Slide guitarist-vocalist-producer Roy Rogers plays up and down guitar necks with the exhilaration and precision of an Olympic skater carving up a fresh patch of ice. His live shows and recordings are a potent mix of gut-bucket abandon, swamp rhythms, muscular grooves, aching lament and soulful lyrics.
The Center for the Arts is telegraphing the vitality of Rogers’ blues, rock and beyond showmanship by billing his trio’s Saturday night show (with bassist Steve Ehrmann and drummer Kevin Hayes) as a dance concert. It’s a local gig for the world-traveled Rogers. The venue is not far from his 8-acre home in the Tahoe National Forest.
“I’m in Nevada City,” said Rogers, who is 65 and has two adult children from a 31-year marriage. “I’m actually out of town at about 4,000 feet. I moved up here six years ago from Novato. Any big city is like too many cars and a lot of people. And that’s where we go to play. But it’s nice to come home to the woods.”
Rogers was born in Redding and raised in the Bay Area. He started playing guitar at age 12 and in a rock ’n’ roll band by age 13. His older brother exposed him to slide legend Robert Johnson at age 15, launching Rogers’ lifelong sonic trajectory.
“I have a style that people allude to a lot,” said Rogers, “but for me to describe a style, it’s difficult. I play like a horn a lot of times. I’m influenced not only by guitar players but also by horn players. And that takes you in a lot of other musical directions. It’s all based on the blues, and I stretch that in a lot of different ways that maybe other people don’t.”
Rogers plays generally in open tuning with a Dunlap 212 glass slide covering most of his left-hand pinkie. His ax arsenal includes a 1970 Martin 0-16 New Yorker, a Sean Chappell doubleneck and a ’58 Les Paul Jr.
This year Rogers had his own episode on PBS Gone Public and appeared on late-night TV’s “Conan” and in October’s Guitar Player magazine. His first solo album in five years, “Into the Wild Blue,” dropped in June.
“I worked long and hard on writing this record for about a year,” said Rogers. “I wanted to extend the musical realm, not only with instrumentation but with the writing. I am happy to say it’s gotten a great response from people in this weird business we’re in these days.”
Over the years Rogers has worked with such artists as blues legend John Lee Hooker, former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and harmonica ace Norton Buffalo – all three artists now gone. Rogers’ “Song for Robert (A Brother’s Lament)” on “Into the Wild Blue” was written in memory of his younger brother. And just before this interview, Rogers learned he had lost another close ally.
“A guy who played with me for a long, long time, and a great drummer, Billy Lee Lewis, passed away today,” said Rogers. “He had a persona about playing that is not just about keeping the beat but about what you contribute to the music, and musical drummers are hard to find that extend the music more than my vision.
“I’ll go out blazing,” he mused. “That’s the main deal: Go out blazing.
“John Lee Hooker played a show four days before he passed away. I heard it was great. Four days later he was watching a ballgame, went to bed and died in his sleep. Not bad.”
Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
What: Blues, rock and beyond dance concert
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12
Where: Center for the Arts, Grass Valley
Tickets: $27-$30 with limited theater seating