by Stacy Brockett photos by Buko
Try googling the name, Ron Rogers. You might find Ron Rogers, a realtor from Klamath Falls selling homes in places like Chiloquin, Merrill, and Bonanza. There is also Ron Rogers, a California Republican Chief Deputy State Treasurer from the late nineties. Or how about Ron Rogers, a 240-lb inside linebacker from Georgia Tech football …
Actually, there is only one Ron Rogers that is google-worthy. No one is buying a house in Central Oregon, California is non-existent to Portlanders, and who cares about football?
Ron Rogers in his art studio.
It’s all about Ron Rogers, the artist and musician currently residing in our beloved bridgetown. It is very likely you have been in the same room as Ron’s art, especially if you’ve ever stepped foot in Music Millenium or Jon Bon Jovi’s house. His original work is dispersed over Portland, the Northwest, the U.S., and the Internet. Currently, you can find some of Ron’s pieces at Cannibals, an art gallery on NW 21st that features artists who use recyclable materials. His work was also recently on display at the RiverSea Gallery in the coastal historic town of Astoria. Ron pays tribute and expresses his love and admiration for musicians via his indubitable talent for creating art. Ron refers to many of his visual pieces as shrines.
It all began in Wichita Falls, TX, where Ron was born. However, at an early age, Ron migrated a few miles east to the big city of Fort Worth. Ron’s love for music blossomed as a youth when he sang and played guitar in a small band in his friend’s living room. Ron recalls starting out as a singer and then eventually picked up the guitar after playing with the band for a while. He also mentions that his band mate’s mom and sister were pretty nice for putting up with it. They played with two guitars, drums, and no bass. As kids, they were playing music of the Animals, Rolling Stones, and The Yardbirds. These were the high times of the sixties. Ron remembers such places as the Cellar Club in Fort Worth where under age patrons could get in if they agreed not to consume alcohol. Ron and his friends took advantage of the policy and also didn’t mind the female wait staff who happened to be running around in only panties and bras. However, the Cokes were as expensive as the mixed drinks. Bands such as Cellars Dwellers, The Geeks, and The Dream also played covers of bands such as The Beatles, The Stones … and The Byrds, of course. Ron says he remembers The Dream doing Cream with Buggs Henderson on guitar.
And of course, no one ever stays in the same place for very long …
Ron: “I went to Austin in 74 after 9 months in Nashville. I was really green and young. Austin was all Cosmic cowboy, so I played a lot of hippie country music. I actually made a living playing live music, but back then rent was cheap and longnecks were 75 cents. Chicken fried steak and fries was $1.25.”
Cosmic cowboys, longnecks, and chicken fried steak? Who wouldn’t want to go to Austin?
This cosmic cowboy actually took a dive into the business. He happened to take a paid gig as a songwriter for Island Records and later as studio engineer at A&M. Ron was asked about the difference between these two jobs…
Ron in his studio with his earthquake proof Tascam.
Ron: “Island vs. A&M…. well quite a different experience at Island and at A&M. I was a staff writer at Island and it was long distance between Austin and London. The guy that signed me was only there a little while and then he was gone. Nobody really knew me and I was a long ways away. Some phone calls and some money to do demos but not much else. I was not experienced enough to know how to make it work. I should have taken some of the money and gone there to build some relationships, or I should have gone to LA and tried to work that office. When I worked at A&M I was an engineer in the studio-different thing. A&M was really cool when I got there and for the next 4 years it was great. Herb Alpert was a very charismatic guy and it was kinda like a big family. After they sold to Polygram it spiraled right down the toilet. A lot of good people left and the new guard didn’t get it. I stayed on a few more years. When Herb and Jerry Moss owned it was not corporate, but after Polygram came in … it got stupid.”
In the 80’s Ron played music with his wife, Deborah, in a pop-rock band called Private Lives. After making their own self-produced album, Ron & Deborah scored a Billboard Album Pick of the Week. Ron recalls one of his best musical experiences ever …
Ron: “The band we had was one of my best musical experiences. She [Deborah] and I had a solid relationship and still do respect each other. We both worked hard at it,
She was the vocalist and did the PR work … she was really good at it. We went to radio stations with our single and got it played, went to radio events, and did all that hard stuff. The rest of the band really admired her for the effort she put out. We did a lot of openers for national acts at Club Foot and played regularly at an outdoor venue called the Meadows … usually about 3000 to 5000 people, so we got good at being on the big stages. It was always fun.”
Ron was asked about the current Austin music community, but he has left the scene. He is out of the loop. As a matter of fact, Ron says he would never move back to Texas.
Ron Rogers painting in his studio.
Long after the Cosmic cowboy days and after an extensive tour of the Soviet Union, Ron ended up moving to Los Angeles in 1989 to take the job at A&M. In 1996 Ron started his visual art career. He built his first shrines in 1996 and was able to sell them a few years later. The first ones created were made of used postcards and pictures from cds. When he started selling the shrines he thought after a while he should actually start painting them instead of using the materials he had been using.
Ron: “I had always wanted to paint, but never tried, guess I thought I couldn’t … but lo and behold, I did it.”
Since Ron feels a permanent celebratory sense of Day of the Dead, he often incorporates skulls with his shrines. He has big love for these little skulls … and it is obvious why. They are simply awesome and happen to add character to each piece. Ron has his own special skull recipe that he has been kind enough to share with Buko …
Ron: “Skulls … I make the originals from clay, Then I stick them down in a poster-board frame and pour silicone around them. When the silicone dries, the skulls pop out. Then I mix up a batch of hydastone, kinda like plaster of Paris, but lighter … pour into molds. And in 20 minutes … pop ‘em out. I then paint them by hand.”
It is obvious Ron has a special talent for combining his love of music with art. It should be of no surprise that he has been involved with Portland’s Blues Festival since he moved to the Northwest in 2004. He did the cover of the A&E section of the Oregonian for the Blues Festival Guide for the past two years. This year’s cover featured Isaac Hayes.
And just because the man is still paying his bills by selling art and taking the occasional songwriting gigs, it doesn’t mean he is not playing in a band. As a matter of fact, Ron has a band called Ron Rogers and the Outside Agitators. The lineup consists of Ron on guitar, Emery Wilson on bass, Marty Henninger on drums, and Dennis Mitchell also on guitar. Ron calls his current music simply Rock n’ Roll with 90% original material. You can always hear a sample on myspace. Ron and his Outside Agitators will debut their live material to the public in August. They will be performing at the IPO Festival at the East End on Sat the 23rd of August – 8pm. They are also in the process of recording their first album.
One common question in Portland that people will often ask is how you can make money by playing music … especially in a town that is flooded with musicians. Ron offers some advice …
Ron: “Try to get music placed in TV and movies. It pays good, and through organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, you can get fairly decent accounting. The business always tries to screw you out of money and most of us are too poor to afford an audit. Having BMI collect performance royalties is easier than doing it yourself. Still you don’t always get everything you should, it’s just the way it is. Steve Jobs makes most of the money in the music business today. He really took ‘em for a ride when he got the labels to go for iTunes.”
Portland should be proud to have such a bundle of talent in one man. Ron has contributed quite a bit to the music scene over the years and has expressed it not only by playing Rock n’ Roll, but reminding us of our core influences and the great musicians that have passed on. Make sure to check out Ron’s work by visiting his own website, “ronrogersart.com”.