Listening to this music, it quickly becomes clear that this Roy Rogers is not the King of the Cowboys. Bluesman Roy Rogers has been nominated eight times for Grammy Awards and three times for the prestigious W. C. Handy Awards. Between recording albums with his band, The Delta Rhythm Kings, Rogers has been featured on albums with Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, Zucchero, and other artists. When he's not performing, he hosts a Saturday morning radio show that discusses genres that have grown from our musical roots and the influences on each.
While Roy Rogers is widely known as a bluesman and this release is clearly at root a blues album, the sound here is not necessarily pure Blues. What I hear more clearly is the blues-influenced end of the Rockabilly spectrum. There's a very thin line that divides electric Blues and Blues-based Rock and Roll. Slide a ways across that line and throw in a few country music influences and you've got the Rockabilly sound of artists like Carl Perkins and Wanda Jackson. I hear that sound in this live set.
Take the classic rocker "Shake Your Moneymaker" for example. This song started out as a Rockabilly hit by author Elmore James. Later, a dozen other artists, including a heavy Detroit Rock and Roll version by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, recorded it. Rogers actually takes the song back a step or two in the other direction, slipping in elements of Western Swing that give it a certain Bill Haley flavour.
Willie Dixon's "Built for Comfort" and Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" especially take the listener back to the middle decades of the last century. "Terraplane Blues" actually harks from earlier in the century, but the treatment here is very 1954. "Built for Comfort" moves the mood up somewhat to '56 or '57. Doesn't much matter the year, though. In any year, this music just sounds great.
A master guitarist in any style, Roy Rogers is especially known for his polished technique on slide. While some of his slide guitar work is clearly influenced by the Blues, a lot of his playing takes me back to the great slide guitar sounds I was hearing on Rockabilly and Country & Western music during the Fifties. This very country sounding slide guitar definitely contributes to the Rockabilly sound of many songs on this release.
Six of the songs on Live! were written by Rogers. Set against the classic numbers that are also included, these original compositions stand up very well. Strong rockers with well-written lyrics, these songs demonstrate that, more than simply a guitar player, Rogers is a highly talented all-around musician who has clearly earned the acclaim and respect he receives from fans and his peers.
A treat on this release is vocalist Shana Morrison. This girl rocks and rolls with the best of them, wailing out her words with howls that immediately bring to mind Buddy Guy's unique vocal style. And these vocals are rich and sensual, imbued with feeling that's darkly primal and sexual. It's unfortunate that this powerful vocalist sings lead only in a duet with Rogers on "Stranger Blues" [listed on the cover as "I'm a Stranger Here"] originally recorded by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
"Gertie Ruth" starts out with a very bluesy guitar break then quickly slips into a very Cajun sound complete with bayou-flavoured fiddle, almost like a Louisiana take on "Long Tall Sally." Shana Morrison powers this one up with some very gutsy backup vocals. The effect reflects less authentic Cajun folk music than the faux Cajun sounds created by Chuck Berry ("You Never Can Tell") or Hank Williams ("Jambalaya"), but with a tad more of that Rockabilly energy.
This release is an enhanced-CD. I usually enjoy getting an enhanced CD because of all the extra features it can be expected to offer. Placed in a CD player, it will play like any other CD. Put in a CD-ROM drive, the enhanced mode will kick in. On such releases, I've found extended liner notes, interesting biographical information on all players, extra mp3 tracks, videos, Internet links, and more. This CD is no such joy. Most enhanced-CD products offer the user the choice of using the enhanced section or not, and they do not install programs on the computer. This CD asks the user to install and then sign up for something called Bandlink before the bonus features can be accessed. This is more likely to turn-off than please listeners.
Even with its clunky computer enhancement, this CD, recorded live in the Big Room at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, would make an excellent addition to any collection of contemporary Blues artists or to the music library of any fan of the very best Rock & Roll music.
Those who may be interested can find additional information about Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings at "The Slide Zone" website. You can listen to some clips of Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings at the same website.
Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
Chops Not Chaps Records