Since the death of Norton Buffalo, Roy Rogers has repeatedly stated he will not collaborate with another harp player.
The slide guitarist with a blues bent is famous for his collaborations with different artists, most notably a longtime partnership with Buffalo, the harmonica superstar who died in 2009 from cancer. The East Bay natives were even closer as friends than they were as musical duo. Rogers with another harp player just wouldn’t be right.
So concertgoers usually are surprised to learn Rogers latest collaboration is with harp player Carlos Reyes. The aha moment occurs when Reyes brings his instrument onstage. This harp doesn’t fit in a pocket.
Ninety percent of the time, Reyes said, the reaction is “Oh, my God. It’s a real harp.”
Reyes has played on a couple of Rogers records, and the two will be onstage Saturday, April 27, at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, along with Rogers longtime band the Delta Rhythm Kings, Kevin Hayes on drums and Steve Evans, bass.
“It’s all about expanding it, not resting on your laurels, and part of expanding that is interacting with other people, I am kind of known for that now,” said Rogers, who also teamed with former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Shana Morrison and produced four John Lee Hooker albums. “Collaborations, they force you to go in another spot. It’s a combo plate. I like that. It keeps you on your toes. I’ve collaborated with a lot of folks over the years and certainly Carlos Reyes is in a very special category.”
The category is so special, in fact, that Rogers and Reyes don’t even have a name for it.
“Sometimes when you have someone who you are so close to as a friend who also shares life’s thoughts and opinions,” Reyes said, “that after a while you develop this energy. And onstage, I couldn’t tell you what that is. Sometimes I’m afraid to try to describe it. I don’t want to jinx it.”
“When he and I are onstage, this thing happens,” he said. “When Buffalo and I were onstage, this thing happened in a different way. When Carlos and I are onstage, this energy happens that I can’t describe.”
Reyes was born in Paraguay and to be a musician. The son of a musician, he began violin lessons before he was 4 years old. He was 5 when he played in his first concert.
The elder Reyes often performed in the United States with Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat who was once married to the artist Charo. When Paraguay’s political climate made life unpredictable, the Reyes family moved permanently to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Reyes knew about Rogers since he was in high school. Both were in bands which played the same circuit. Rogers was from Vallejo and Reyes and – guess who? – Buffalo were from nearby Richmond. Buffalo and Reyes, who also plays violin and bass, collaborated throughout the years, and Buffalo more than a decade ago reintroduced Rogers and Reyes. The vibratory triumvirate had a similar chemistry, no matter the combination.
“I feel that I am a good chameleon about different kinds of music so sometimes it’s jazz or sometimes it’s bluesy,” Reyes said. “It’s kind of like a toolbox playing with Roy. It is the same way with Norton. We could just kind of explore different things that we learned playing with different people. I met Norton when I was 15. When we got reintroduced again with Roy, it was a natural match.”
Rogers, of course, always seems open to something new.
“With Carlos and I, much like with Buffalo but in certainly different fashion, there’s always an element of surprise,” he said. “That’s part of why I like the collaborative thing. You don’t quite know where it’s going to go, but it’s a lot of fun. If it’s fun for the musicians onstage, it’s always fun for the audience. Always.”
Reyes said the harp and violin are a contrast to Rogers’ slide guitar. But the different instruments meld in tone and approach.
“It’s almost like you don’t have to force it to keep going,” Reyes said. “What we have to do is remember to stop it so we can make it to the next part. For me it almost becomes like an out-of-body experience.”
Onstage, the experience is natural, but concertgoers might have to hear it to fully understand it.
“(Carlos) should be far more well known than he is,” Rogers said. “He’s truly a remarkable musician. But it’s not just about being a virtuoso. It’s about the energy and the synergy that happens onstage. You’ve seen me enough to know, the vibe onstage is crucial. It’s easy to do with a guy like Carlos. (But now it) will be with a harp player. I don’t know how in print you are going to get that across. You probably in parenthesis should say, ‘Not harmonica.’ There’s no other way to refer to a harp other than just a harp.”
Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings featuring Carlos Reyes
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room
Tickets: $27.50, www.ticketmaster.com, or phone 800-745-3000 or 866-448-7849