A Conversation with GARNET ROGERS. November 27, 2010.

By Jess Hayden.

Editor’s note: Garnet Rogers is a Canadian songwriter who has performed throughout the world for the past 35 years. From 1973-1983 he was an accompanist for his brother Stan Rogers, perhaps one of the most influential songwriters that Canada has ever produced. Since his brother’s death, Garnet has become a phenomenal songwriter in his own right and has continued on as a solo performer.  

Garnet will be opening for fellow singer/songwriter Greg Brown on Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 7:30 pm at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church (near Harrisburg, PA. Info, www.susquehannafolk.org) Garnet will also be joining Greg for a few numbers on stage. Garnet and Greg recorded “Live at the Black Sheep” together in 2003.

 Jess: Good morning Garnet and thanks for speaking to me.

 Garnet: Good morning. I’m just sitting here watching the snow. First snow of the year. It’s not massive snow, just flurries.

 Jess: You live on a farm, right?

 Garnet: Yeah. It’s a small farm, 20 acres. We have horses. We have a little breeding operation here. We have a thoroughbred stallion. And we own a few rescue mares. It’s kind of winding down, though. At one point we had 22 horses and at two other farms that we were renting. That was ten years ago, but we’re down to just a handful of horses now. It’s much easier on the back.

 Jess: I’m a presenter for Susquehanna Folk where you are going to be playing on December 5th.

 Opening for Greg Brown

Garnet: Yeah. I had made an inquiry as I was sort of down in that area. I knew that Greg was playing there and I just love him to bits. We don’t get a chance to see each other very much.

Jess: Well you know we had a concert with James Keelaghan a couple of week ago and I announced that you were coming and there were a lot of people that were really excited. So I think that it’s really just going to add to the wonderment of the evening having you there.

Garnet: Well that’s great, I really appreciate being on. I think that I did a show for you guys 7 or 8 years ago at the Fort Hunter Barn. You guys do such a good job. It was a beautiful room and I just had a great time. I just have this really nice memory of a very warm evening. It was a beautiful landscape around the barn. It was one of those nights when you think “You know, this is not a bad way to make a living.”

Jess: Well, thank you. We love presenting there, it has a lot of warmth. But I think that you have done another concert for us too.

Touring with Archie Fisher

Garnet: I remember doing one with Archie Fisher a million year ago. In fact Archie and I are touring again in April. It started out as a week long run, then it got to be a 10 day run, and now it’s looking like two and a half weeks. People keep on calling up and saying “Hey, what about us?” It will be a 5th anniversary tour.

Jess: You put a CD out with Archie, right?

Garnet: We did a couple.

The live CD with Greg Brown

Jess: Now you and Greg also had a live CD together.

Garnet: Yes, it’s called “Live at the Black Sheep”. There is this really great famous club in the woods up in Quebec about 40 minutes outside of Ottawa, Canada’s capitol. It’s just this great place. There is a river and fly fishing and potters and artisans and painters. It was just custom made for Greg, who said “Oh wow, they’ve got fly fishing?” [Editor’s note: Greg Brown is an avid fly fisherman] So we just did a couple of nights there with Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman. We just had a tape machine running and it was just one of those weird two nights when we were sitting around just playing off of each other and we were all doing harmonies. It was just lovely and probably more fun than was strictly necessary. There was a really buzz about it. People would be out fly fishing during the day and at night they would come to our concert. And someone would yell, “Come on in. We’re starting.” And people would come in and get them self arranged and it was just jammed. People sitting there with their dogs and their fly rods. There’s an old Swedish steam engine locomotive that goes by every once and awhile. It’s just kind of magic.

Jess: It sounds like from the write up of the CD that you were all doing “round robin”. So you all got a chance to play some of your own music.

Garnet: Yes, exactly. Actually, in that market I was the best known artist. That was the first time that Greg had been in the area, the first time for Pete and Karen too. We were just calling out songs that we just wanted to do, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I kind of know that.” And there were some songs that none of us really knew. Pete and Karen were pulling out some new stuff, and I was pulling out new stuff and Greg was pulling out some stuff that we never heard him play. We were all listening carefully. When you have musicians that really know how to listen there is usually some kind of magic moment that happens where it all kind of comes together. People really like it. It has a friendly vibe to it. You’d never believe that it was completely unrehearsed.

What audience members might expect from a Garnet Rogers set

Jess: Well, from the reaction that I got at the James Keelaghan concert when I announced your name, it was clear that a lot of people know you. But for those that don’t who may be reading this interview, can you tell me what they should expect to hear during your short set?

Garnet: Well, I never quite know what I’m going to play until I have the guitar in my hand. My songs tend to be fairly serious. The stuff between the songs tend to be not. I sort of have this—I don’t know if you call it “bi-polar” approach to doing shows where the songs all tend to be of a fairly series nature and between them I’m just basically making fun of myself and whatever I see around me. So, it’s supposed to be funny and people are supposed to be laughing. They generally do. I’m not doing stand-up comedy or anything, it’s just “observational weirdness”.

A Guitar Collector

I’ll probably just have a couple of guitars with me. Last night I did a show locally and I had more. I generally have anywhere between 7 and a dozen guitars with me. They are all tuned differently and they all have different sounds and personalities, different problems that I have to adjust to. That’s really part of my thing, I go around with a museum collection of old guitars. My wife and I have two houses. One of the houses is just full of guitars. That’s my workhouse. I got a guitar in last week and another one that I’m hoping to pick up in Ithaca on my way to Harrisburg. It’s just a constant quest for new sound.

Jess: Are you trying out new luthiers too, or is it mostly antique stuff?

Garnet: It’s mostly antiques. Anything made before 1944. After that it has to be a pretty spectacular instrument or something really special for me to truly lust after it. There is a period between 1942 and 1944 that I particularly like guitars from the Gibson guitar factory where the guitars were mostly made by women because of the war thing. There is something really special about those guitars. They were just made really beautifully. I think that women tend to focus better on details. There were a handful of old guys who were teaching them, they were too old and frail to do war work, so these women learned from the masters. That’s sort of the period that I like the best. But, I have guitars that go all the way back to 1890. It’s partly conservation as well. If I find something that needs a home, to be brought back to life—it’s sort of the guitar version of the horse rescue that we do. It’s like finding some brude mare that shivering in a field and you say “damn”, and you take her home and you put a blanket on her and she spends the rest of her life in a friendly place. It’s kind of an impulse to sort of preserve things.

Garnet Rogers CDs

Jess: I read an article that said that you had 9 solo CDs, but you probably have more by now. Do you know what number you are up to?

Garnet: 12 or 13 I think—but another dozen with other people.

Jess: Do you have your own label?

Garnet: I’ve always had my own label since 1976. Snow Goose.

Jess: You recorded one on Red House Records though. How did that come about?

Garnet: Well Bob Feldman, rest his soul, he just always said to me, “I think you are a Red House artist”. You know, even as good and fair as Red House is, it’s the best of all the independents, it just financially didn’t make sense for me to have to buy back my own music from my record company. So they just said if I wanted to do a record that I could do a compilation and I could have whatever I wanted on it from the first 9 albums. So that’s what they did. The put together a nice compilation and they did a lovely job on it, but I didn’t really have any input on it. It was nice. It got the name around a little more. [Editor’s note: All That Is: The Songs of Garnet Rogers] But that’s as far as it went. I really strongly believe in keeping control of my own deal. Once you give the record company the right, you give them the right to have input. I’m not really big on that.

Jess: Your newest CD “Get a Witness” features quite a few songs that feature other songwriters. Is that unusual for you?

Garnett: It’s just a little bit different as I wanted to record some songs that I had in the repertoire. There was a Karen Savoca song that I really, really wanted to do. There was a Bruce Springsteen song which dovetailed nicely with the last two songs on the CD, one of which is mine, the other one of my brother’s. [Editor’s note: Stan Rogers] That ended up being a whole half hour piece. Those three songs plus an instrumental break in the middle. They were all performed live with no editing. It’s as it was performed. I’m so proud of it and the way that the band performed. It’s an extraordinary band. At one point there are 8 people on stage and they are just really giving it hell.

Jess: Is this your own band?

Garnet: It was actually the core of another band and then some people that I played with for a couple of years including David Woodhead [Editor’s note: bass player who recently played in a SFMS concert with James Keelaghan] who I have been playing with since 1975. He has been on about every folk album in Canada for 35 years.

Jess: This CD seems to be a little more electric then some of your others.

Garnet: The whole CD is not that way but the first one in particular is really a kind of mean spirited slap at your X-president, George W. And that kind of just needed a very loud and aggressive treatment. There is also a gospel number dedicated to Coretta Scott King that needed a full, what I was imagining to be a gospel treatment. So that got pretty big. And the last half an hour gets pretty big, but the rest of it is quiet and a little more folky. But for your show on December 5th, I’ll just be a guy with his guitar.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Albert Adams
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 04:41:27

    Nice interview with Garnet. He’s the best! Thanks for sharing that.


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