When the Randy Rogers Band's last project debuted as the most-downloaded country album on iTunes, plenty of the industry "insiders" on Music Row were left scratching their heads: Who are these guys?
The Nashville elite may not have known about the five-piece band, but much of America already did. Rolling Stone magazine ranked them alongside such artists as U2 and the Stones in its list of Top 10 Must-See Artists in the summer of 2007. They earned $2.5 million-a staggering total for a still-developing act-on the tour circuit in a single year. Willie Nelson, the Eagles, Gary Allan and Dierks Bentley all picked them as opening acts for their concerts. And more than 2,200 people showed up and bought the bands album at an appearance at Wherehouse Music.
The fans' exuberance was shared by USA Today, which praised the band for having "loads of grit, swagger and heart."
The Randy Rogers Band built its audience by combining forces: It's a dynamic live act centered around songs that fit the rowdy, party vibe of the concert circuit, but their songs also say something.
That's particularly true in the new album, The Randy Rogers Band, in which a dozen persuasive tracks give the listener plenty of reasons to want to down a celebratory brewski. But the songs also maintain a depth that makes them powerful and provocative even beyond their edgy arrangements and tough-guy sound.
Invariably, the songs are about people making choices and dealing with the consequences they bring. That's the case in the opening "Wicked Ways," in which a string of wild endeavors leaves an out-of-control adult in need of redemption. It's true in "When The Circus Leaves Town," where a performer comes to terms with the emotional crash that accompanies the conclusion of a pumped-up show. It's even a tenet in "One Woman," a ballad that finds a former playboy recognizing his old choices and behaviors were a shallow pursuit next to the promise and solidity that stand before him.
"These songs are definitely true, and they're relatable to many different life situations that I've either gone through in the past or will go through in the future," Rogers, the lead singer and primary songwriter, says. "I just tried to create believable characters and relatable characters. I hear from fans that we really have helped them in real-life situations when they've applied the songs to their everyday life. That's what I strive for in the songs that I write."
"We're not old, but we are getting a little bit more mature," bass player Jon Richardson asserts, drawing laughter from the rest of the band. "We're trying to be more mature, anyway. And that's something that we can write about a little more naturally now instead of ‘Here's a song about how much fun I had' or ‘Here's a song about a girl.' That's probably just a natural progression of our own lives being reflected in our songs."
Indeed, the Randy Rogers Band is confronting the same questions about relationships and identity that face many of the college students and young adults that form the centerpiece of the group's audience. The balancing act between work, home and recreation is a difficult one-even tougher for an ensemble that spends more than 200 days annually on the road.
"All the guys, except for Jon, are married or soon to be married," guitarist Geoffrey Hill observes. "Les [drummer] and I both have kids. So sometimes it feels like you've really gotta struggle to fit all that into your life, I guess, but it's kinda part of the game. I always said that I play music for free, and I get paid to leave the family behind and go on the road."
That requires a constant rededication to the group, a commitment the five members have repeatedly made since the current lineup coalesced in 2003.
Randy Rogers Band:
The son of a preacher who can rock with the best of them, Randy Rogers was raised by his parents Danny and Donna in Cleburne, Texas. It was a pretty typical upbringing, Mom was a teacher’s aid in special education and Dad was a Baptist Preacher. From an early age, music was an everyday part of his life. His Dad and best friend regularly played guitar and sang in the house and Randy’s Great Grandmother Ruth taught him how to play the piano when he was six years old. By age eleven, he was writing songs and teaching himself to play chords on guitar.
Randy’s love for music grew over the years as he began to listen to artists like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Don Williams, The Beatles and even Pearl Jam. He began experimenting with his live show when his high school garage band performed a Stone Temple Pilots cover in a talent show.
Rogers went on to play as a sideman for several years…playing guitar and singing harmony vocals. His first two years as a sideman made him realize that he wanted to form a band and treat each member as an equal. “I was in a band before as a sideman and was treated as a side guy…I hated it,” said Rogers. “These guys are up there with me night after night, they deserve to be factored into the big decisions.” This notion was catalyst for the beginning of the Randy Rogers Band. After years of playing the songwriter circuit in San Marcos, Texas and playing with friends and fellow musicians…the Randy Rogers Band began to take shape.
Down in Texas, folks have known Rogers had the goods that would take him the distance long before he even cracked the regional radio charts. Folks like Kent Finlay, songwriter and owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse in the small college town of San Marcos (halfway between Austin and San Antonio), who pulled a young Rogers out of the club’s weekly songwriter’s circle and told him he could have his own night if he could put a band together. Less than two months after the Randy Rogers Band’s first rehearsal, they cut their debut record — Live at Cheatham St. Warehouse.
That was six years ago and well over 1,000 shows ago. Even on that first record, the songs were all original tunes, and Rogers has always been adamant about sticking with that “Band” part of the moniker. The current lineup — Rogers on vocals and rhythm guitar, guitarist Geoffrey Hill, fiddle player Brady Black, drummer Les Lawless and bassist Jon Richardson — has been together for more than three years now, going back to Rollercoaster (the band’s second studio effort). By then they were already well on their way to being the biggest homegrown force on the Texas scene since Pat Green, who had already crossed over to the national arena. Rollercoaster - produced by fellow Texas maverick Radney Foster - would prove to be the Randy Rogers Band’s own E-ticket ride to the big leagues.
Foster, who has since become a close friend and mentor to Rogers, was as impressed with the young artist as Finlay had been years before. “The first thing that struck me was Randy’s songwriting,” says Foster. “Lots of guys can get a crowd going, but they can’t deliver a real song. Randy’s got a keen wit and a massive amount of heart, and all of that comes through in his songwriting. And his voice is so compelling, too — he has all the swagger of Steve Earle and the grit of John Fogerty, but with vulnerability as well. And the energy that he and the band have in the studio reminds me of when Foster and Lloyd were making our first records.”
Between the rave album review for Rollercoaster in USA Today, the national chart success of Rogers/Foster-penned single, “Tonight’s Not the Night” (stopping just shy of the Top 40) and no small amount of Music Row buzz on the band, it was truly “just a matter of time” before the major labels came calling.
After months of meetings with every label in Nashville, Rogers and Co. signed with Mercury Nashville, sealing the deal at the joint where it all started: Cheatham Street Warehouse. And then they teamed up with Foster again at Austin’s Cedar Creek Studio and got to work making the biggest record of their career to date — with full understanding from the label that they would not compromise their sound or style.
“We were really conscious about not letting the fact that this was going to be our major-label debut mess with our heads” says Rogers, “Because to us, this record is really just the next step. For many folks who don’t know about the movement that’s going on down here, it’ll be their first look at us. But we approached this like we were making our fifth record, not our first. And there was a lot of trust from the label in terms of, ‘You guys go out there and make a record and turn it in, and we’ll leave you alone and let you do your thing.’”
“Randy and the band have a strong sense of what they want to do,” observes Foster. “They didn’t have any of the nervousness that goes along with making a first major label record, and I think Mercury recognized that the band knew what they were doing.”
In exchange for that creative freedom (and the luxury of a considerably bigger budget than they’d ever had before), the band and Foster delivered on their end of the bargain. Like Rollercoaster before it, Just a Matter of Time plays like a rock ’n’ roll album with a country heart as big as Texas, or a straight-up country record played by a killer rock ’n’ roll band. But in fine country tradition, it’s the uniform quality of the songs that really steals the show. All but two were co-written by Rogers (four with Foster himself, a potent combo that yielded many of Rollercoaster’s brightest moments, including the single and “Somebody Take Me Home,” later covered by Kenny Chesney for his The Road and the Radio album); the other two were contributed by bassist Richardson (a former front man in his own right) and Foster and George Ducas, who first struck gold co-writing Foster’s first big solo hit, “Just Call Me Lonesome.” Here, they contribute the irresistible “Kiss Me in the Dark,” which was pretty much destined to be the lead single from the very first time the band heard it. “If we were going to cut an outside song, it had to be such a great song that you couldn’t pass on it,” says Rogers, smiling. “It would have to be a single.”
Rest assured, though, it won’t be the album’s only single, just as Just a Matter of Time most certainly won’t be the last time people will be hearing from the Randy Rogers Band. It’s almost irrelevant, really, whether people recognize this as the band’s fifth album or mistake it for their first, because either way, this particular rollercoaster is only just now starting to really pick up speed.
“We just wanted this record to be an honest representation of where we were at when we signed our first major-label deal,” says Rogers. “I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, but … we’re going to make another record pretty soon, and hopefully we’ll feel like that’s the best record we’ve ever done, too. The idea is to just continue to raise the bar.” Their newest album, "Burning the Day", was released in 2010.