Though he’s been at it for decades, slide guitarist Roy Rogers is still expanding his musical vision while also keeping his footing in the shifting music business.
“There is no record business anymore,” he said during a phone interview this week. “That train has left the station.”
Rogers – who’ll play Tuesday in Olympia with his own trio, the Delta Rhythm Kings – has worked with such names as Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt. A Rolling Stone writer called him “one of the rare guitar heroes who values feeling over flash,” and Guitar Player dubbed him a modern master of the slide guitar.
With few record stores left beyond big-box outlets that rarely carry independent music, a musician’s livelihood has come to depend mostly on live performance, said Rogers of Nevada City, Calif.
“We sell a lot of product at shows,” he said. “When I play a live show, people want to take the music home with them.”
That economic reality suits the guitarist just fine.
“I’m a live performer,” said Rogers, who was named after the legendary cowboy. “There’s a lot of energy in our show, and we have a lot of energy in our interactions.”
His latest release, 2009’s “Split Decision,” is all about edges, he said.
“That’s how I really approached that record, from a sonic perspective as well as the lyrics,” he said. “The lyrics have a bite to them, and the music reflects those lyrics.
“I wanted the album to have a new sound.”
That album was recorded with the Delta Rhythm Kings, bassist Steve Ehrmann and then-drummer Billy Lewis, who has since left the band for medical reasons. Jimmy Sanchez, who’s drumming with the group now, is – like Ehrmann – a longtime Rogers collaborator and friend.
“It shows in the band when people are on the same page,” he said. “You come out to a show and you want to see the musicians having fun, not taking themselves too seriously on stage.”
Next up for Rogers is a collaboration with Doors cofounder Ray Manzarek. The two were in the studio together last week.
“We had a hell of a good time,” he said, “and usually that will be reflected on the record.”
While the guitarist’s roots are deep in the blues, he emphasized the importance of remaining open to many musical genres.
“I’m always looking for new combinations of music,” he said. “It’s always a blues-based music, but it’s not just blues. You have to constantly expand your horizons; otherwise, you’ll just be playing the same old things.”
At home, he listens mostly to classical and jazz – but also enjoys African music and even the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus. “They have some harmonies that are out of this world,” he said.
“There’s so much great music in the world,” Rogers said. “You just have to keep expanding your vision. There’s always something out there that’s going to blow your socks off. You’ve just got to be open to it.
“That’s true of life as well, wouldn’t you say?”