with Flatland Cavalry, Koe Wetzel
Authenticity isn't something that can be manufactured in a studio. It's not a craft that can be learned or artfully practiced. It comes from living life. It's the byproduct of blood, sweat and tears and as the foundation for music, it elevates mere entertainment to compelling art. Every note, every word on the Randy Rogers Band's new album Nothing Shines Like Neon rings with authenticity that makes each song linger with the listener long after the music fades."You've just got to be true to yourself and you can't fool anybody," Rogers states matter of factly of the band's philosophy. "As a whole, our body of work is pretty consistent to our live show and the band that plays on the record is the band that you go see."The same line up has been performing together since 2002 and the music has evolved as they've soaked up life experience. "As men we've all matured and lived a lot of life together," Rogers says. "We've had a few breakups happen to us. We've had babies. We've had life changes. We've been on the road 200 shows a year. I've been in this band 15 years so a lot has changed. I still listen to Merle Haggard every night. I mean that hasn't changed, but a lot has changed for us musically and privately. We all are in a good spot and we all are just as good friends as when we started."Camaraderie and creativity have made Rogers and bandmates Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Johnny "Chops" Richardson (bass guitar), Brady Black (fiddle), Les Lawless (drums) and Todd Stewart (utility player) one of the top bands on the competitive Texas music scene. Nothing Shines Like Neon continues the momentum established by the band's four previous albumsRandy Rogers Band, Burning the Day, Trouble and Homemade Tamales, each of which went to No. 1 on iTunes. Earlier in 2015, Rogers joined friend Wade Bowen to record the critically acclaimed album Hold My Beer Vol. 1. Produced by Nashville legend Buddy Cannon (Willie/Merle) at Cedar Creek in Austin, RRB's news album Nothing Shines Like Neon showcases the band's taut musicianship as well as Rogers' earnest vocals and insightful songwriting on such instant classics as the groove laden "Rain and the Radio," the heartbreak anthem "Neon Blues" and the playful "Actin' Crazy," a duet with Jamey Johnson. "Jamey and I wrote that song together," Rogers notes. "I met a movie star a few days before Jamey and I were going to write. I was in LA playing at the House of Blues and he came out to the show. I was thinking about him and thinking about being a struggling actor living in LA and having to put up with all the bullshit that LA is. I just wrote that song about him."The album opens with the fiddle driven shuffle "San Antone". "That is a Keith Gattis song. He wrote by himself. Being from Texas and living so close to San Antonio, I don't think that song is going to hurt me at all," Rogers laughs. "It's one of those songs when I heard it I was like, 'Oh hell! Why didn't I write this song?'" "Takin' It As It Comes" features Lone Star legend Jerry Jeff Walker. "I've been a big fan of Jerry Jeff's all my life," Rogers says. "He came in the studio with us, got in there with the band, jumped around and played guitar and sang. We had a great time.""Rain and the Radio" is Rogers' homage to Ronnie Milsap. "I wrote that with Sean McConnell. He and I have written a lot of songs through the years. I've always been a huge Ronnie Milsap fan and to me that song has a little Milsap feel to it, kind of a bluesy country thing, which we haven't done before. Any artist that I look up to always tries to create something different and pushes the envelope a little bit. I think we do with that song in particular. It's very country. It's just very different. As a band, we're trying to broaden our horizons and I don't think that's a bad thing. If we were all just stuck doing the same old thing, we would all be bored. We probably wouldn't still be here. It's just a matter of spreading your wings a little bit." "Look Out Yonder" is a poignant tune Rogers recorded in honor of his mentor, the late Kent Finlay. "Kent gave me my start in the music business. Up until the day that he died, we talked about songs and about music," Rogers says. "We actually named the record, Nothing Shines Like Neon after a lyric in one of his songs as a tribute to him. Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski are singing on 'Look Out Yonder', which was written by Earl Bud Lee, who is most famous for writing 'Friends In Low Places'. He and I have been friends for 10 years and he has always wanted me to cut that song. I've never had a record where it fit and just thinking about losing Kent and Kent going to heaven and joining his mom, 'Look out yonder coming down the road' it just fit. I haven't performed that song yet live, but I know I'm going to have a hard time getting through it. The day we started our record, I got a call that Kent passed away so this record is definitely dedicated to Kent. That song makes me think about all of us musicians and how we are crazy as hell and lead the most unorthodox lives. Most of us return back to our roots, so hopefully this is an album that glorifies Kent's life and is also a nod to the traditional sounds that we all grew up loving."A native of Cleburne, Texas, Rogers grew up addicted to traditional country music. "I wanted to be George Strait when I was in the sixth grade," he says with a smile. "And I grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, I've listened to them more than anybody else, my whole life. I always liked songs. I always wanted to find out who wrote the songs and what the songs were about. I always liked the art and the craft of being a songwriter. My dad's Beatles records got played a lot and Michael Martin Murphy is another one I listened to a lot as a kid. My dad was a huge fan."Like many artists, Rogers got his start performing in church and then expanded to local venues. "I could write a song when I was pretty little, 11, 12 or 13," he says. "It's like a kid who could do calculus or something. It was just something that clicked in my brain for me. I went and finished college and got a degree in public relations and then started a band."Since then the Randy Rogers Band has steadily built a following that has spilled beyond their native Texas. For the past 10 years they've recorded for Universal Music Group, but on Nothing Shines Like Neon, Rogers again takes the reins, releasing the album on his own Tommy Jackson Records, named after a song he wrote for their very first album. "It's a very obscure Randy Rogers Band song and to this day there is always this one drunk kid at a show that says, 'Play "Tommy Jackson!" Play "Tommy Jackson!"' It's kind of a running joke within our band. It's like, 'How in the hell did this kid in Iowa City, Iowa remember that stupid song "Tommy Jackson?"' It's about a guy who is on the run from the cops, wanted for murder. It's a story song and we just felt like it was a unique way to name a record label."Nothing Shines Like Neon is a stellar collection in an already impressive body of recorded material that owes a lot to the band's potent live show. "You come to a show, you know what you're going to get," Rogers says. "We've worked hard at making ourselves better on stage and we care about our live show. It's a way to come out and unwind, and we've stuck to writing songs that are about real life, about breakups or divorces, falling in love or babies being born, and in the case of this record even death, the ups and downs of life. People can relate. That's what country music is supposed to be. Our band has been around for a long time because there's no bullshit to us. We're not in it to be rich and famous. We're in it to make a living, provide for our families and do something that we all love. You can't fool people and we haven't ever tried. I think that's the key."
Randy Rogers Band:
The son of a preacher who can rock with the best of them, Randy Rogers was raised by his parents Danny and Donna in Cleburne, Texas. It was a pretty typical upbringing, Mom was a teacher’s aid in special education and Dad was a Baptist Preacher. From an early age, music was an everyday part of his life. His Dad and best friend regularly played guitar and sang in the house and Randy’s Great Grandmother Ruth taught him how to play the piano when he was six years old. By age eleven, he was writing songs and teaching himself to play chords on guitar.
Randy’s love for music grew over the years as he began to listen to artists like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Don Williams, The Beatles and even Pearl Jam. He began experimenting with his live show when his high school garage band performed a Stone Temple Pilots cover in a talent show.
Rogers went on to play as a sideman for several years…playing guitar and singing harmony vocals. His first two years as a sideman made him realize that he wanted to form a band and treat each member as an equal. “I was in a band before as a sideman and was treated as a side guy…I hated it,” said Rogers. “These guys are up there with me night after night, they deserve to be factored into the big decisions.” This notion was catalyst for the beginning of the Randy Rogers Band. After years of playing the songwriter circuit in San Marcos, Texas and playing with friends and fellow musicians…the Randy Rogers Band began to take shape.
Down in Texas, folks have known Rogers had the goods that would take him the distance long before he even cracked the regional radio charts. Folks like Kent Finlay, songwriter and owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse in the small college town of San Marcos (halfway between Austin and San Antonio), who pulled a young Rogers out of the club’s weekly songwriter’s circle and told him he could have his own night if he could put a band together. Less than two months after the Randy Rogers Band’s first rehearsal, they cut their debut record — Live at Cheatham St. Warehouse.
That was six years ago and well over 1,000 shows ago. Even on that first record, the songs were all original tunes, and Rogers has always been adamant about sticking with that “Band” part of the moniker. The current lineup — Rogers on vocals and rhythm guitar, guitarist Geoffrey Hill, fiddle player Brady Black, drummer Les Lawless and bassist Jon Richardson — has been together for more than three years now, going back to Rollercoaster (the band’s second studio effort). By then they were already well on their way to being the biggest homegrown force on the Texas scene since Pat Green, who had already crossed over to the national arena. Rollercoaster - produced by fellow Texas maverick Radney Foster - would prove to be the Randy Rogers Band’s own E-ticket ride to the big leagues.
Foster, who has since become a close friend and mentor to Rogers, was as impressed with the young artist as Finlay had been years before. “The first thing that struck me was Randy’s songwriting,” says Foster. “Lots of guys can get a crowd going, but they can’t deliver a real song. Randy’s got a keen wit and a massive amount of heart, and all of that comes through in his songwriting. And his voice is so compelling, too — he has all the swagger of Steve Earle and the grit of John Fogerty, but with vulnerability as well. And the energy that he and the band have in the studio reminds me of when Foster and Lloyd were making our first records.”
Between the rave album review for Rollercoaster in USA Today, the national chart success of Rogers/Foster-penned single, “Tonight’s Not the Night” (stopping just shy of the Top 40) and no small amount of Music Row buzz on the band, it was truly “just a matter of time” before the major labels came calling.
After months of meetings with every label in Nashville, Rogers and Co. signed with Mercury Nashville, sealing the deal at the joint where it all started: Cheatham Street Warehouse. And then they teamed up with Foster again at Austin’s Cedar Creek Studio and got to work making the biggest record of their career to date — with full understanding from the label that they would not compromise their sound or style.
“We were really conscious about not letting the fact that this was going to be our major-label debut mess with our heads” says Rogers, “Because to us, this record is really just the next step. For many folks who don’t know about the movement that’s going on down here, it’ll be their first look at us. But we approached this like we were making our fifth record, not our first. And there was a lot of trust from the label in terms of, ‘You guys go out there and make a record and turn it in, and we’ll leave you alone and let you do your thing.’”
“Randy and the band have a strong sense of what they want to do,” observes Foster. “They didn’t have any of the nervousness that goes along with making a first major label record, and I think Mercury recognized that the band knew what they were doing.”
In exchange for that creative freedom (and the luxury of a considerably bigger budget than they’d ever had before), the band and Foster delivered on their end of the bargain. Like Rollercoaster before it, Just a Matter of Time plays like a rock ’n’ roll album with a country heart as big as Texas, or a straight-up country record played by a killer rock ’n’ roll band. But in fine country tradition, it’s the uniform quality of the songs that really steals the show. All but two were co-written by Rogers (four with Foster himself, a potent combo that yielded many of Rollercoaster’s brightest moments, including the single and “Somebody Take Me Home,” later covered by Kenny Chesney for his The Road and the Radio album); the other two were contributed by bassist Richardson (a former front man in his own right) and Foster and George Ducas, who first struck gold co-writing Foster’s first big solo hit, “Just Call Me Lonesome.” Here, they contribute the irresistible “Kiss Me in the Dark,” which was pretty much destined to be the lead single from the very first time the band heard it. “If we were going to cut an outside song, it had to be such a great song that you couldn’t pass on it,” says Rogers, smiling. “It would have to be a single.”
Rest assured, though, it won’t be the album’s only single, just as Just a Matter of Time most certainly won’t be the last time people will be hearing from the Randy Rogers Band. It’s almost irrelevant, really, whether people recognize this as the band’s fifth album or mistake it for their first, because either way, this particular rollercoaster is only just now starting to really pick up speed.
“We just wanted this record to be an honest representation of where we were at when we signed our first major-label deal,” says Rogers. “I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, but … we’re going to make another record pretty soon, and hopefully we’ll feel like that’s the best record we’ve ever done, too. The idea is to just continue to raise the bar.” Their newest album, "Burning the Day", was released in 2010.