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An conversation with blues sensation Robin Rogers - April 2, 2008. 

Recently, I was on business in North Carolina and had the chance to follow after a suggestion I received from a good friend in Oregon. Steve Spoulos, a DJ for Breakfast with the Blues at KVRM pointed me in the direction of a new up in coming artist in the Charlotte area by the name of Robin Rogers. I had met Steve through a few message boards and DJ forums on the internet for the blues folks out there spinning tunes on commercial radio. He had sent me CDs in the past and hadn’t steered me in the wrong direction yet so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I listened to a few of Robin’s tunes on the wonderful band PR tool of MySpace, but other than that I had knew little about her. On Wednesday of my business trip I was able to sit down with Robin and her husband Tony who happens to play guitar and write songs with her at a little Italian restaurant in Gastonia NC for an intimate conversation about life as a musician, living the blues, and singing.

Ben Cox: How did you get started on blues? What was your leaping off point?

Robin Rogers: I sang a lot of rock in my early twenties. You know, Joplin, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin and was drawn with the stuff that had the blues elements in them. I was always a big fan of Bonnie Raitt from way back in the early 70s, too. People compare our voices.

BC: Is that when you started singing, in your early twenties? Or did you start sooner?

RR: When I was about nine I did an acapella version of “What Child Is This?” at elementary school for a Christmas program and heard this. (claps hands) I was addicted to singing after that. My mother was a singer, too. I sang a lot with my mom’s friends who were musicians. We did some Patsy Cline songs. (smiles) I worked as court reporter in the 80s in Florida and did some singing while I was there. However, I got into blues really heavy about 10 years ago after I joined the Charlotte Blues Society. Tony and I met up and started researching and listening to stuff like crazy. Eventually, we started writing songs together and started playing gigs together. While at one of our duo gigs, Jim Brock, a local producer heard us and emailed me and eventually we recorded our first release 2001’s Time For Myself.

BC: How do you guys go about writing your songs together?

RR: I usually come up with a melody or some lyrics and sing them to Tony. Or Tony will be playing something on the guitar and it puts me in a mood or I hear some lyrics in my head and just start singing. From there, the songs usually come together.

BC: Tell me a little about your second album with the band you guys put together.

RR: Well, after the local success of Time For Myself we put a band together and did a lot of gigs around the area. Eventually we went to the IBC in 2003 and made the finals. Since we got that far, we had won a little bit of studio time. We looked at the band and since we already had a lot of these songs tight from the challenge, we wanted to memorialize our trip there and made the CD.

BC: I notice that it’s a lot of covers of old pre-war stuff.

Tony Rogers: Yeah, we like a lot of that old stuff especially the Skip James and Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton stuff but we found that a newer audience doesn’t really listen to it that much. We worked out the arrangements first with just Robin and I, and then we added the whole band giving it a much more contemporary feel to the music.

RR: We wanted the newer audience to be able to see that history that we had been studying and we wanted it to have a vehicle to a new audience so we could get some younger folks involved in the blues. So the album came out locally and was eventually picked up by the now closed 95North label from Boston, who repackaged it with a few new songs and re-released it for us in mid-2005. It was called Crazy Cryin’ Blues and in 2005 we won Best Self-Produced CD of 2005 from the Blues Foundation at the IBC.  It was later in the year that 95North signed us.

BC: I hear you met a good friend at the IBC in 2003.

RR: Yes, I met Janiva Magness at the venue we played at the opening night of the IBC. I met her off stage and she said, “Wow, I love what you’re doing,” and we exchanged contact information and exchanged CDs.  I really was overwhelmed with how gracious she was. She introduced us to all the folks in her entourage that evening and was sincerely helpful.  She had nothing to gain out of that.  Sometimes, artists have a very competitive, exclusionary attitude when it comes to the business and other artists and it just surprised me. She has been a close ally and mentor ever since then and has really helped me out and given us some valuable information.

BC: I take it that she’s been a major influence on your singing. Are their any other blues women out there that influence you?

RR: I’ve already mentioned Bonnie Raitt. I love Mavis Staples…and Irma Thomas and of course Janiva is just amazing.

BC: What are some of the strangest gigs you’ve ever played?
TR: I like to talk to musicians about this, too about what’s the oddest places they’ve played because when you do this for a living, survival is the number one priority.

RR: You’re not going to tell him about the gas station gig are you? (covers face with her hands)

TR: Yeah, we played the opening of a gas station one time. We were out front playing while folks were pumping gas. It some kind of grand opening for the Chamber of Commerce or something.

RR: It wasn’t necessarily a strange gig but I just felt out of place because people were so quiet and attentive. We opened for Janiva Magness at a college in Kentucky and some of the crowd were season ticket holders who support the college you wouldn’t exactly peg them as a blues loving crowd if you know what I mean and they were so quiet and respectful. I felt that way when I went to Europe with Sharrie Williams, too. People were listening.

TR: Then, one time we played in the corner of a jewelry store for a benefit auction, too. (laughs)

BC: I’ve heard that you have a new album coming out this year.

RR: Yes, we are recently working out a deal with Blind Pig Records to release our third album. We’ve written seven of the eleven tracks on the disc and it is much more contemporary compared to our last release. We’re hoping it does really well. One of the songs called “Color Blind Angel” has been entered in the International Songwriting Competition and has made the finals of the Blues category. The song is about Viola Louizzo, who was the only white woman killed by the KKK during the Civil Rights movement. Bruce Iglauer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayall and Tom Waits are some of the judges.

BC: I can’t wait to hear it. It sounds like its going to be something to watch for in 2008. Thanks for sitting with me and answering a few questions. It’s been a pleasure.

EDITORS NOTE  Since this interview Robin Rogers has just won the Silver in the International Song Writing Competition

Her song "Color-Blind Angel" took Second Place in the Blues category. ISC received over 15,000 entries from 100 countries throughout the world, so this is a noteworthy achievement.

Interviewer Ben Cox is a Blues Songwriter, Musician, DJ and Journalist.

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