By Michael Devers
(LSM Aug/Sept 2010/vol. 3 – Issue 5)
On June 24th, at the end of one of the most eventful 30-day periods of his life, I watched as Randy Rogers went under the needle. This was not an E! True Hollywood Story moment, though. In fact, it was a celebration. Rogers was adorning his arm with a cherub and “Isabel,” the name he and his wife Brooke had chosen for their first child, born 20 days earlier.
As the tattoo needle buzzed, Rogers enthused about getting back out on the road (his bus would leave for a string of dates less than eight hours after we spoke), the hand-picked lineup for his new festival (the RRB Stockyard Stampede, held July 3rd in Ft. Worth), his acoustic tour with Wade Bowen rescheduled for the end of July, a new record scheduled for Aug. 24 (Burning the Day), and, of course, his new baby girl. While he was excited about what lay ahead, like many new fathers, he seemed like a guy who could use another two or three hours of sleep.
Even with June being his slowest month gig-wise of the previous eight years, no one could blame Rogers if he was worn out, both physically and emotionally. First, his wife broke her femur when she was eight-months pregnant. And then her sister passed away unexpectedly, the very same week that Isabel was born.
Given the way the first half of 2010 unfolded, Rollercoaster would be a perfect title for the August release, or even the yet-unthought-of album number seven from the Randy Rogers Band. Unfortunately, the band already used that title back in 2004 for their second studio album and first with producer Radney Foster. For the new album, they’ve gone with a different producer for the first time in six years, tapping Nashville veteran Paul Worley (Willie Nelson, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum, and many, many others). The artwork is already done and the label is shrink-wrapping discs, so they seem committed to Burning the Day on this one. But as for that next record, Rollercoaster II, anyone?
You haven’t had much of a chance to catch your breath this year, have you?
Between a broken femur and a baby, not much.
Had you already wrapped the new record before the baby arrived?
Yeah, the record was done, really, in January. We took all the time off in May to have babies. If you could say it worked out, it kind of did. Plus Geoffrey had a kidney stone. He had to have the kidney stone blown up.
So Geoffrey gave birth to something too?
Actually Geoffrey and Andrea did have another baby, and then Geoffrey had a baby through his dick hole. [Laughs] But they had a baby about two weeks before us. Of course, Robin and Joel had a baby [Robin Schoepf manages the Randy Rogers Band] the week before us. We’re growing up.
How did Brooke break her femur?
She was getting out of the bathtub. I was at Wade’s golf tournament and benefit show that Sunday night. I got a phone call from ADT saying that someone had set the alarm off at my house. I called my wife’s cell phone and EMS was already at my house. Luckily her phone was by the bathtub when it happened so she called 911. They had to break into my house and get her. Which sucked. I hated that I was gone. It would have happened if I was there anyway, but …
I got to the hospital about an hour after she did because I was only in Waco, so I was there with her. She had surgery at 5 a.m. and they put a rod in her leg. She’s going to be able to walk on her own in three or four more weeks. It’s about a six-month recovery time and the doctor said she’d heal for up to a year.
How is she doing with … everything?
She struggles. The stress and pressure of being a new mom. A new mom that can’t walk around on her own yet. We’ve got a lot of help — my mom and her mom, friends and family. We’ve got a pretty big and strong unit. Even within our neighborhood, people bringing us food and coming over to help.
And how are you doing with the struggles and pressures of being a new daddy?
It’s a piece of cake. [Laughs]
Which means Brooke does all the hard stuff, right?
Just going through the month that we did, the baby has brought a lot of joy to both of our lives. It’s been a blessing. The baby is actually a breeze. She sleeps at night, doesn’t cry a bunch, isn’t really a “bitchy” baby.
That’s how they get you. The first one is easy, and then you have the second one.
We were definitely blessed with the easy first baby. Second baby, if you’re out there and listening … bring it on!
When did you start cutting the new record?
We recorded in November and December. Then Paul went to be with his family in Europe for Christmas. He came home and mastered in January. It was turned in February.
I was excited when I first heard that Paul Worley would be producing this one.
And he’ll do the next one. We definitely bonded in the studio, became friends. I’m happier with this record than I’ve ever been. But I’ve always felt that about every new project. So it’s easy to say that, but it was a great experience. He’s a talented individual. There’s a reason why he’s had so many hit records in the last 30 years.
Even with all of that, I still feel he’s an underrated producer.
Well, he’s winning now with Lady Antebellum and the year that they’ve been having. The year that single had, “Need You Now,” with pop radio and country radio. We were actually in the studio when he had to remix that song for pop radio.
He had to pull out all of the “country”?
He bitched and bitched about having to pull that slide guitar out.
This will be your third album for Mercury Nashville?
It’ll be our third album for Universal. They moved us from Mercury to MCA. So it’s the first record on MCA, but it’s the same umbrella, same company. I don’t know if anyone even pays attention to [that stuff] any more. There’s no difference except for the staff that’s working the single to radio. That’s it.
Are you guys happy with the move?
I’m stoked, yeah. They’ve already been kicking ass. I’m still working directly with the people I was working with anyway, so it’s not really like a change in labels, it’s more like a move across the hall. But being in Texas and growing up loving George Strait, to be able to say I’m on the same label as George Strait — that’s a country boy’s dream right there.
It’s a different producer this time around, and the record was cut in Nashville, but I’m assuming it’s the same approach as in the past: the band you see on the road is the band you hear on the record.
Same exact thing that we’ve always done. We set up and record live. But Worley actually made us rehearse, so we had to do eight days of five or six-hour days of rehearsing at this place called Sound Check in Nashville. It’s basically just a big rehearsal studio. He’d sit in there with us and we’d plug in and play all day and practice all day and all night with him kind of leading us. So before we even went into the studio we had all the songs worked up. Of course, we’d been playing some of them live anyway. We were all real familiar so the studio was a breeze. We tracked the whole damn record in four days.
That’s how we made Rollercoaster too. We tracked the whole thing in four days. Just seems like it works, for us.
But with Burning the Day, it was really just four days for tracking, overdubs, vocals, and everything?
We did a few overdubs the next week, and my vocals. Some of them were taken from the first week, but most of them were overdubs. A lot of those parts — drums, guitars, rhythm tracks — those were all first take.
You’ve brought in some people in the past for backing vocals. Any one this time?
Geoffrey and Brady did far more vocally this time than we’ve ever had them do. They were road worthy and had tried all the parts, already knew the parts. Brian Keane has been playing keys with us and he came in and sang on the record.
How long has Brian been playing with the band?
On and off for six months and now he’s our “A” guy. He’s about to put out a record, but he’s going to be in our band and opened some shows for us. He came in and sang on the record and we also brought in Shelly Fairchild. She was the one who sang on “Kiss Me in the Dark.” But the majority of the stuff, Brady and Geoffrey carried.
I hear there are a couple of Sean McConnell co-writes on the new record.
There’s three. He and I are five for five. We’ve written five songs [together] and all five of them have made records. We’re kind of scared to get together again to write another song because we’re scared we’re going to write a crappy one and ruin our streak.
You want to be like the guy who hits a home run on his first at bat and then retires?
With everything you had going on, you only did three shows in June, with one of them being For the Sake of the Song Festival. That has to be the slowest month you’ve had in the last eight years.
For sure. None of us know what to do with ourselves right now.
Knowing how you are, it had to have made you a little stir crazy.
Yeah, and I got laryngitis. On stage. At For the Sake of the Song. It’s kind of embarrassing. It’s my festival so I think I stressed myself out. I get more worked up about it.
You had a few other things going on then as well.
It was a pretty stressful month. I was battling laryngitis the whole time so it was a good month to be off I guess. I’m ready to get back on the road and everything to be back to normal.
Along with For the Sake of the Song, you have the Stockyard Stampede.
It’s our first time to do that and I try to bring together a very eclectic lineup.
You certainly managed that!
MC Hammer and Everclear. Some rock, some rap. Bingham’s coming, Sons of Bill, Radney Foster, Mark Chestnutt and more. I don’t know if it’s going to work. I’ve been to every festival, every fair, and I’ve kind of seen what works and what doesn’t work. In Texas there’s been a lot of festivals that copy each other. We thought it would be easy to do a festival line that was the usual suspects. I think it’s more difficult to get something off the ground that’s a little bit off the wall, not as much of a sure thing. I’m a risk taker.
I think it’s going to be the first Texas music festival to drop the Hammer.
I see all over the country — Bonnaroo and even in Austin, ACL. I mean, c’mon. You can diversify your lineup a little bit more than Terry, Joe, and Bob who are all three country singers.
Are you planning to make this an annual event?
That’s what they’re telling me. It’s going to be my event to promote and I’m a partner in the event. There’s no guarantee for me to play there. I’m starting from scratch not making a dime. We’ll see what happens.
Your future summers are already filling up.
And we do something every March in Corpus. We do an early spring show in Nacogdoches and one in Lubbock. We’re trying to move outside and do something different. We’ve been playing bars for a while and selling those out. But at the same time I want things to be affordable. When you move outside you can’t jack your price up. I wanted to move outside, present a better environment for people to come to, so that everyone who wants to see the show can get in, but still not price gouge. Keep the ticket price low. I always fight for a low ticket price. I have to fight the agents, fight the promoters, fight every chance I get to keep it affordable.
Along with all of those annual shows, you also traditionally have the summer acoustic tour with Wade Bowen.
Which got cut kind of short this year because of the stuff we went through with Brooke. That thing has been one of the most successful things I’ve ever been a part of. We’ve watched that grow from like, a joke — I mean, the name of the tour is “Hold My Beer and Watch This.”
How has the For the Sake of the Song Festival progressed over the years? Is it shaping into what you hoped it would be?
I’ve always wanted to draw people to new acts and showcase some stuff that I dig that maybe didn’t get to Texas enough. I think this year was a prime example of that with Jason Isbell and Sons of Bill and the Dirt Drifters. Three great bands that maybe haven’t been embraced by the Texas music scene as much as they should have. For no other reason probably than they just don’t tour here. Hopefully when I go out East or to their neck of the woods, they’ll throw me a bone, too.
I’m sure they’ll at least give you a couch to crash on.
Yeah. Maybe Jason Isbell will give me some guitar lessons. Some songwriting lessons. That boy’s good.
Have you pulled any songs out of everything you’ve been through in the last few months? Seems like a highly emotional time.
I haven’t started yet, but I agree with you. I just renewed my publishing deal with Warner-Chappel — I’ve been with them for three years — and we joked about that. My girl there said, “I’ve got the next year? Whoo!”
Congratulations on the renewal. I know that right now in Nashville that’s not a guaranteed deal.
I’ve got a good attorney. Also my girl there, Alicia, she fights for me pretty hard.
How has that experience been? I know some people love it and some people hate it.
I don’t go to the office. I don’t sit in a cubicle and write songs. Even when I am in Nashville, and I do have an appointment, I either go to their house or make them come to my hotel room. I don’t write songs in an office.
It’s been great for me. I like having someone pitching my songs. I like the opportunity to write with successful, talented songwriters. If you’re going to get cuts you have to be plugged in to the machine. In fact, I got a Dean Dillon cut!
I didn’t realize he was making a comeback.
He’s making a record and I wrote a song with him the other day after my record was finished, and he told me last weekend that I got a cut on his record. That’s like the coolest cut ever, to me.
Who else have you written with this year that you’ve really looked forward to getting together with?
Bruce Robison. I wrote another song with Guy Clark for this record. And I really liked writing with Sean. I also wrote a couple — well, I wrote more than a couple, but two made it — that I just wrote by myself for this record. It’s been a while, since Rollercoaster, that I’ve had my own songs make the record. I’m very proud of that. It gives you the confidence that you don’t always have to co-write.
Any Geoffrey tunes on this record?
There’s two. One that Geoffrey, Chops [Richardson] and I wrote together, and then one that him and Chops wrote. The one that he and Chops wrote was the very last song to be written for the record. It’s called “Last Last Chance.” It’s the last song on the record, and they wrote it eight minutes before we went into the studio.
I’ve heard that from so many artists. That the pressure of going in to record sometimes forces out the best stuff.
Yeah, they wrote the missing piece. We were missing, you know, one thing.
Was there any song from this record that surprised you? From the standpoint of where it was going into the studio and where it was once the record was finished?
“Just Don’t Tell Me the Truth.” A song I wrote with Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson. It’s my favorite track on the record. It was a sad and wimpy song just for me to play on the guitar and sing. It turned into this traditional country cool thing.
You do so much co-writing now, when you do sit down to write a song by yourself, where do you like to be? Home? On the bus?
I like to be home and I like to be alone. I can’t write on the bus. I can’t even really write on the road in a hotel room. I want to go do something else.
Your head is just in a different space, then?
Yeah, I get distracted. I’m the type of guy, I like responsible scheduling. I’ll have on my calendar three months from now, three days in a row I’m going to write. I’ll set those days apart and sometimes I’ll fly to Nashville and hole up in a hotel room. I don’t even tell anybody I’m there. I don’t tell management, I don’t tell the booking agent, I don’t tell the record label. I don’t have as many friends in Nashville, so I can go there and hide, in a way, and kind of escape. And when I go to Nashville I kind of feel like it’s me against them. I feel like an underdog.