Q&A with guitarist/singer I.J. Ganem of The Rogues Five - music from the past to the present hits of today

"It’s the message, the feeling, and the emotion that pulls it all together. Good music no matter what kind is the glue that ties people together and make them feel."

I. J. Ganem: Oklahoma Harmonies

Performing music from the past to the present hits of today, from Rock to Big Band to Country to show stoppers, I. J. Ganem’s repertoire exceeds over 500 dance and show tunes. He performs with an extremely talented group of professional musicians and comes fully produced with professional stage lighting, sound, and tech crew. I. J. has performed all over the United States and continues to make new fans wherever he goes. Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating wrote, “I. J., I’m a fan, Cathy and I look forward to your next show.” He has appeared at command performances for United States Legislators, Senators, and Congressmen and has performed at the inaugural ball for four Governors of Oklahoma.

He was invited to perform at the first Inaugural Ball for former U. S. President Bill Clinton in Washington DC. As the star of “Branson City Lights,” the largest production show to ever open in Branson Missouri, I. J. Ganem blazed his way into Branson history as best new show of the year. He has worked with many of the world’s most well-known performers: The Rogues Five, Roy Clark, Ronnie Milsap, The Gatlin Brothers, Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks and Dunn), Tanya Tucker, The Smothers Brothers, Ricky Skaggs and the list goes on and on. He has two nationally aired music videos and has recorded several record albums. The Rogues Five played the music that got people dancing, twisting and shouting — and teenage girls screaming. They opened for The Doors and other big names at the Tulsa Convention Center (now the Cox Business Center). They were a regular band on KOTV’s popular teen dance show “Dance Party.” They had a record that charted regionally, right up there with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The first Rogues Five reunion, 50 years after the band formed by Ganem, Randy Ess, Philip Wilson, Bard Coats and Jamie Oldaker was on Jan. 16, 2015, in Sand Springs.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Rogues Five sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Our music is the sound of the 1960’s, with strong harmonies and memorable hooks. Randy and I always wrote the songs from our personal experiences.

What were the reasons that your generation started the Rock n’ Roll searches and experiments?

When we were just kids we saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and that was it, we knew we wanted to do music. Music in the 60’s was fun and free spirited, all of us kids were learning and experimenting together. Music was the glue that made it all come together and still is!

"I’ve learned to love people, be happy and share my talent with others. Most people want to be able to do music, perform, and sing. I get to do all of this and make a living at the same time. It’s truly a blessing! No complaints here." (Photo: Rogues Five 1965 - 2015/ Jamie Oldker, Philip Wilson, Bard Coats, I. J. & Randy Ess)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the Rogues Five reunion?

Life makes me laugh, I try to take things easy, don’t worry about the small stuff, and enjoy each other and life in general. Life is a gift, be grateful for it! The R5 reunion was absolutely fantastic! The band had no idea our fans would turn out like they did and there was so much LOVE in the room, it was really touching. Everyone was there to have a great time, see old friends, listen to fun music that we all grew up to and just enjoy everyone being together again. On a personal note, the reunion also gave me a chance to have my son Morgan perform with the Rogues Five. He has grown up hearing about the band and all of the fun we had back in the day. Actually, Morgan is the main reason the R5 reunion happened, he put the whole event together. It was a blast!

Why did you think that the Tulsa Sound continues to generate such a devoted following?

Tulsa and Oklahoma in general continue to produce incredible musical talent. The Tulsa sound is simply really great musicians coming together to make honest music from the heart. That’s what people want, music they can believe in!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Well, meeting my wife Tammy is the most important meeting, but career wise meeting a man named Jim Thomas was big in my career. He told me that perception is the most important thing. He said “you are as they perceive you to be” so keep the perception up!

"I’m good right here. I enjoy the past and look forward to the future, but I’m happy right here. So, my answer is, I’d like to go right here for the whole day!" (Photo: I. J. and his wife, Tammy Morgan Ganem, Oklahoma, late 1980s)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I have lots of great memories from the Rogues Five but one that stands out is when we opened for Jim Morrison and the Doors at the Tulsa Civic Center in front of about 10,000 people. Morrison and his band were not getting along very well at the time because they had just performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and Morrison went against Sullivan’s request for him to NOT say “girl we couldn’t get much HIGHER” on live TV. After Morrison’s defiant act, Sullivan said they would never play on his show again. The Doors thought Morrison had ruined their careers so when they came to Tulsa the Doors weren’t really talking with Jim, so he hung out with us the whole afternoon. That was an AWESOME memory from the Rogues Five days.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I would say I miss the camaraderie with the guys the most. We had a lot of good times playing, touring, writing and just being friends. As far as hopes, I hope the music of the 60’s will live forever and be passed down to future generations to enjoy.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That record labels would be more fair with artist and writers. Many great artists die penniless and the labels just get bigger. Not fair, not good.

"Tulsa and Oklahoma in general continue to produce incredible musical talent. The Tulsa sound is simply really great musicians coming together to make honest music from the heart. That’s what people want, music they can believe in!" (Photo by John Southern / I. J. with his son, Morgan Ganem on guitar, and Josh Ward on bass)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Pop, Folk and Rock n’ Roll music?

It’s the message, the feeling, and the emotion that pulls it all together. Good music no matter what kind is the glue that ties people together and make them feel.

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture and what does the blues mean to you?

I’ve learned to love people, be happy and share my talent with others. Most people want to be able to do music, perform, and sing. I get to do all of this and make a living at the same time. It’s truly a blessing! No complaints here.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’m good right here. I enjoy the past and look forward to the future, but I’m happy right here. So, my answer is, I’d like to go right here for the whole day!

Photo: Rogues Five

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