A version of this feature appeared in the Toronto Star on Thursday, December 26, 1997

GARNET ROGERS FINDING HIS VOICE

New Album's Songs Put Brother Stan's Legacy In Perspective

 

By Nick Krewen

If Volvo ever needs a spokesman to testify to the long distance endurance of their automobiles, they should give GARNET ROGERS a call...or at least check his odometer.

Over the past twelve years, the Ancaster-based folksinger and songwriter has racked up over a million kilometres and a pair of Volvos while criss-crossing North America, road-testing his solemn baritone as he's expanded his repertoire to seven sturdy albums and an annual audience of approximately 50,000 loyal patrons.

His most frequent companion has not been his devoted wife GAIL, but the trusty Volvos that have carted him to 250 gigs around the continent. Small wonder he still speaks of his first car, a blue 240, with the type of affection usually reserved for a lover or a canine.

"I can't tell you how many times that blue car went over the Rockies," Rogers says, smiling as he reminisces at the corner table of a Toronto restaurant, relaxing beside his wife.

"Back and forth. Over the hump. Anywhere between San Diego and Florida and Maine and Nova Scotia, and right up to the Alaska Highway. It was a great car."

After 600,000 clicks, he replaced it with a new white 740 model , the car that will get him to The Oasis tonight (December 26, $16) for the first of a three-night stand. The odometer currently sits at the 458,000 km mark, but he seems no less enamored.

"I love this car! It's got heated seats," he laughs. "It's a smooth, fast car and I love it."

Not surprisingly for one who spends so much time behind the wheel, he's christened his latest album Night Drive, released earlier this year on his own Snow Goose Records.

Although he's dipped his toes in electric waters once before with 1992's At A High Window, Night Drive is a radical departure from the acoustic intensity of such earlier acclaimed efforts as The Outside Track and Small Victories. Listen to the bluesy drawl of "Jesus And Elvis," the seething rock 'n roll vigor of "Never So Lonely" or the downtrodden velocity of "Love's Been Linked To The Blues," and it's evident that Night Drive is Rogers' Bringing It All Back Home.

"It's probably the closest to what I've been hearing in my head all these years," says Rogers, 41, his imposing 6'4 frame tucked behind a table as he prepares for a lunch of carrot-ginger soup and Eggs Benedict.

"Whatever night I've been up on stage playing a battery of acoustic guitars, or whatever I'm using, I've always been hearing the voices in my head. I find (this album) a lot more satisfying and interesting just because of the layers of sound."

For Rogers, the decision to turn up the volume came from watching Hamilton rockers JUNKHOUSE impress the hometown crowd with a raggedy set one summer night at the city's annual Festival Of Friends.

"I was listening to (guitarist) DAN ACHEN generating feedback and noise on stage, and I said to Gail, `This sound of feedback is kind of in my DNA,'" Rogers recalls.

"I grew up in the Sixties. I was listening to JIMI HENDRIX and THE ROLLING STONES and THE BEATLES and BOB DYLAN.

"I just wanted to get back to the sound that really got me involved in music in the first place: the sound of electric guitars and really heavy drums, the Hammond B-3 organ, and that really kind of -- I don't want to use that term classic rock necessarily -- but there is a reason the songs continue to stay around. That strong sound gets you."

Strange talk for a folkie who spent the '70s and early '80s touring and recording with his elder brother Stan. Up until STAN ROGERS' tragic death in a Cincinnati plane fire on June 2, 1983, Garnet served as accompanist on guitar, fiddle, flute and harmonies, and as arranger on such classics as "Fogarty's Cove" and "Barrett's Privateers."

"Folk music was great because it was accessible," Garnet explains. "You could get the new Bob Dylan album, sit in your room with your guitar -- or in my case, a ukulele -- and step into that little world of the song and perform it yourself. That's really exciting and immediate and magical.

"When everything got electrified it was,` Wow! You can play it way too loud and dance and move around to it, and still really enjoy the lyric!' It was perfect for me!"

Rogers had little time to grieve for Stan before striking out on his own, fulfilling a number of previously booked New England folk club dates, and recording his self-titled debut album a year later. Before long, Garnet Rogers established himself as a first-class interpreter, setting the wheels in motion for his eventual emergence as a profound lyricist and respected composer.

With Night Drive, the healing crosses the threshold from private to public.

"Golden Fields" and "Night Drive" are the first songs where Garnet has reflected on life on the road with his brother.

"It was an act of bravado on one level, and it was also the next logical step," Rogers sighs. " Every song I've ever written has been an attempt to make some sense of my life at some level. Now it's just gotten a lot more personal. Of all the songs I've written, "Golden Fields" and "Night Drive" are the hardest ones I ever wrote, and the most honest. There's no line I would change. I'm going to, at least in some sense, journey back there everytime I perform those songs."

Rogers says performing the two selections sends him down Memory Lane.

"By the end of whatever shape and form "Night Drive" has taken at the end of the night, I'm in some kind of odd trance state," he explains. "At that point I have to unplug the guitar and step away from it for awhile, come back and get out of that smelly old blue van with the whiskey bottles and remnants of egg sandwiches and stuff."

The next step? Better distribution for his albums, currently available through Valerie Enterprises, R.R. #1, Hannon, Ontario L0R 1P0.

"Having a career in folk music is kind of like being in the Federal Witness Protection Program," jokes Rogers. "People know you're out there. They just can't quite find you."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1984 -- Garnet Rogers -- Snow Goose

1986 -- The Outside Track

1988 -- Speaking Softly In The Dark

1990 -- Small Victories

1992 -- At A High Window

1994 -- Summer Lightning Live  (with Doug Long)

1996 -- Night Drive

1999 -- Sparrow's Wing

 

THANKS: MITCH POTTER, GAIL PARKER ROGERS

©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink.

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