why shouldn’t I write tunes with that in mind, but that I can also improvise off of. Like Ella Fitzgerald does when she’s singing “Lullaby of Birdland” and then there’s a great solo by Joe Pass or whomever was around at that time, and it goes on for as many passages as they feel like.
I always wished I could be around great players who understand these concepts, and when I met these guys who are in my band now, they already got where I was coming from. That’s kinda why I fell in love with this rhythm section immediately.
I guess it’s a god thing you all turned out to have compatible personalities. They could have just as easily been real assholes. (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Oh, I know! It’s just fate, man. I’m a pretty good judge of character, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. I was kinda watching them at that first Open Mic and they weren’t doing anything weird. They were on time, and I got a vibe that they were nice cats before they even played.
They were professional.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Exactly. That’s it. They were professional! So, right then I thought, okay, for somebody to drive all the way up from Florida in the middle of the week just for an Open Mic, they have to have something going for ‘em. (laughs) Bands break up every week. It’s a crap-shoot. But even though every band has their little quarrels, somehow it all works for us. They had known each other forever, and had been playing in all sorts of cover bands and stuff for five or six years. It says something to me that they had been in groups that had broken up, but the two of them had made an effort to remain together.
Like a real, traveling rhythm section.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Exactly. It was as though they were looking to find someone like me, and so we’re all willing to look over little idiosyncrasies for the sake of making something good happen. When you live on the road in a van, all the little stuff eventually comes out! (laughs) But, it’s almost scary how well and easy it’s been going so far. Before they started playing with me, they hadn’t really seen the end of the business that I had. Now they’re learning about what it’s like to deal with promoters and agents. It’s a complex animal as you well know, but they’re coming along fine.
It’s lucky for all concerned that I guess they were able to just pick up and go with you.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yes it was. They were about to move to New York City to try and break into the jazz world, and then my offer came along.------------------------------------------------ Here's a clip of Bobby and his current backing group playing a seemingly Sun Ra-influenced tune earlier in the year at Charlotte's Double Door Inn: ------------------------------------------------
It’s often mentioned in articles about you that you trained in guitar at the Berklee School of Music and then taught there for awhile. Some folks in the worlds of blues, jazz and rock music are inherently wary of going to school for their instrument, because they’re afraid that the regimentation and standardization of a music school education may somehow stifle their creativity or perhaps cost them some of their uniqueness as an artist. Was that ever a concern for you?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: No. Because I’m the biggest John Coltrane fan you could ever imagine. For me, he’s one of the cutting edge corners of the world in jazz. He has shaped so much of the new music we listen to nowadays. I figure if he studied at the Philadelphia School of The Arts, that I should study as well. (laughs) You learn from people. To me, music is a language, and if we’re sitting here talking together, but one of us has never gone to school, we can still talk — but how much communication can really take place? I studied Spanish, but I can’t speak it fluently. A lot of people can’t, because they have never lived in Spain. But if I were to write a song in Spanish and sing the same five sentences that way everywhere in the world it will touch so many more people. All going to music school means is that you’re going there to learn colors from master teachers who’ve been doing it for years and years and years.
But music is either in you or it’s not. All an education can do is enhance it. I only went to Berklee for a short period of time, but when I taught there, I faced kids who just couldn’t play anything! It wasn’t clicking for them. There was one student who’d been there for ten years, bro. He was just trying to learn jazz and harmonic techniques, and he couldn’t play a lick! This is where the business of the college comes into play. It’s like a carrot. They tell you to take this class and take that class. It wasn’t my bag! This guy was from Venezuela, and I was so upset for this guy who was wasting his life and he couldn’t even play over a simple blues progression.
I said to him, how did you learn English, and he said he’d started taking some classes. I asked him if that allowed him to speak it, and he said no. He said he followed that by learning some sentences, and I asked if that helped him to speak it, and he said no. I said, well, what did it take for you to be able to actually speak English, and he said it only happened after he finally moved here and then in the thick of things, all the rules and grammar that he had learned somehow started to make sense to him. So I told him, that’s exactly what you have to do with music! When people say it’s a language, they never tell you what that means. They never tell you WHY they’re calling it a language.
That’s what I tell everybody now. If you really want to learn how to do this, man you almost have to build your own guitar. (laughs) You have to learn to truly speak the language. You have to get your guitar and get your amp and go down to a gig and get your rear end handed to you night after night after night. That’s what Coltrane was all about. He still practiced 90 million hours a day and played all the time. All it is is tools.
People think they’ll go to Berklee and then they’ll sound like some guy from Berklee! They’re not looking at music as a language. We’re talking right now, and you’re educated in many disciplines. Writing, reading, playing music. It’s kind of like saying I’m gonna be a journalist but I’m never gonna go to high school or elementary school. (laughs) Sure, you can do it, but look at what you’re putting yourself up against! Not to mention you’ve got to find your own voice in music, with everything that’s already been done?
The guys that think that going to a music school is gonna mess with their creativity? I’ll never forget, when I taught a five-week program at Berklee, all these Japanese guys came over and they were maybe 16 years old. They were about to go to college, and literally, man, there were eight of them in a class of 20, and they all showed up on the first day holding the same Stevie Ray Vaughn model guitar and wearing all of his signature garb. They each thought they were so original! (laughs)
Oh man. (laughs) And they didn’t know each other?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: No! (laughs) Can you imagine? Each of them had come from different towns or villages, where I’m sure in their town they were like, the only one playing that guitar, the only one wearing that big sombrero hat. But when they saw each other in that class — can you imagine? (laughs) They were all just staring at each other with these looks on their faces like, wow, I really fucked up! (laughs)
But that’s the thing about that place. You have so many people with the exact same idea, and then you are forced to realize that you’re just not reinventing the wheel here. You wind up wanting to learn enough to speak in your own voice. You and I right now are improvising in this conversation. But we could both go back to school right now and study literature or whatever we’d care to and we would grow harmonically.
I mean, if I were to learn the word “juxtaposition”, I wouldn’t go out the next day and start forcing it into my conversations where it wouldn’t come naturally. Over time, it would just find its way out into my vocabulary a few months or years later. That’s true improvisation. I learned how master musicians used different modes, and then I try to figure out where and when I can use them to my own ends. You see what I’m saying?
The idea that music school will somehow stunt your creativity is a cop-out and a cliché. It’s the problem with that world. People think that musicians don’t need to buy into education. Mozart studied his rear end off! (laughs) What if Mozart had said, well, I don’t need to study anything? The problem is that there’s a lot of music education out there that is poorly regimented. The path you’re on at those schools is not the purist path. They’re just trying to get you to pay for more classes. However, even in those situations, there are some teachers out there that can change your life.
The day after I talked to that guy from Venezuela, he wrote me a letter and thanked me profusely and said he was withdrawing from school that day. We get so lost in all this other stuff like why am I learning these scales? They’re not gonna make me play. You’ve got to listen to ‘Trane or whomever does it for you, and then get out there and show up. I mean, Miles Davis went to Julliard! (laughs) You wanna tell me he didn’t study music? (laughs) Come on! Those are my heroes. They’re who I strive to be like.
Do you currently have any private students or teach at any schools on a part-time basis, or are you pretty much a full-time professional stage performer?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I’m starting to do some part-time students in town, and if anyone is interested they can e-mail me from my websites. I’m also helping Savannah Country Day with their jazz programs when I’m in town. But mostly, I’m touring full-time. In January alone I’ll play 15 to 20 gigs. The economy is weird right now, so some promoters want to wait a little bit. I’m trying to pick the shows that will keep my name profiled the right way. I don’t want to take just anything, so that when things do turn around I won’t have undersold myself all over the place.
What led you to Savannah, and what keeps you here?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Well, I got married, and my wife inherited a house here from her family. Then we had a baby and I fell in love with the city and stayed here. I also have a house in Atlanta that the band stays in and so Savannah is actually a satellite. We actually have a “band house.” (laughs) We all live in the same house. It’s awesome! (laughs)
(Laughs) Man, those guys scored! They meet some guy whose music they already dig at an Open Mic and the next day he asks them to be his band, puts them on the road and gives them a house in Atlanta? That’s some crazy shit.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: (Laughs hard) I know, man! Isn’t it? (laughs) But they sure work hard for it. We all bear the burden of the 24-hour drives. We share the load and help each other out and that’s what’s important.
As far as rock, jam and blues music goes, our town is somewhat notorious for being the home base of several artists or groups that have found great success and acclaim elsewhere while remaining relatively unknown or under appreciated here at home. I know that it’s only recently that you and your group have started to play Savannah on a fairly regular basis. Have you found this a more difficult town than most to break into and develop a large, loyal following?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: It seems like I’ve always done fairly decent in Savannah. I don’t know how, though. I remember eight years ago it was a little tough. (J.J.) Cagney’s was open then, which is now the LiveWire. Then it turned around and Cagney’s went away and there just wasn’t anything here for us to come back to. Now we’re having good crowds. We played an after-party immediately following a Widespread Panic show at LiveWire and we had 200 people in there. Now, some of those folks were from out of town, but it’s made me optimistic.
I’m just gonna keep truckin’ away, trying to help this town out musically as best I can. You have to build your own scene. I’m trying to bring in some other artists to the LiveWire. I’m also bringing some cats like Marcus Williams and Ike Stubblefield to the Savannah Music Fest, and trying to do what I can to help juice the scene in that way. If you present the right folks, people will come in from Hilton Head and Charleston and Jacksonville. I’m just here to help the city. I live in Savannah and it’s a great artistic town that needs some help. The Savannah Music Fest is making some real improvements. It’s an awesome event.
Off the top of your head, what would you say are the three main impediments to Savannah having a thriving and more prosperous original music scene of any sort?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Man, I don’t know. You have SCAD, but maybe a larger university would help out. One that had more of a Greek life. That kind of thing. I think the lack of that situation holds it back a bit. Because SCAD’s more of an artists’ school. I mean, do they even go out? (laughs) Do they do like, scenester type things?
Well, they do, but perhaps what you’re noticing is that because of the nature of the student body, perhaps a majority of them are more insular or private, or just more apt to socialize in their own homes as opposed to going out and partying at clubs.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: You may be right. That would make sense.
Also, one big problem is that the overwhelming majority of university or college students are between 18 and 21, so under our city’s liquor laws, they wouldn’t even be allowed to get into live music clubs that also function as bars. You tour all over the country. Can you give me a ballpark idea of the percentage of nightclubs you play which serve alcohol but which also allow folks under 21 in to enjoy the live music?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I’d say about 30 percent of the nightclubs we play in the U.S. allow folks in who are under 21. There are kids everywhere that love the songs! At the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta the other night, there was an eight-year-old kid with his mom, and the kid was singing my songs! How cool is that? It was an all-ages show and it was packed. You had all different types of demographics represented. It was nice.
So, if those clubs were forced to deny entry to underage patrons it would be a serious blow to your livelihood.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Absolutely! See, in theatres now, the money is down, so a lot of us are sticking together. We’re all talking about the economy and trying to pitch in and keep each other afloat.
So you do these multi-artist bills where everybody takes a smaller cut of the pie, but at least there’s still a pie!
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yep. That’s it. More bands for less money. The same old story! (laughs). That was proven the other night, buddy!
Then again, it’s a shared burden, in which everyone plays for less time and no one or two artists are forced to carry the night and draw a huge crowd on their own.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Right. That’s the hard part about all of this. We’re all trying to reassess how we look at touring. I’m starting a group with this fiddle player named Joe Craven, and another one with the keyboardist Ike Stubblefield. That way, you don’t have to do the same thing and grind it to death all over the country. You can have different groups and work together to move forward in the business.------------------------------------------------ Here's another clip from that Charlotte show at the Double Door Inn: ------------------------------------------------
For a while there, your band The CodeTalkers was notable for featuring the somewhat legendary avant-garde guitarist and vocalist Col. Bruce Hampton, but you and he have not played together for some time now. How long has it been since you all parted ways?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: It’s been about two-and-a-half years.
To many, his name in inextricably linked with your band, even though the overwhelming majority of the songs you two played together were composed by you. I know that lately, you’ve attempted to change the name of your band to kind of transition away from the CodeTalkers legacy, if only to reinforce to people that Bruce is no longer involved — but that’s been difficult, and you’re being advised by many in the industry to try and keep that name and just re-brand it yourself over time. Where does all this stand? Are you still trying to slowly divorce yourself from the CodeTalkers moniker, or do you imagine you’ll stick with it for a while?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I am probably just going back to using my own name and phasing out “The CodeTalkers,” whether it takes two or three or four years. With this new record, a lot of my friends are helping me on it, like Jimmy Herring. Big names that can help me get past this hurdle. When I get called for gigs, the smaller promoters want it to be known as The CodeTalkers, because it’s something folks are already familiar with, but the bigger promoters, like Rob Gibson at the Savannah Music Fest want to bill me by my own name.
As a fair shake to the fans out there, it’s Bobby’s music. If I were to use another band name right now, it’d make things even more confusing. I have never worked to build my own name (as a selling point). I just wanted a band, man! I wanted it to be like a team. You get in that van and everybody loves each other. But that’s not the way it is in this business. You have to watch out for your back, because the carpet can be pulled out from under you at any time.
Even if people really want me to use the old name, I’m not even sure if we’ll do it anymore. The last guys who were in the CodeTalkers weren’t happy that I keep using the name. They said we’ve broken up. But they were only on one album! (laughs) There were 20 guys in the band before them and the songs on that album were written and played long before those guys came on board. So, it’s gotta be my name.
It sucks, because you put so much work into something. But at the same time, maybe it is best in the long run — the natural order of things. I think our new record is killer, and all these other projects will boost my name as well. I like making people happy, and as long as that works, I’ll do it. Why would you want to go out with a girl who doesn’t want to be with you? This is real, and it’s all me.
For this New Year’s Eve gig, you’ll be joined by the local band WormsLoew, who’ll open up the show. Are you familiar with them?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yeah, I know all those guys. They’re all wonderful cats. I’m good friends with everybody in the band.
What’s your take on how their music compares and contrasts with what you guys are doing these days, and what sort of a match-up do you think this bill will be?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: They have such a positive energy and vibe. And they have good songs and presence. They’re just some of the best guys and great musicians. I mean, Steve Gerard is a fantastic guitar player. I look forward to it. We’ve been trying to do a show together for a long time. I like their manager as well. It’s gonna be a very fun night, for sure.
What can folks expect from your set on New Year’s Eve? Will it be drastically different from the other shows you’ve been doing lately in terms of material or vibe?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: We’ll definitely have a lot of new songs. There will be some brand-new material. In a way, it’ll kind of be like a farewell to the CodeTalkers name. That’s kind of what this show is about. It may linger for a while, though. Like, at a recent show, we pull up and they didn’t even put my name on the sign! (laughs) It just said The CodeTalkers, even though we’re trying to shed it.
Have you played a lot of New Year’s Eve gigs over the years?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Oh yeah, man. I really haven’t missed playing a New Year’s Eve since I was 16.
That’s something the girlfriends or boyfriends or spouses of professional musicians hate: their partner is usually never available to be with them on New Year’s Eve.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: That’s exactly right! (laughs) You know all about that stuff. I might be in trouble with my wife. (laughs)
Is there any particular New Year’s Eve gig that springs to mind when I ask you to name the wildest or strangest one you’ve been the entertainment for?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yeah. This for me was crazy. Now, for some folks it might not be. But when I was 19 years old at the University of Georgia, this guy called me many months in advance and offered me a GREAT paying gig. He said I’d make $3,500 just for myself! I was a college kid with a lot of bills and of course I said yes. Turns out there was some guy from Pakistan, and I don’t remember his name, but he was a big star in Pakistani music. They wanted me to back him up as part of his band. I have no idea how they found me.
Some of the musicians from that part of the world are just so talented it’s sick, so I figured it’d be a fun challenge to learn that kind of stuff. I thought it’d be cool to try and keep up with those guys. All I did back then was practice, but I never heard back from the guy with any details. He just kept saying not to worry, that the show was definitely gonna happen, and that it would work out fine. (laughs)
Finally, it’s New Year’s, and it turns out the show is somewhere like Richmond, Virginia! They pick me up in a van to go to make the drive and I get in there with like nine other guys I’ve never met before in my life. (laughs) We show up and we get out and the guy says you stand over there, and he handed me these weird clothes to wear. We all looked the same, like matching uniforms. We start to walk into the place and I said don’t you need me to get my amp or anything, and he said no, we’re not doing any of that — just stand there and pretend that you’re playing! (laughs)
It was this big Holiday Inn, and this guy we were on stage with was a famous, famous, famous, famous artist from Pakistan. He was a STAR, man. So you know when you go to a wedding or something in a hotel, they’ll have those ballrooms that are all separated by big moving partitions? Well, they had folded every single one of those back and made this one giant room that had like, 5,000 people packed in there! (laughs) So, I’m siting there, and they played a CD and told us to just act like we were playing along. And I got paid all this bread to pretend to play the guitar. The wildest part was, there wasn’t even any guitar on the CD! I just stood there. (laughs)
That’s unbelievable! (laughs) How long did this “show” go on?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: It lasted for two or three sets. When it was all over, these people came up and asked for our autographs! I signed a bunch of stuff (laughs) and then we all got back in the van. Too funny!
That had to make for some interesting conversations on the ride home! (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: (Laughs) Yeah! The drummer had this big drumset, but he had to be careful and not make a sound on it. (laughs)
Okay, now we’re into the Lightning Round: What’s the single biggest mistake you’ve made to date as a professional musician that you’d give anything to rectify?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Man, I don’t know. Let me think about this for a second. There’s gotta be a couple of things. Maybe not studying more? Probably not leaving Boston earlier. I stayed there a little too long. I probably should have left after three years. I could have gotten out earlier and spent more time with my family. I’ve learned you just have to put your family first. But it all worked out, because I could’ve gotten started on all this mess that much sooner. It’s a kind of beaten scene up there. We don’t even play Boston anymore. No mid-level touring groups do, unless they’re some real specific type of band. I wasted a lot of time trying to beat a dead horse up there.
Who’s one living musician that —if you had to— you’d travel around the world at your own expense for the chance to jam with for free?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Ravi Shankar.
What’s one pop song of the last 50 years that you wish you’d written and why?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Maybe “Yesterday.”
I know why you wish you’d written that one! (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: (Laughs) What do you mean? Why?
I assume because it’s the single most recorded and covered song in history and generates bajillions of dollars every year in royalties!
Bobby Lee Rodgers: (Laughs) That’s funny, because that’s not what I was thinking at all! I picked that because it’s one of the few pop songs that made it into the “Real Books.” I thought if I could make it in there I’d be writing songs that would be taken seriously in the jazz world, or at least played by those musicians. Because jazz is dying out. It’s so hard to make a living in that world. I thought maybe in the world I’m in that could happen. You could get up there and play a rock song that could have form and great chords and was a great song, too.
Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Wow. That’s tough.
Some of these questions seem simple, but they actually reveal a lot about someone’s taste and world view.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Golly, it does. I don’t know what to say. Probably Bo Diddley.
Little Richard or Prince?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Little Richard for sure! Prince stole everything from Little Richard! (laughs)
But Little Richard can’t play the guitar.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Yeah, Prince is a baddass. But those early guys pulled that stuff out of thin air. That’s why the Chuck Berry question was so difficult for me.
Bob Dylan or Neil Young?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Bob Dylan.
The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: The Beatles.
Okay. Now we’re gonna get real tricky. Stevie Ray Vaughn or Jimmie Vaughn?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Awww, that’s tough, man! Geez. Oh man, shoot. You’re just killin’ me here! (laughs) This one might take longer than anything. I don’t know. This is like the Bo Diddley thing. They’re both huge, and so are Bo and Chuck.
Just pick one. (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Okay. Jimmie Vaughn.
So, a shout out to the underdog.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Exactly. (laughs)
Fender or Gibson?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Gibson. But not for everyone. For me for sure.
Saturday Night Live or SCTV?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Saturday Night Live.
Bigfoot or The Abominable Snowman?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I don’t know, man. Lemme think. See, I’ve thought about things like this before. (laughs) Maybe they’re just the same thing? I’m gonna say The Abominable Snowman because nobody probably ever says that one. (laughs)
I don’t even know why I’m asking you these questions, it just seemed like a good idea.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Oh man, it’s cool. I’m all about this stuff. We think the same way.
Best Dracula: Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella or Gary Oldman?
Bobby Lee Rodgers: Oh man, Frank Langella, probably.
Wow. Good one. He’s like the forgotten Dracula. But he was the one that all the housewives wanted to have sex with. (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: You know it. See, I pose questions like this all the time. I’ll be sitting around with my band in the van and I’ll say, “Sting or John Coltrane?” When they say “Sting,” I say, “Okay...” (laughs) I mean, I appreciate where they’re coming from, but I mean, even Sting wouldn’t say that. I mean, come on.
Actually, he probably would! (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers: (Laughs) You might be right about that!
Thanks for taking so much time to rap with me.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: No, thank you for the great questions.
I know we talked about a lot of stuff, and so much of it won’t make it into the printed article, but it helps me to have a better understanding of just where you’re coming from. We can run an extended transcript online, but at the end of the day, the piece in our print edition is all about letting folks know about the New Year’s Eve gig. It’s all about putting people through the front door.
Bobby Lee Rodgers: I hear you, buddy. I want there to be a great crowd there that night as well, and I’m sure it’ll be a blast. But you know, the last thing I care about is hyping my name or being on a damn stage. I don’t give a fuck. I’m just trying to make some art. (laughs)
Bobby Lee Rodgers & Friends with WormsLoew
When: 9 pm, Wed., Dec. 31
Where: LiveWire Music Hall
Cost: $15 adv. / $20 at door