The last time Roy Rogers played at Squaw Valley, the Bluesdays attendance record was set. The first time he played there, the president of the United States was Lyndon B. Johnson.
Just a middle-schooler from Vallejo, California, Rogers played guitar and sang for a band called The Newports, which included older high school students with driver’s licenses. The event was the Truckee High School Senior Prom.
“I was a little rock and roller,” Rogers told Tahoe Onstage. “We wore gold lame jackets and I was playing Little Richard and Chuck Berry riffs. I wasn’t playing with a slide yet.”
That was just before Rogers’ older brother came home from college with a blues album.
‘The metamorphosis really started in earnest with Robert Johnson because I’d never heard that kind of playing before,” Rogers said.
His career as a blues musician got a boost from an unlikely source, a newspaper reporter, who coined a phrase to avoid confusion with the “King of the Cowboys,” who also was named Roy Rogers — “This is the one with chops, not chaps.”
Rogers became a master slide guitarist who has released numerous albums with Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings and during years-long collaborations with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and Ray Manzarek. He won a Grammy Award for his production work with John Lee Hooker.
Rogers plays his instrument with such velocity that once between songs Reyes feigned empathy for the acoustic guitar.
“What did that little thing ever do to you?” he asked.
Slowing down is not a trait Rogers possesses. His creativity and enthusiasm fuel his music. Rogers’ latest collaboration is with Carlos Reyes, a native of Paraguay, and Badi Assad, a Brazilian vocalist who is classically trained in guitar and percussion. The trio is called Stringshot.
“It’s a different realm for me,” Rogers said. “You know me, I’m always trying to push the envelope. It’s blues, but not straight-ahead blues. It’s blues and Latin and her Brazilian flavor and obviously Carlos, with his wonderful violin and harp playing, it’s just a great fresh combination of instruments and voices. Her voice and mine go well together.”
During a West Coast tour this month, Assad made time for studio sessions with Reyes and Rogers, who said he wants to have a Stringshot tour in 2018. He said he’ll also continue to tour with The Delta Rhythm Kings.
Rogers’ most recent Lake Tahoe appearance was last summer when he opened for the Steve Miller Band. Rogers was accompanied by The Delta Rhythm Kings, along with guests Reyes and keyboardist Jim Pugh.
Rogers and Reyes also joined the ”Space Cowboy” for a song. During the encore, Miller surprised them by inviting them back onstage again. It was strange to see Rogers without his guitar or Reyes without his violin. The two sang harmonies and put on some dance moves that almost looked choreographed.
“I hope there’s some footage of that,” Rogers laughed. “That was spontaneous combustion. That was completely off the cuff and that made it all the more fun.”
Rogers will be back at the other side of the lake on June 27, along with The Delta Rhythm Kings, bassist Steve Ehrmann and drummer Kevin Hayes.
“We’re just going to blow it out like we try to do every time,” he said. “It’s going to be full tilt. It’s such a fun gig up there. It’s a Tuesday night and people are just primed and ready to rock. It’s a very cool scene. Everybody’s up close and personal and that’s good.”
- Ninth annual Bluesdays
6-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
The Village at Squaw Valley
June 27 — Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
July 4 — Chris Cain (plus skiing)
July 11 — Grady Champion
July 18 — Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
July 25 — Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers
Aug. 1 — John Nemeth
Aug. 8 — Anthony Gomes
Aug. 15 — Coco Montoya
Aug. 22 — Ronnie Baker Brooks
Aug. 29 — Dennis Jones Band
Sept. 5 — Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Revue, Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh