Vancouver’s bluesman James ‘Buddy’ Rogers talks about his blues buddies and Canadian scene

"Open up and realize Blues is universal and not boring, sad, and rough around the edge whiskey voice music."

James "Buddy" Rogers: Me and my guitar 

Most blues musicians can proudly recall their age and stage in life when they received their introduction to blues music. It is a coming of age in a sense - before the blues and after the blues. For Vancouver’s James ‘Buddy’ Rogers, life as he knew it was inherently different after discovering the blues.

James ‘Buddy’ Rogers learned to love the blues close to home. His dad, Bud worked for the railroad and often brought home records and a guitar and by the time little Buddy was 10 he was lifting licks. By 11 he’d formed a band and started gigging. Within two years he was a regular at local blues clubs. At 15 his band Texas Storm was being booked by Canada’s top agency for opening concert slots.

At the age of 19 Rogers teamed up with former B.B. King bassist Russell Jackson and began a tour that lasted five years.  Based in Kansas City, they played an endless string of clubs, concerts and festivals sharing the bill with Canned Heat, Sam Taylor, The Holmes Brothers, Elvin Bishop, Kenny Neal, Katie Webster and countless others.  In 2000 Buddy started his own band and played blues clubs across Canada and Europe. When he wasn’t working under his own name he appeared on US tours and recordings with many other blues acts.

James ‘Buddy’ Rogers’ main influences on guitar - Johnny Watson, Jimmie Vaughan and the three Kings - plus years of being a blues road warrior have helped shape him into one of the most inventive and penetrating blues guitarists performing today. His new CD My Guitar’s My Only Friend was produced by Tom Lavin of Powder Blues fame and features 10 songs written by Lavin and Rogers.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the “Americana” mean to you?

There is nowhere to hide in the blues. The truth always comes out.  I actually first learned about blues in Canada where I grew up and currently reside and traced it back to the old school American blues cats when I was a kid.

 

How do you describe James ‘Buddy’ sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

Most would say my sound is a mix of Robert Cray meets Albert King/Fabulous Thunderbirds. Everything comes from the blues and I like to go back to where it all started and keep things simple. Less is more.

 

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

Tom Lavin. He has done it all on a blues music level. He gives me his honest opinion whether I like it or not. And that’s exactly what a musician needs to improve. The honest truth. Of course I owe a lot to the legends and all my influences, but no one more so personally than Tom.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

There are so many best moments. Touring with BB King’s bassist for 5 years was amazing. Playing with many of the artists I grew up listening to is also a dream come true. Simply having 1 person in a crowd that really appreciates the music is what makes it all worthwhile. As for the worst part, well that would be rolling a van 40 feet off a cliff into a creek and getting arrested for assault when I met up with the thieves who stole my guitar and amp earlier this year.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Musically I would say when I was touring the USA back in the late 90’s. We toured and drove over 500,000 miles in about 5 years. I became a business owner in several ventures over the years and have stayed closer to home since 2001; I still tour to this day but not as extensively.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD MUSICIAN and SONGWRITER?

I have lived through a lot.  Especially over the past few years. A lot of personal turmoil to say things politely. I have seen a lot over the past 25+ years as a musician and hope that some of my music can be felt by others too. 

 

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

I get my inspiration from life experiences. They don’t always have to be my experiences, but they are always something I can relate to in some way. I don’t have specific mentors for writing and I don’t follow specific ‘rules’ of songwriting, if any exist. I just write about something and make the music fit the mood I feel and go from there.  Naturally I think I write in the style of my influences and those who wrote or co-wrote songs for or with them.

 

Tell me a few things about your meet with Russell Jackson, which memory from him makes you smile?

I first met Russell when I was a kid; we jammed some SRV tunes when I was going through that phase so to speak. I ran into him a few years later when I was 17 or 18 and joined his band. There are so many memories that make me smile when it comes to Russ. We played jokes on the band members all the time, heck I even played jokes on Russ himself. I once convinced him with all the touring we did that we could win Monopoly at McDonalds because we toured all over North America and had a better chance to get the winning pieces. I only came up with this as a desperate attempt to eat at another fast food joint. We play so many one-nighters and drove between gigs we didn’t exactly get to eat very well.

 

Are there any memories from Canned Heat, Elvin Bishop, and Katie Webster, which you’d like to share with us?

I was playing with these guys in Texas at the AlleyFest year after year.  I do remember a few things, most of which I think are best kept secret. We did have a 2nd guitarist in the band who can remained nameless who got so drunk after the show he was relentless at trying to buy the shirt off of Elvin’s back. I think he got it too, because Elvin had nowhere to get away from him and was simply fed up I think. It was embarrassing in many ways but still an inside joke with the guys from that tour.

 

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

There are so many to pick one. I had a blast opening up for the Fabulous Thunderbirds in my home town of Vancouver a few years back, I enjoyed hanging with BB King at his hotel and riding to his gig on his bus only to have him come down to my gig after and watch a set.

 

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Blues is the roots and the rest are the fruits. A root will always need to live for something to grow from it. BB King once said to me, ‘James when I was your age it was Rhythm and Blues, now it’s just Blues. I guess we lost the Rhythm.’ So maybe I can wish people don’t become so scared of the word ‘Blues’. Open up and realize Blues is universal and not boring, sad, and rough around the edge whiskey voice music.

 

Make an account of the case of the Blues in Canada. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

I started on the Vancouver blues scene in 1989 when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Back then there were 6 nights a week gigs, I was playing larger venues with Powder Blues, Jerry Doucette and rock bands like Trooper, Darby Mills and the Headpins. Today, it’s playing in pubs under Keno boards between hockey intermissions and not 6 nights a week.  There are still large venue gigs but not as many. Many venues are DJ’s now. The Yale recently closed its doors,  that tells ya something!

 

Would you mind telling me most vivid memory from Muddy Fraser, Tom and Jack Lavin, and Jim Byrnes?

I met Mud in the late 80’s. At the Yale he got me on stage and encouraged me. I was instantly a fan of Mud through to the day he passed. I played with Mud often. 

I met Jack at the same time as Muddy. Jack let me play with the Demons and got me opening gigs as a kid. I later had Jack playing bass in my band and he produced my 2nd CD ‘Red Light Party’ in 2008.

I met Jim in the early 90’s. I did a few shows with him but really remember him when I got a part in the TV series Highlander that Jim starred in. I remember that show well and those days hanging with Jim and the rest of the cast.

I met Tom around the same time as the other guys, Jack got me on a gig opening for Powder and Jerry Doucette at the Commodore. Tom was very kind back then and we have been friends ever since.

 

 

Which memory from recording time with Tom Lavin of Powder Blues, makes you smile?

There are so many. Me and Tom clown around a lot. Just hanging out in the studio til the early morning hours and hearing some stories from him was a blast.

 

What the difference and similarity between the Canadian and US scene? What characterize the “Maple’s blues”?

Many places I play in Canada love the music and have a great time, but don’t know what it is.  In the US people seem to know more about what I am playing and who my influences are. Don’t get me wrong, Canadians know it too, just not like the US does. I think that is because in the US there are blues radio stations and TV shows and in Canada it is really underground in comparison to say country music.  I think the Maple Blues are great; it’s the only thing we really have to recognize blues musicians in Canada It is based back east and hard for Western musicians to get in on it though that has changed in recent years.  I personally wish they had a submission process with submission criteria like most awards programs.

 

Why did you think that the Blues continues to generate such a devoted following in Canada?

There will be a point in everyone’s life when they connect with the blues. It is the root of all music we know and love today. It’s only natural for people to support that.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

To play from the heart and soul whether people like it or not, or even understand it. 

 

 

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I am the type of player that focuses more on the music than theatrics. However, there is nothing better than jumping off stage to play a solo on the dance floor or tell a story between songs. Engaging with people is very important.

 

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your MUSIC DREAM?

I have 3 daughters and a wife. They get every ounce of free time I can spare. Between working in a recording studio and playing music and the odd tour there isn’t a lot of down time.

My music dream would be to play higher profile gigs/festivals and of course record and write more music.

 

What would you ask Jimmie Vaughan? How you would spend a day with Johnny Guitar Watson?

I would probably talk to Jimmie about cars. I know he is a car fan and I used to own a car painting company, so I’m sure the chat time would be interesting. I probably wouldn’t talk much music to be honest.  I would like to record with JLV though!

Oh man, Johnny Watson! I think I would ask Johnny if he could push me around in the cart from one of his album covers.  It made worst album but I actually liked it!  How would we spend the day?  Where are we? Vancouver? If in my town I would show him around, if we were in his town he better be taking me around town.

 

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