Randy Rogers Band – Prophets And Outlaws, Adam Hood
Event on 2015-12-31 00:00:00
Randy Rogers Band
Sing it. Live it.
The words came off the cuff during the Randy Rogers Band’s performance of “Better Off Wrong” in the midst of a two-night stand at the historic John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, Texas. But “Sing it, live it” works just as well as a motto for the band, as documented in a generous two-disc album, Homemade Tamales: Live at Floore’s, culled from those shows on Oct. 25-26, 2013.
The album is rich in real-life portraits of blue-collar people working out their relationships through the week, partying on the weekend and – when it seems to fit – hitting it heavy to stave off the disappointments of a split at home.
“Hopefully, I write songs that people live,” Rogers reflects. “I think that's why we all do this as writers, reporters included. You want people to relate to you and hope that maybe you’ve been through something similar that could possibly help them.”
The cheers at the ends of the songs – and the audible audience sing-alongs in the choruses – demonstrate that RRB has connected mightily. The band is acknowledged as one of the best touring draws in the live mecca that is Texas, and the folks on the floor at Floore’s were enthusiastic, to say the least, responding to the raw and authentic brand of country that’s something of a Rogers Band specialty.
There’s a determination in the percussive flow of drummer Les Lawless, a burning tension in the guitar lines of Geoffrey Hill, a searing texture to the fiddle fills of Brady Black and a rock-steady ferocity in the bass work of Johnny “Chops” Richardson. Knitting it together, there’s a gritty believability in the voice of frontman Rogers, who owns a warm and rugged everyman tone in his voice.
“You know, I've listened to earlier recordings of my voice, and I think it was a little more pure and not as raspy. But then again, that was about 2,500 gigs ago, so there's some definite wear and tear going on with my vocals…part of the scratch probably comes from that.”
It’s the wear and tear of commitment. The Randy Rogers Band has existed since October 2000, and hasn’t had a personnel change since Lawless and Black came aboard around the end of 2002. It’s a remarkable consistency in a business that’s littered with nasty break-ups and legendary feuds.
Given the RRB’s consistency as an act, it was only appropriate that the band chose Floore’s as a venue for Homemade Tamales. For some 70 years, the club has stood as a beacon for live music outside of San Antonio. Rogers has personally witnessed J.T. Floore performances by the likes of Willie Nelson, Pat Green, Reckless Kelly and Cross Canadian Ragweed. And through the years, the site has hosted such iconic figures as Elvis Presley, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Little Richard, Patsy Cline and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“It's been my favorite place to play for years,” Rogers says. “My hero, Robert Earl Keen, recorded No. 2 Live Dinner there. I probably listened to that album 1,000 times front to back. The crowds have always been different there, too. They've always been a little more energetic and a little more fired up about the music. It's a kind of vibe that’s ideal for a live recording.”
The album takes its name from a sign at the front of Floore’s hailing its “world famous homemade tamales.” They’re perfect at 2 a.m. after two or more hours of sweating on the bandstand. But they’re also representative of the entrees – 23 live recordings and two bonus studio performances – that form the album’s sonic menu.
“Homemade Tamales to me is just a metaphor for all of the songs we've put on the album,” Rogers says. “Just little homemade tamales, all these songs that we've written through the years, you know, here they are kind of bundled together.”
The “homemade” adjective hints at the commitment to realness in the project. The band was adamant that the album provide an authentic representation of a Randy Rogers Band concert. They didn’t go back in the studio and fix pieces where the tempos wavered or Rogers ran out of breath. They went for the energy that’s the cornerstone of an eventful live show.
“That's what you want with a live album – you want it to pop out of your speakers and slap you in the face,” Rogers says.
The Randy Rogers Band knows a thing or two about concerts and live recordings. The band recorded its first live project, Live at Cheatham Street Warehouse, in 2000, just weeks after the group was founded, so that it would have a little merch to sell after its shows. RRB was already showing promise – Cheatham Street was the same venue where George Strait cut his chops in the mid-1970s, and where Stevie Ray Vaughan held down a regular Tuesday-night slot in the early-1980s.
The Randy Rogers Band, in fact, inherited the Tuesday-night gigs and became tight friends with Cheatham owner Kent Finlay, who makes an appropriate guest appearance on Homemade Tamales in a version of his own “They Call It The Hill Country.”
“There wouldn't be a Randy Rogers Band if there wasn't Kent Finlay and Cheatham Street Warehouse,” Rogers says emphatically. “It changed my entire life. We learned how to be a band there, I learned how to be a front guy there, I learned how important songwriting was there. Kent Finlay means more to me than anybody in this business.”
A couple studio albums would follow, and RRB made yet another concert album, Live at Billy Bob’s, in 2005. It was the close of a chapter – the band signed with Universal shortly after, opening up a seven-year run that netted four Top 10 titles on the Billboard Country Albums chart. An association with Nashville has, at times from some artists yielded a backlash among avid Texas fans, but Rogers and company were able to escape that fate, in part because the band never compromised its core identity in search of the indefinable Holy Grail of commercial success.
“Universal let us make our albums the way that we wanted to make them,” he says. “They let the band play every single album. They let us record songs I wrote. They didn't force us to work with any particular producers. They basically said, ‘Here's a record deal, and be yourself.’ We are who we are today because of that.”
Material from those Universal projects makes up a sizeable portion of the set on Homemade Tamales: the lonesome “I’ve Been Looking For You So Long,” the party anthem “Fuzzy,” the kiss-off “Too Late For Goodbye” and the reassuring “Interstate.”
The Universal years represent a fine body of well-crafted country songs, and that music connected with fans, helping the band to sell out venues nationwide. In fact, RRB spent all but about two weeks of the first quarter of 2014 on the road performing in venues form New York City to the West Coast.
“Even the markets that we got medium or very minor radio airplay, we could still do 1,000 people in those markets or more,” Rogers observes. “It definitely expanded us.”
Homemade Tamales, like Live at Billy Bob’s did before, serves to capture an era of the Randy Rogers Band as it comes to a close, and to pave the way for the next chapter.
“Doing a live album kind of puts a stamp on it,” Rogers says. “If you think about when you were young and 16, when the world was your canvas, songs take you to particular spots and memories. That's how the albums are for me when I look back at when we were broke, or we were struggling so much at that time, or if we were riding high on the road with Miranda Lambert or Dierks Bentley. Those albums are just like snapshots to me.”
While Homemade Tamales is that kind of snapshot, it also hints at what lies ahead. The band recorded two new songs, “Satellite” and “She’s Gonna Run,” with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town) at his new studio in a converted church in East Nashville. It’s a big room with vaulted ceilings and enough space to cram 300 or so people inside – much like a club without a formal bar.
“We cut those things live, just like we did in our shows,” Rogers asserts. “So what you see – or what you hear – is what you get.”
What you get in Homemade Tamales is the sound of five buddies accompanied by their friend and touring mate, keyboard player Todd Stewart, playing on the edge. The show kicks off, the red light rolls and it’s absolutely live from start to finish, all of them working as one to connect with a working-class crowd that’s singing – and living – the songs right along with the band.
“When we started the band, we were in our early 20s, we didn't know what the hell we were doing with life, with anything,” Rogers says. “We kind of just all had nothing to lose at the same time, and we were able to take a huge risk at the same time, and then we've managed to kind of go through life steps and changes all at the same time and always had each other's backs.”
Homemade Tamales rolls the band’s friendship, the shared experience with the fans and the passion for the music into one cohesive, believable document.
“We wanted it to be as legit of a representation of the band as you could get,” Rogers says. “When you listen to it, you do get that feeling that you're standing right there.”
Right there at historic John T. Floore’s. Singing it. Living it.
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