The evolution of Bobby Lee Rodgers

blr1.jpgWhen Bobby Lee Rodgers walked away from the comfortable, dependable life of academia, he made a life decision that would scare off most men. 

He left a great teaching job at Berklee College of Music – one of the country’s most prestigious music institutes – for a life on the road spent in buses, motels and clubs.

"There was this inner urge of knowing I had all this music to get out," Rodgers recalls. " Everyday I went to school, I just felt like ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’  So I just realized I needed to go do this.  I needed to get in the van and go do it, and here we are now still in the van."


Nashville 

After packing up his life in Boston, intent on heading towards family in Georgia, Rodgers detoured to Nashville, Tennessee because of the sales pitch of some friends.  With an unexploited amount of talent and a background in music education, he easily fell into session work and once again found a comfortable way of life.  However it still didn’t feel right.

bobbylee1.jpg "I felt like I could have done the session thing really well," he says. "Not just on a music level, but also on a business level.  I understood how those cats thought, and the business came easy to me.  I just felt like I could not stay and do this."

 Around that time Rodgers was mostly playing jazz music.  He had written numerous songs but he was not a singer, and he "had broken up with this girl who was a singer with all of my songs, and I was just learning how to sing."

A friend claimed he could deliver a record deal to Rodgers if he would sing these songs, and almost overnight he had landed his first deal.  He headed into the studio with Bobby Lee Rodgers and the Herd.

"I sound so different," Rodgers recalls, "and it all is just in pitch, but it is funny to hear.  You will here it in the music, it is just so weird.  But it actually had a lot of success.  My music has always created all this stuff, and that is what started all of this.  

"I found myself sitting in a room writing songs for Water Buffalo and realized that I was not supposed to stay in Nashville and just play licks on country songs.  There was something else that was driving my life."

Atlanta

It was not long before Rodgers made it back to Atlanta,  where he met up with a strong presence and a good friend. 

"I met Col. [Bruce Hampton] at the Variety Playhouse," he recalls.  "I knew this guy Edward Hunter who played in Blueground Undergrass, and he asked if I wanted to meet Bruce.  We met and hit it off right away – it was a real natural relationship.  I moved back home within a couple of weeks, and he asked if I wanted to be in the band."

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In the beginning it was really Col. Bruce Hampton’s project, Rodgers says.  "I moved into it with a drummer and bass player already there.  They moved on, and I started getting my friends in.  That is when it started to become my band.  There was Ted Pecchio (bass), but he left for two years.  Then he came back and Tyler (Greenwell, drummer) came in.  So it was always me sort of pulling the musicians together."

As The Codetalkers continued to evolve, Rodgers was writing more music and finding ways to deal with having the wildest teacher around. 

"Bruce was always in the way," he says. "He will tell you he is in the way.  He just makes you stronger through these weird experiences.  Oteil (Burbridge) came up to me one time and told me that ‘Now you are invincible.’  This was after I had stopped playing with Bruce and this other weird stuff had begun to happen.  He had the same experiences with Bruce and knows that nobody can take that wisdom away from you."

herringrodgers.jpgBobby became good friends with Oteil and played with him, Col., Jeff Sipe and Jimmy Herring on some Aquarium Rescue Unit reunion dates.  "Playing with ARU was amazing," he says. "I went to the University of Georgia and used to go to ARU shows, and I just knew I was supposed to be in that band.  To become friends with those guys and have them allow me to be a part of it…was amazing."

Rodgers and Herring also found a very unique friendship outside of ARU.  Jimmy is the godfather to Bobby’s child, and the two musicians talk all the time about life with the Col. and many other shared experiences.  During down time, Jimmy and Bobby put together a project, along with Sipe.  Herring, Rodgers, and Sipe was a short-lived project, but one that was a natural fit for the talented musicians and friends.

Bobby says, "Jimmy came to me and said, ‘Man I got this gig with Panic’ and I (told him) go do what you need to do.  Both of us know we don’t need each other.  We just care about each other and we will probably do a ton of work together in the future."

In fact, Herring is playing on Bobby’s newest record, which is currently being recorded.  And Bobby may be helping Jimmy with his first real effort as a songwriter.

"It is so crazy," Bobby says, "because (Jimmy) has always admired songwriters, but he has always been working, helping others to realize their visions better than anyone else out there.  He just raises these bands to incredible levels.  He wonders ‘Why can’t I write,’ and I tell him ‘Just write, man.’

"I talked to him over the last few months and he is just so on it.  I can’t even get him on the phone.  When I get him he says, ‘Man I’ve been writing, and coming up with all of these new voicings.’  So I am so excited for him."{mospagebreak}

Codetalkers without the Col. 

Col. Bruce’s wisdom and unique methods of making those around him better musicians may be hard to live with, and even harder to live with out.  After the Col. parted ways with The Codetalkers in April 2006 to attend to his health and get off the road for a while, the band immediately felt the strain of his absence with promoters and clubs. 

bobbytedtyler.jpg "When he first left the band, all of our guarantees dropped," Bobby says. "We went from good guarantees to sometimes door deals.  Nobody wanted to give us any money; (we were) just taking what was there.  It was like a year of that, which was so crazy, because somebody has to pick up the balance of all of that fall out.

"Who does that?  My family and me.  It was like we had opened a store called MART instead of Wal-Mart.  So I was up against the world, it seemed."

After beginning to drown in debt, and trying to keep the band going on faith, the sound and emotion began to morph. The music started to feel more angst-ridden, and many of the songs written while Bruce was with the band left the setlists.

"The music was angry," Bobby says, "and I am not an angry person.  It was all this animosity, and I think a lot of it was because Bruce was gone.  You would get pissed at one time, and then think, ‘well, we are supposed to be out on our own.  We are supposed to be all by ourselves doing this stuff.’  It was discounted while he was there, but Bruce was a huge part of the chemistry."

It started to become obvious that Bobby wanted something different for the Codetalkers than Ted and Tyler.  The band began to play less of Bobby’s earlier material, and more new songs that were peppered with the band’s current experiences.

He recalls, "With Bruce it seemed like it was two against two, and then it became two against one.  (Then) we weren’t playing any of my songs, we were doing this other stuff.  They were still my songs, but just a piece of it all.  I was writing stuff that was part of what I was experiencing, but it wasn’t all I wanted to play.  I didn’t want to just play darkness, darkness, darkness, you know?"

The band had completely finished recording a new album, which meant more debt and more commitments.  Then, they decided it was time to part ways.  They had tried it without the Col. for a year and, despite some changes, it just was not taking. The album was shelved, not likely to see daylight.

"I always wondered how the ‘lost tapes, came about," Rodgers says, "and there it is. Through amazing record sales in Japan of NOW, the previous album, Galaxy Girl (the new album) was picked up by Grey Dog Records and will be released only in Japan."

The New Codetalkers 

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With Bobby in this fragile state, the band he had put over eight years into had come to an end.  There was no vehicle for his music any longer, and he was not sure where to look for the next ride.

He recalls, "I walked in this jazz club in Savannah of all places.  My wife was like ‘you go down there and you find some people you want to play with.’  All of this stuff was going on, and I thought the last thing I wanted to do was go sit in at a jazz club.  So I walked into the club with my brother-in-law, and these kids walked on the stage.  I am like ‘Oh yeah, these guys are going to be real good.’  I’m just in a terrible space, and ended up wondering ‘Am I drunk or is this music good?’

"The bass player, Andrew (Altman) walked up to me afterwards, and said ‘You’re Bobby Lee Rodgers.  We saw you at The End in Nashville (the first show The Codetalkers played without the Col.).  "He asked ‘Why don’t we get together and play sometime?’  I said, ‘That is great and all, but do you want to be in my band?’ 

blr3.jpg "And literally the next day we had a gig at The Freebird in Florida.  That is where I met these guys, and we are just building it back up. It’s crazy – you don’t rush into relationships, but this is the first one in my life I just jumped into, and it is a perfect fit."

"The drummer is Mark Raudabaugh, and Andrew  is the bass player.  They are from north Florida and both went to Florida State University.  They both studied jazz, and that is what drew me to them.  It gets me back to what I studied, to that true improvisational side. 

"I brought them tunes and they learned them instantly.  The band is already finding it’s own identity, and we have an album ready to come out.  I am so excited about it because it is so natural the way we are playing together, and I think it is because of the jazz stuff.  That is where I am at right now,  I feel like the darkness is gone, and there is nothing left but true intention."

After a pause, Rodgers concludes by saying, "We want to play as much as people will have us. Hopefully we can play as many festivals as we can.  We are just going to get the music out there."

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